When you turn up s-u-p-e-r late to a party, you’d better make a grand entrance. Volkswagen hopes its new Atlas will turn heads at the already long-raging three-row-jumbo-crossover rave with its striking, bold-n-blocky, uniquely VW look and “whoa, check out that caboose!” back seat package. Accommodating adults in comfort and getting them in and out of the second and third rows with ease is this rig’s major party trick. Walk into the way-back seats and squint a little, and you can easily imagine you’re riding in a minivan that’s equipped with a cloaking device that can convince your neighbors you’re the rugged, outdoorsy type.
Of course, fooling the neighbors and accommodating folks in the back is only half the battle. To find out what kind of impression the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas will make on folks strapping into the left front seat, we mounted our cold, calculating test gear to a top-shelf V6 SEL 4Motion model and put it through our paces. It seems that, like some late party arrivals, this one might have rushed out the door not quite completely turned out—trailing toilet paper from a shoe and with a bit of her skirt tucked into her knickers.
This 3.6-liter version of VW’s venerable narrow-angle VR6, as tuned for this 4,725-pound vehicle with seat belts and space enough to strap in another 1,272 pounds’ worth of American couch potatoes and their stuff, churns out 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. With each of those horses tugging 17.1 pounds (empty) and eight transmission ratios to work with, that yields a class-trailing acceleration of 7.9 seconds to 60 mph. The quarter mile passes in 16.0 seconds at 81.6 mph. The prime vehicles a sensible buyer should cross-shop the Atlas against are all quicker, with the Honda Pilot winning the stoplight grand prix (6.2 seconds to 60), and even our slowest Pacifica minivan edging the Atlas out (7.7 seconds).
Editor in chief Ed Loh fretted that “The Atlas’ greatest strength might also be its Achilles’ heel. It is a packaging miracle, but what happens when you fill this thing up with people and cargo? Can the engine handle a fully loaded Atlas?” That’s a concern that goes double for the base 235-hp/258-lb-ft 2.0-liter turbo. Super aggressive throttle mapping might be built in to mask this power deficiency during a brief showroom test drive, but it’s sure to aggravate owners, as features editor Seabaugh noted: “Throttle tip in is too aggressive for a family vehicle like this. It makes it difficult to pull away smoothly from a stop, and it snaps occupants’ heads back.” The eight-speed automatic could probably brighten up the acceleration and responsiveness if it weren’t so busy trying to deliver the 4Motion’s promised 17/23/19-mpg EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy. “It’s trying to get into the fuel economy gear quickly, and then you have to fight it for downshifts and power,” said associate editor Scott Evans. Engaging the Sport mode helps but only a little. Our first recommendation for an early model refresh: Offer a 2.5- or 3.0-liter VR6 turbo good for 300-400 hp and sharpen up the sport-mode programming.Read more on MotorTrend site