A few years ago, only a few manufacturers offered three-row SUVs capable of carrying up to seven people, and they were based on trucks. Today, practically everyone offers at least one, and most are now crossovers that are built and ride more like cars.
So if you're coming to the game this late, you'd better have something special to offer. Fortunately for Volkswagen, it does. The company's first three-row crossover does everything well at a reasonable price — and it even has an easy to pronounce name.
The 2018 Atlas is by far the largest of Volkswagen's current models, and is probably bigger — or at least, heavier — than any of its previous vans, especially when equipped with every option and the company's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, like our SEL Premium edition. It seems as large as any other crossover on the market, though not as hefty as those still built on truck frames, like the Chevy Suburban. But it is engineered to drive like a smaller vehicle, with a responsive suspension and quick, precise steering that makes it feel lighter than its 4,728 pounds.
On the outside, the Atlas looks more like a large American crossover than a Volkswagen, too. It has a blunt front end, angular wheel wheels, and a squared off rear end with a very large hatch. Especially when equipped with 20-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, the size is immediately apparently.
The size is immediately apparent on the inside, too. The boxy exterior creates an enormous amount of interior room. Even the passengers in the third row of seats have both head and leg room. And clever engineering helps everyone get in and out easily. The second row of seats slide and fold forward to provide easy access to the back row.
The interior styling is restrained but complete, like all of Volkswagen's products. Drivers aren't overwhelmed by too many buttons and knobs, and everything is logically laid out. The AWD system can be easily adjusted from an easy to reach knob on the console. And our test Atlas came with an 8-inch touchscreen and practically every infortainment and safety technology on the market.
The Atlas has only one engine, a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 276 horsepower and 266 foot pounds of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it provides adequate acceleration, but is good for quick bursts of speed with needed.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is mileage. The EPA only rates the Atlas at an average 19 miles per gallon. That really reveals the downside of the company's struggle with its diesel engines. A diesel V6 option would give the Atlas more power and better mileage.
On the other hand, the starting price for the Atlas is only $34,625, which is very competitive considering the long line of standard features. And our fully-loaded test model was priced at less than $50,000, which is more than reasonable, considering the high level of refinement. Volkswagen may be late to the three-row crossover party, but it 2018 Atlas is well worth considering.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 4Motion
Base price: $34,625
Price as tested: $49,415
Type: Fullsize crossover SUV
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (276 hp, 266 lb-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 17/23
Overall length: 198.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,728 pounds
Final assembly: Chattanooga, Tennessee