Volkswagen was a little late to the modern SUV party. Back in the day, from 1968 to 1983, they had the Type 181, also known as the “Thing” but this is not exactly the type of SUV we’re talking about.
The compact Tiguan showed up in 2009 preceded by the Touareg in 2004 but despite both these players, the lack of a 3-row ute was evident. You’re more than likely aware that utility vehicles are all the rage at the moment but were you mindful of the fact that, in Canada, more than two out of three new vehicle sales are designated as utility vehicles? The opportunities for growth in the car business are thus in these segments.
Volkswagen is still dealing with the aftereffects following September 2015’s dieselgate and it’s no secret, sales have dropped hard in Canada. Not only did TDI deliveries account for 20% of the final tally but also, at the moment, owners are patiently waiting on their settlements from the lawsuits before making a move. It is VW Canada’s hope that these consumers will return to dealerships and if so, will look into one of their growing line of utility vehicles, starting with the Golf Alltrack, the next Tiguan (coming in August), the Touareg or the new Atlas (June).
As a family SUV, the Atlas offers everything except the kitchen sink in order to please. Its styling is part of the equation. Many SUVs attempt to camouflage their size with frivolous styling cues; the Atlas does no such thing. It is chunky, squared off with plenty of flat surfaces. The accent line that crosses the entirety of the body actually accentuates, as it were, the truck’s height and girth.
When we talk “truck”, we usually consider a fair amount of power. This is where the Atlas somewhat falls short. The 3.6-litre VR6 V6 puts out 276 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. Said twisting power only comes online just under 3,00 rpm, which could prove to be a hurdle should you decide to make use of its 5,000 lbs. towing capacity.
A turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder (sourced from the GTI) will be made available come August and only with FWD. However, when we timed a 9.5-second 0-100-km/h sprint with the AWD V6 Atlas with two adults on board, we can scarcely imagine that it will suffice especially when loaded. VW’s reactive 4MOTION AWD is standard with the V6 and is identical to that of the Golf R’s. Under normal use, only the front wheels get power but when things get awry, the rear axle can get up to 50% of the available torque.
The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas drives like a sizeable sport utility vehicle. Its suspension calibration is set to supple which allows for a fair amount of body roll. Consequently, the ride is cosseting, without being too soft. Weight transfers under hard acceleration and braking are also evident, but not unsettling.
The electric power steering is precise and completely isolated from the goings-on of the front wheels. The brakes are powerful with good pedal response. Mechanically speaking, the 8-speed automatic transmission is the element that deserves the biggest nod. It’s quick thinking, efficient and well programmed.
If we’re out buying such a big vehicle, an accompanying criterion will be an equally large cabin. The Atlas does not disappoint thanks to its versatile setup and comfortable layout for all seven occupants.
The typical 3rd row is usually reserved for children, teens or small adults but I must admit that an averaged sized male such as myself can find a more than tolerable seating position, if only for a short drive. The 2nd row is enormous and can handily handle three large baby seats. Best of all, it slides for and aft and tilts forward enabling injury-less access to the 3rd row.
The trunk is simply enormous, if not downright titanic-esque. Behind the final bench, one or perhaps two golf bags or one defenseman’s hockey bag will fit. Folding it forward leaves enough space for five players’ equipment or that of a golfing foursome.
The Volkswagen Atlas lines up and takes on some large and serious heavy-hitters in the 3-row midsize SUV segment. Following my first drive, I’m convinced that it can throw punches with the likes of the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Hyundai Santa Fe XL without really breaking a sweat. The Atlas’ task would be even easier if an optional diesel engine (yes, I had to go there) was available but well, let’s leave the past where it belongs.