I’ve had mixed feelings about the Volkswagen Atlas since I did a test drive of the brand new SUV when it debuted at VW headquarters two years ago. Although VW has made its mark across the world, especially in its native Europe, with small zippy cars, they knew there was something Americans needed – a big, giant SUV.
I just spent four days at the Washington Auto Show and noticed, as did others, that it’s no longer a car show. It’s really an SUV show. And although some show goers were a little dismayed at that, it’s really a sign of what the market wants and demands.
In fact, it was at a car show that I saw an original incarnation of the VW Atlas, namely, the concept known as the Cross Coupe. I remember peering into the open windows of the concept thinking, This is the vehicle I’ve been waiting for.
I’m a fan of German engineering and styling and I might even be a little influenced by my husband’s love of VW. In his lifetime, he’s owned a Karmann Ghia, Rabbit, Beetle (old), Beetle (new), Passat, and is now a proud owner of a Golf GTI. This VW Atlas was my turn to join the Volkswagen Atlas.
How I Spent the Week in the VW Atlas
When I drove the Atlas two years ago, I’ll admit that it wasn’t love at first drive. I couldn’t quite get comfortable in the seat and I couldn’t get the hang of the stop/start engine. After a 20 minute cruise around Reston, Virginia, I still felt uncertain about it. I loved the look and the color (oh, how I wish they still made Kurkuma Yellow Metallic) but felt like I needed to spend a little more time in it. And finally, I had my chance.
When you have a big car, the first thing you want to do it use it for any utilitarian purpose you can think of. In this case, it was hauling some of the MANY bags of stuff I’ve been collecting since starting on my massive spring cleaning (Marie Kondo style).
Next on the agenda was a family outing. I boldly volunteering to be the driver for a family dinner celebrating my mother’s birthday. We normally have to take at least two cars to accommodate my family, my sister and her husband, and my mother. Although my husband had to sit this one out, I still made my son get the way back because I wanted to take full advantage of the third row seating.
When I wasn’t running around to school dropoff or saxophone lessons or Goodwill or dinner, I spent a lot of time in Washington, DC as a VIP Tour Guide for the Washington Auto Show. That meant more highway driving than I typically do and it also meant… PARKING GARAGES! I don’t always get along with those large concrete pillars but I managed to find a nice parallel parking space and tucked the Atlas in there with ease (mostly).
Although I didn’t get to take long scenic drives to picturesque destinations in the Atlas for the week that I drove it, I loved that I had the chance to experience it the way a typical driver might – by myself, with lots of passengers, around town, in the city, running errands.
And at the end of the week, I had a very solid opinion about the good, the bad, and the mediocre sides of the VW Atlas. Read on to find out more.
An Honest Review of the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas
Let me start with my overall opinion of the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas.
I didn’t love it.
I already know before I explain why that I am definitely in the minority. Literally every person that saw my VW Atlas during the week I had it asked me, expectingly, Ooh, do you love it?
Because pretty much everyone that knows about this vehicle, has driven this vehicle, or owns this vehicle absolutely loves it. So what went wrong for me?
What I Didn’t Like about the VW Atlas
I’m a short lady. When I’m reviewing vehicles, especially large vehicles, I give it the short lady test. I look at how well I fit into the vehicle, how accessible the console is while driving, how adjustable the seats are, how easy it is to reach the pedals, get in and out of the vehicle, etc., etc.
At 5’3″, I felt like this vehicle was created for people much larger than me. The seats are wide and deep. For someone like me, I don’t feel cradled by the seat and edge of the seat puts a little extra pressure on the backs of my knees because of how short my legs are. The pedals also seem positioned a little high.
To verify my gut feeling about this, I asked my 4’11” mother to sit behind the wheel and tell me what she thought. She immediately asked how she could raise her seat. I had to tell her that’s as high as it goes! That made it feel like you weren’t quite getting as much visibility as you might like over the large, imposing hood.
We did find that we could reach a more comfortable driving position by taking advantage of the telescopic steering wheel. You’ll need to lower it and push it towards the dash to allow yourself to get close enough to the pedals without being too close the the steering wheel (and the airbags).
The other thing that I didn’t love was the Start/Stop function on the engine. Many auto journalists hate this feature on any vehicle. I’m okay with it when it’s executed well because it can improve fuel economy. In the VW Atlas, the engine would turn off typically when sitting at a red light. To re-engage the engage, simply remove your foot from the brake and apply gas.
In theory, it works fine but it hesitated just a fraction of a second too long. I thought it was a bit clunky and it didn’t make the vehicle feel as responsive as I’d like. Luckily, there’s a simply button on the center console to turn it off. I just wish I could have figured out a way to default to the off position.
What I DID Like about the VW Atlas
Neither of the issues above made me feel uncomfortable or incapable of driving the VW Atlas. It definitely took some getting used to, especially if you’re not used to driving a large vehicle.
The 3.6L V6 engine definitely delivers on driving power but you’ll pay the price in gas mileage. The EPA fuel estimates are 19/24 mpg and I averaged around XX, which I thought was decent. VW previously offered a 2.0L turbocharged 4 cylinder engine which apparently didn’t sell well but delivers better gas mileage. This engine is still available on the lowest trim level, S, which does provide better gas mileage but you’ll get the V6 engine on every other trim.
In addition to the power, you’ll also appreciate the handling. The steering is very responsive, if not a little soft, so it makes for easy driving and parking in those nerve-wracking parking garages!
And finally, let’s talk about the biggest reason you’d like a Volkswagen Atlas. It’s BIG! It’s a solid 7 passenger SUV and with upper trim levels you can opt to have captain’s chairs in the second row making it a 6 passenger SUV. And the cargo capacity is impressive with 20.6 cu ft behind the third row, 55.5 cu ft with the third row folded flat, and a whopping 96.8 cu ft with the second and third row folded flat.
If you’re more concerned with passengers than cargo, they’ll thank you for it. There’s plenty of leg room in the second row, even with the driver’s seat all the way back. And I, at my vertically challenged height, felt quite comfortable in the third row, especially when the second row passengers were courteous enough to slide forward a bit.
All the Other Details
What you get definitely depends on the trim level (there are 13 of them!). The lowest trim level is the 4 cylinder turbo S and starts at $30,895 (wow!). You’ll get various other options with the trim levels including the Tech trim, the 4Motion (AWD) trim, the R-Line badging, and more.
I drove the Volkswagen Atlas SE which is just above the entry level trim. It included Apple CarPlay, 4 USB outlets, three-zone climate control, heated seats, and safety features like Blind Spot Monitor, Forward Collision Warning, and more. The only additional option was the Towing Package giving it a factory-installed trailer hitch with 5000 lbs. towing capacity.
With the towing package and destination charge, the MSRP was $37,040 – a veritable bargain for a vehicle of this size.
If you’re looking for a little more luxury or bells and whistles, you can upgrade the trim to add features like remote start, 8″ navigation, parking distance control, overhead view camera, and the VW Digital Cockpit, which replaces all of the analog gauges with digital ones and gives you the ability to customize what you see.
I did use the Build & Price tools on VW.com to configure the Atlas that I would purchase. Some of my must-haves include a panoramic sunroof (added in the SE with Technology trim), a heated steering wheel (added in the SEL trim), and leather (unfortunately only added in the SEL Premium trim). After configuring it exactly how I would want it, here’s what I would pay:
Did I mention I have expensive tastes? I liked that this vehicle is an affordable entry-level SUV at just $35k but you can turn it into a luxury SUV and top out at around $50k.
If you have more questions about my week in the VW Atlas, please let me know. Or take a few minutes to check out my complete video review!