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2018 Volkswagen Atlas Review: First Impressions

img1476385983 1477665300895 jpg 2018 Volkswagen Atlas | photo by Brian Wong

CARS.COM — Volkswagen’s newest SUV, the 2018 Atlas, is aptly named as this three-row SUV has a lot of weight on its shoulders. The automaker has spent more than a year embroiled in its diesel scandal, so the Atlas’ introduction in this popular, growing class could have heightened expectations attached to it.

Related: More 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show

The Atlas’ exterior styling is similar to that of Volkswagen’s CrossBlue concept, which first debuted in 2013. Volkswagen has kept the same minimalist aesthetic for many years now and seeing it continue with the Atlas was no surprise. There is some extra detailing around the grille and headlights that help to modernize the look a bit, but at its core it’s an old-school, upright-sitting SUV.

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Interior materials in the Atlas TR6 trim I examined were good for this segment, with the horizontal lining of the leather seats a nice Volkswagen touch. The center console, like the exterior, is simple and opts for a less-is-more approach. The layout is ergonomically sound with easy-to-reach controls. In fact, the design of it, besides some color differences, is similar to what’s seen in the 2017 Golf AllTrack and Passat.

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The Atlas isn’t overly large for this class, but its roominess impressed me. It’s about 7 inches longer than the Toyota Highlander and 2 inches shorter than the Mazda CX-9, but some clever packaging on the interior and copious amounts of headroom make it feel larger and airier.

This is most evident in the third row. A big issue for many mid-size three-row SUVs is third-row legroom. In its press release, Volkswagen says that the Atlas has “seating for two adults in the third row,” but I was skeptical. What I found surprised me: Adults can fit back there. The secret is the sliding second row, which has about 9 inches of travel. It can move all the way forward until it’s nearly touching the front seats, and back just as far in the opposite direction. Building this much travel into the second row means there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to legroom. A bonus for families is that the second row can be moved forward so that it’s easier for parents to reach children seated there in child-safety seats. 

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The second row has one final trick up its sleeve. The Atlas takes its cue from the Mazda CX-9: With a forward-facing child-safety seat installed, the second row flips forward to allow access to the third row. Volkswagen only had one car seat on hand during the press preview and the safety seat was installed on the passenger side, which is the smaller portion of the 60/40-split folding second row.

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I adjusted the driver’s seat for my 5-foot-11 frame and positioned the second row to a comfortable spot and then headed to the third row, which had a good amount of legroom. The floor is a bit higher, so my thighs were raised slightly off the seat, but I could sit back there for a longer trip.

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The Atlas’ design doesn’t slope down in the rear, which can cut into third-row headroom. As a result, the third row felt open and I had at least 3 to 4 inches of room between the top of my head and the headliner. There were also vents up in the C-pillars so passengers can get fresh air back there as well.

The Atlas’ price will play a large role in whether it’s successful. Volkswagen’s Touareg is priced as a near-luxury SUV. I’m hoping the Atlas takes a different route and is priced in line with the rest of the class. As long as performance is adequate, the 2018 Atlas has a chance to make some sorely needed positive noise for Volkswagen.

Keep an eye out for the 2018 Atlas when it hits dealerships in spring 2017. 

Photo of Brian Wong
Former L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong is a California native with a soft spot for convertibles and free parking. Email Brian Wong

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