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We drive the Volkswagen Atlas SEL AWD V6

by Ali Arsham
Friday, September 28, 2018

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The 2018 VW Atlas
The 2018 VW Atlas
Volkswagen is the biggest car company in the world but they lacked a seven passenger SUV in their showroom, one of the most popular types of vehicles today.  It took them a while to do the math and figure out that a seven passenger SUV can make them more money. 

The result is the Volkswagen Atlas and there has been a lot of hype about the Atlas so we had to find out for ourselves if it is a worthy challenger to the already established kingdom of SUVs.

The Atlas is available in seven different trim levels.  This is already a promising start.  Instead of the usual long list of options forced upon you, now things are simpler.  You just pick your trim level and one of them will be perfect for you and your budget. Our car was the SEL which is the sixth most expensive of the seven.

The first thing you will notice when you walk up to the Atlas is its attractive proportions.  As an evolution of the CrossBlue concept vehicle first seen in 2013, the Atlas is clean and modern looking with a very good drag coefficient of 0.34. The Atlas is 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 70.0 inches high which makes it the largest Volkswagen model on sale in the U.S. ever.

The interior is classic Volkswagen with a very clean design that has many features but does not overwhelm you with tons of buttons or force you to use the touch screen system for everything.  As an example, the climate control system has conventional knobs and buttons that make it easy to use and after a few days you will be able to operate them with your eyes closed.

While the base Atlas S is equipped with cloth seating surfaces in a quilt-like design, our SEL came with leatherette seating which is preferred to the full leather in the top of the line SEL Premium due to its durability.

The interior
The interior
There are available captain’s chairs for the second row SE models and above. This replaces the three-passenger, second-row bench seat with two individual seats for even greater comfort and adjustability.

Our car had the standard bench seat which we prefer since it can seat three people comfortably.  The second row is very comfortable and offers lots of legroom.  The two-passenger third-row bench seat offers a 50/50 split, and both second and third-row seats feature fold-flat functionality.

If you really need to carry more than five people, the Atlas must be placed very high on your list due to its roomy third-row seating.  It is one of the best third rows in any SUV with lots of room even for adults and very easy access. 

The second row easily folds out of the way and opens up to allow easy access back there for kids or adults. 

Atlas is offered with a choice of two engines, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or an available 3.6-liter V6 engine. You can order the V6 engine in any trim level. 

Our V6 equipped Atlas delivered 276 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 266 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 rpm. The engine utilizes a crossflow aluminum-alloy cylinder head design, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing. Also worth noting is that unlike many cars today, the compact narrow angle engine easily fits into the engine compartment and sits very low. 

This improves the center of gravity for better handling and also makes repairs easier and cheaper down the road.

With either engine, power is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission to help maximize efficiency.

This transmission then sends the power to either the front wheels, or if equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive to all four wheels as needed.

The SEL and SEL Premium models with the V6 engine come standard with a trailer hitch. The Atlas is rated to tow 5000 pounds which is a bit on the low side compared to some of the competition but it is plenty for most people. 

We tested it with a medium sized trailer and the Atlas handled it with ease even when climbing bigger hills.  While a full-sized SUV can provide better towing, the Atlas provided a comfortable ride that cannot be matched by any of the bigger truck based SUVs.

The Atlas with AWD and V6 power is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  That is a bit on the low side and the smallish 18.6 gallon fuel tank makes you have to stop often for fuel. Interestingly, we averaged about 15 mpg while towing which was much better than average.

A huge benefit of the Atlas is the fantastic VW warranty.  The 2018 Atlas’s six-year/72,000-mile warranty includes coverage of powertrain components, including the engine, transmission and all-wheel-drive system.

Major competitors to the Atlas, such as Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander, offer a three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty with a five-year or 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Not only does the Volkswagen SUV bumper-to-bumper warranty offer longer coverage than its competitors, but all of its elements can be transferred to subsequent owners up to 6 years or 72,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Most others do not allow this.

The Atlas is a fantastic SUV that can be exactly what you are looking for with prices starting out at $30,750. 

Our fully loaded SEL was $44,880 including the V6 engine and AWD.  The Atlas feels tight and does not feel slow or ponderous. 

Yet it can carry big loads and seven people with ultimate comfort and with the fantastic warranty you can be comfortable knowing that you don’t have to worry.  That is a great family vehicle.

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