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.
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).
Another area that could use some urgent retuning is the suspension damping. Volkswagen’s first crack at it seems to feature shocks that somehow feel harsh on chatter bumps, washboard, and gravel surfaces but float over larger undulations. The suspension travel could also do with another inch or two and/or savvier countermeasures at the extremes of travel because during some mild off-roading multiple editors reported feeling the suspension topping and bottoming out. There was also praise, however, for the overall grip and traction in the Off-road mode and for the effective hill-descent control system.
In the grand scheme of things, VW has gotten right the hardest vehicle attributes like packaging, proportion, stance, etc. Sure we’d like a more powerful engine, but most of what bugs us about this brawny and commodious CUV can be remedied almost as easily as detaching toilet paper from a shoe or untucking a skirt. Get them all right, and VW can be assured its late-arriving party girl will be no wallflower.
Because the test surface we used for this review is a mere month old (and still curing), our braking and handling results show longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report. With that in mind, this vehicle’s numbers are not necessarily comparable with previous or future test results.