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First road test 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Before you head over to the competition

Texas is huge. Say it the way Trump would. It’s so big in fact that locals have been known to say that the Lone Star State has miles and miles of miles and miles. In other words, it’s huuuge.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Volkswagen’s new Atlas is also huge. It is without a shadow of a doubt the largest VW product (real VW…) ever sold on North American soil. If I must be honest, the Atlas is also the least “Volkswagen” Volkswagen product, but this is not necessarily a fault. Dedicated to serve markets that can’t get enough utility vehicles such as Canada, where more than 2/3 of all new cars sold are of that nature, the Atlas could be referred to as the German SUV inspired and built for America. Hey, if you want to win big in the USA, thems are the rules.

The Atlas’ massive outer dimensions mean that the cabin is equally large but not only that, it is well thought out and versatile. We quickly appreciate the level of efforts put forth by VW to make their Atlas a complete one-stop solution for all of the average North American family’s needs.

Available this June, the Atlas will only get only one powertrain for starters. It will be the well-known 3.6-litre VR6 V6 engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and VW’s 4MOTION AWD system. Here, the V6 produces 276-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, which is no more than sufficient for this truck. Thankfully, the autobox is brilliantly geared to make up for the lack of low-end grunt all the while being able to maintain the engine in its powerband when needed.

Towards the end of summer, in August to be more precise, a 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder will make its way in the Atlas as the base engine. What with the V6 barely making the grade, it is difficult to recommend considering the 4-pot even for slight drop in fuel consumption. As well, it will only come as a FWD.

On the road, the Atlas is well enough insulated from the elements however wind noise is present especially around the side-view mirrors. The drive is supple without being soft but it certainly is not sporty. Lean through corners and curves is prominent and serves as a reminder to the driver that he or she is not driving a GTI. Brakes are strong and inspire confidence and steering is precise. The Atlas’ handling characteristics are predictable and reassuring. It is impossible to forget how large the vehicle is when driving but to many, this directly translates into a sense of security.

Depending on the selected trim, an Atlas-load of safety features becomes available. Off the cuff, the truck comes with a reverse camera and post-collision braking. Moving on, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and many more driving aids are thrown in.

There’s nothing really new about the Atlas’ exterior styling but the lack of glitz and glam practically ensure that it will age well. The same can be said about the truck’s interior quarters. The dashboard is very German: simple, plain but efficient. The sole niggle is the use of some cheap hard plastics, unusual in modern VWs.

Front passengers are treated like royalty with loads of room, spot-on ergonomics and, depending on trim, a lovely and well-integrated 6.5” or 8” touchscreen. VW’s 12.3” Digital Cockpit can also be part of the lot. Must-have connectivity technologies such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth are all standard fare. Where value is concerned, the $43,790 V6 4MOTION Comfortline is the way to go.

Climbing aboard is easy thanks to the low step-in height for both front and rear passengers – a great feature when shuttling the mother-in-law. The doors open wide and we love the quick operating power hatch but not the fact that it’s only obtainable from the $49,000 Highline trim.

The sliding 2nd row is impressively roomy and even if a baby-seat is mounted on one end, the bench will slide and tilt forward enabling easy access to the 3rd row. An average sized adult can sit back there but not for a 2-hour road trip.

With the 3rd row folded down, the gigantic trunk becomes fully accessible. The load floor is completely flat and once more, thanks to the low step-in height, normal humans can load items deeper in the trunk without having to climb in. Contrary to many 3-row utes, with the 3rd row up, cargo space is decent.

The VW Atlas lands in the hotly contested 3-row large midsize SUV segment as one that cannot be overlooked. Sure, the brand’s recently soiled reputation might dissuade you from going to a dealership but a test drive is in order. The Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Hyundai Santa Fe XL are all worthy, as is the Atlas.


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