By on February 20, 2018

2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL R-Line

3.6-liter V6 (276 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 266 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

18 city / 25 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.8 city, 8.9 highway, 10.0 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $40,890 (U.S) / $48,990 (Canada)

As Tested: $43,775 (U.S.) / $50,950 (Canada)

Prices include $925 destination charge in the United States and $1,945 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

We all like comfort food. It’s not sexy, it may even be bland, but it keeps us feeling full and fulfilled. Meatloaf, a basic steak and potatoes, a hot turkey plate – all of these items serve that purpose.

I don’t know enough about German cuisine to guess what constitutes comfort food in Wolfsburg, and I don’t want to stereotype with guesses about spaetzle and schnitzel. Whatever passes for hale and hearty fare in Lower Saxony likely shares a lot with the feel of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.

Big, boxy, and brawny-looking, the blocky Atlas has one main mission – get up to seven folks from point A to B simply and comfortably. While there are plenty of modern features, that doesn’t mean there’s frills or design silliness, and while it offers enough power to do the job, it’s not precisely built for speed.

Full disclosure: Sometimes an auto journalist can arrange a press-car loan when traveling. I was in Los Angeles and Orange County for a full week for events, so I arranged for a press loan. I chose the Atlas because I hadn’t driven one yet. Also, I got nailed for Orange County tolls since I have no FastPass, and have since paid the $12 owed.

I was prepared for boredom when I picked the Atlas up at the parking garage just east of LAX. My test vehicle was white with an all-black interior, and the boxy shape doesn’t exactly inspire. But vehicles are much more than their styling, so I hopped in and headed out.

Most of my initial mileage came on the freeway, and the Atlas feels best suited to the leisurely cruise. Surely the MQB platform deserves some credit for that – the Atlas may look truck-based to non-car-people, but we all know it shares its underpinnings with the Jetta and Passat and Arteon. I can’t say the Atlas feels as “car-like” as other unibody SUVs, but the ride is still better than what a body-on-frame SUV would’ve provided in the past.

Volkswagen touts its weight-saving measures, but even with the attention paid to cutting pounds, my front-drive tester still weighed in at 4,336 of them. Not obscenely heavy, but enough to tax the 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque from the 3.6-liter V6. The good news is that peak torque comes into play at less than 3,000 rpm, so it’s there when you need it for passing.

I could’ve spent all my time in the Atlas on the freeway and surface streets, like most Angelinos do, but I had a couple hours to kill and was leaving a hotel that was a short drive away from Malibu’s most famous roads, including the Mulholland Snake. So I did what any owner of a seven-seat kidmobile would do – I took it to the canyons and drove it hard. I think I perplexed the bros who film the Snake for further YouTube perusing – I know the California Highway patrolman who was hanging out gave me a bemused look as I roared up the hill.

[Get new and used Volkswagen Atlas pricing here!]

The Atlas reacted predictably – lots of body roll and a sense of unease when pushed a little too hard. Not shocking – it’s not meant for this duty, even if it does have an independent suspension all around.

At least the steering felt reasonably connected to the road and well weighted, and the eight-speed automatic never fouled up the proceedings.

What was shocking was that the Atlas and I settled into a rhythm once I learned how far I could push it. Again, it wasn’t happy in the canyons, but it became manageable after a while.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Circling back to freeway cruising – not only does the Atlas feel well-suited to that from a ride perspective, it’s also got the proper interior for long drives. My body never complained after a long trek, and I had a few two-hour-plus stints behind the wheel. I had plenty of room up front, as well.

I sometimes roll my eyes at that maudlin Atlas ad featuring a family hauling an elderly woman of Irish decent across America to deposit her late husband’s ashes, but cynical heartstring tugging aside, the ad’s contention that the Atlas is comfortable for long road trips with seven passengers is fair. This thing is purpose-built for that.

The interior is standard Volkswagen fare – lots of Vader black, simple switchgear, few frills. My test vehicle included Apple CarPlay/smartphone integration, leatherette seat surfaces, USB, satellite radio, tri-zone climate control, and heated front seats. Interestingly, you can’t get navigation with the SEL V6.

The R-Line appearance package added 20-inch wheels, unique bumpers and trim, special badging, and stainless steel pedals. It’s not much of a performance enhancer – it’s more about show than go.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Other features included adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, park-distance control front and rear, lane-departure warning, power liftgate, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Comfort food is supposed to be affordable, and this is where the Atlas loses the plot. The SEL I tested started at $40,890. That’s without nav, VW’s digital cockpit/configurable-gauge system (you’ll need to step up to Premium trim for that), and all-wheel drive. Desire any of those, and you’re spending more cash.

The only option was the R-Line package. So that’s $1,960, plus the $925 destination fee, for a total of $43,775. A tad steep, at least in this scribe’s opinion.

As a commuter SUV, the Atlas is a fine vehicle – I even managed 20.2 combined mpg despite the hefty weight and V6 power. It’s comfy on the freeway, roomy, and interior materials feel upscale. But the $43K price tag for FWD and no nav gives me pause.

I guess even the upscale joints serve comfort food these days.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC, Volkswagen]

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66 Comments on “2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL R-Line Review – German Comfort Food...”


  • avatar
    RHD

    The takeaway: it’s got comfortable seats, and it gets the same MPG as a ’70 Beetle. And it’s expensive.
    And it seats as many people as a minivan. But what reason would annyone have to buy one of these instead of a good minivan?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If I was shopping in this class, I’d definitely get an Odyessy, but not everyone can handle a vehicle offering that high level of performance.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Fair point, and one Honda and Chrysler both would make…

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        There’s always the Pilot.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          If ground clearance matters than get the CUV. Obviously most people get the CUV for image reasons.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Mandalorian, or the Jeep Grand Cherokee V6.

          To me this Atlas is faintly reminiscent of our 2012 Grand Cherokee.

          BTW, the Grand Cherokee is available in a wide range of prices and trims, ranging from <$30K for the 2WD to well over $70K for the high performance version.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            GC has a substantially less cavernous interior (to say nothing of lacking any kind of third row).

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            gtem, for those who need a third row there is the Grand Cherokee’s stable mate, the Dodge Durango, at a price well below that of the Atlas.

            Someone would have to be a real VW fan with a throbbing sense of fahrvergneugen to buy one of these.

            I wonder if a diesel will be an option………

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      My parents got an MDX with SH-AWD for substantially less than the as tested price of this thing. Of course, the seats sucked but other than that it was pretty decent and seated 7. The 3rd row wasn’t even that bad.

    • 0 avatar
      GaryR

      I bought one instead of a minivan. IMO, there is no such thing as a “good” minivan. They all feel like dark caves with uncomfortable seats to me.

      There’s only one minivan currently available with AWD and it definitely doesn’t compare. The atlas is huge inside. It’s hard to understand this unless you’ve been in one. You think “yah right, full sized back seats,” but it really does.

      It also drives like a big car and not a minivan. It just feels like a roomier 7 seater version of an A4 hatchback to me (maybe not as performant or sporty). I definitely don’t think of it as an SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Exactly my thought. Just get the minivan and be done with it.

      These things are supposed to be tools, not fashion statements. Quit telling the world how you would just rather DIE than be seen in a minivan. It’s like refusing to use a screwdriver and insisting on using a hammer instead.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That price is sick, but worth noting: if you skip the fancier options, you can pick one of these up for +/- $35,000 with AWD and the V-6.

    But if we’re talking $43,000, and no AWD, I’d have to look at something like an up-optioned Pacifica or Odyssey.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “but even with the attention paid to cutting pounds, my front-drive tester still weighed in at 4,336 of them” – not bad for present day, my 2nd gen Highlander is approximately 4,200 lbs and was considered svelte back in it’s day in the 3 row CUV class.

    That fake wood in front of the passenger makes me think of my 1987 Cutlass Supreme. It just needs a rocket badge glued to it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      My ’03 Pilot is a ground pounding 4400lb!! Kind of surprising, I can’t quite figure out the reason for all the heft. The rear control arms are quite massive things I guess, and the unibody longerons are quite beefy as well. The new larger Pilot loaded up with a bunch more doodads and airbags actually weighs a good amount less.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    I see plenty of these in traffic. They’re always white or gray, and there is a young(ish) woman behind the wheel with no other passengers. The boxy proportions make them seem larger than they really are.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      If you are in a car down low you might not be able to see occupied car seats :)

      Plus if she drops her kids off at school it’s not like she can go home and switch to her 2 seater.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The kickup on the rear quarter window reminds me of the Isuzu Axiom. The rest looks pretty generic, like a Kia Borrego.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    My neighbor has a black one and I think it is great looking. Can’t say I’d buy one but I like it.

  • avatar
    spyked

    The gauge cluster in the photos sure looks like the Digital Cockpit. The articles says the tester didn’t include it for the price. Are these generic photos of an Atlas, and not the actual unit reviewed? If not, the gauges look GREAT for being basic!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’d actually consider an Atlas as a replacement for my Sedona, should that sad day ever come. The Atlas interior is large and comfortable, but I wouldn’t option it up. This car was one of my favorites at the Pittsburgh Auto Show this year.

    *I* wouldn’t want to pay $44k, but that’s the same price as minivans these days. As for nav – just go get a $200 Garmin.

    As for power, 276 hp for 4336 lbs isn’t bad, especially with an 8-speed automatic. My 09 Sedona makes do quite well with 250 hp and 4400 lbs and a 5-spd automatic, with a 3500-lb towing capacity.

    • 0 avatar
      mcbacon

      If the car comes with Android Auto/CarPlay, why would anyone want built-in nav or a standalone GPS? Unless you’re spending time in massive cell dead zones, Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps are far better than any built in nav or GPS I’ve ever used.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    they will sell hundreds of these.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Maybe, but the idea is to sell thousands of these. And I don’t see that happening.

      VW is a damaged brand. Many former VW owners are so ticked off at VW pulling the wool over their eyes with dieselgate that they have voted with their feet.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        HDC, I have to disagree. Since they ‘Americanized’ the Jetta, Passat, Tiguan and introduced the Atlas, VW sales are on an uptick. The new warranty should help. Personally I’d consider one of these next time around, although VW has the goofiest packaging imaginable, especially with the Launch versions….

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Dave M., I’m sure that VW execs are hoping for exactly that.

          I’m the guy who is all about choice and “The More The Merrier”. So I actually did buy a brand new 1982 Quantum for my wife to use after we came back from Germany.

          After my personal experience way back then, I’m never going back to VW. And my guess is that people who got shortchanged by the VW dieselgate, have also left the brand for good.

          One good thing out of all this. Every year new potential drivers are born who don’t know anything about cars, the car industry or past failures.

          And there is a sucker born every minute, the old saying goes.

          • 0 avatar
            NeilM

            Highdesertcat writes: “I’m the guy who is all about choice and “The More The Merrier”. So I actually did buy a brand new 1982 Quantum for my wife to use after we came back from Germany.

            After my personal experience way back then, I’m never going back to VW.”

            Because 1982 has so much to do with 2018.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            NeilM, if you got ptomaine poisoning at some restaurant where you ate, why would you want to go back there again?

            I also had less than stellar experiences with GM and Ford, so I stay away from those brands as well.

            And like I wrote above, there’s a sucker born every minute so VW will have a lot of takers, like they did before dieselgate.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            “Sucker born every minute”

            Oh, so THAT’S how they manage to push a few Tundras out the door.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Sales trended up immediately after the decontenting, but trended down again. Way down. Passat is back to pre-decontenting sales levels, and January 2018 was the worst month for the Jetta since at least 2002. Dieselgate might have had something to do with it, but I think intensifying competition (new Civic, 3, Camry, Accord) combined with VW pricing out its joie de vivre have done irreparable damage.

          You can’t go from a premium brand to a mainstream and then back up to a premium brand. We see how Lincoln, Buick and to a degree Cadillac have struggled with that and VW wasn’t even fully premium.

          • 0 avatar

            I actually kind of like the passat for it’s vast interior with crazy good 4cyl mileage but I just can’t VW again.
            I feel the same way about the atlas it looks Classy it’s roomy (really roomy for a CUV ) but I just can’t go there again.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            mopar4wd, that’s exactly what I think will happen with many previous VW owners….

            Because past experiences have so much to do with 2018……

            Then again, there are new potential drivers being born every day, and it’s been said that a sucker is born every minute.

            So maybe in 20 years or so, we’ll see a giant leap upwards in sales of VW vehicles.

            OTOH, there’s always the Chinese market. It doesn’t always have to be about American sales.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight…you say there’s a sucker born every minute?

            They don’t say that there’s a gasbag born every minute, but they probably should.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I think my local VW dealer that I’ve bought from twice is desperate for sales. I’ve been contacted by 3 different sales people about replacing my wife’s 2014 Jetta, which according to their records was leased (it was financed).

      I finally had enough last week with the newest solicitation and ended up emailing the dealer principal and the sales guy that kept bothering me and told them to cut it out. I think emailing the dealer principal got the message across. The sales guy said there was a problem with their CRM system. Not sure I believe it.

      BTW, if people are going to buy the new Atlas and Tiguan, they need to get them in yellow and orange. Enough of the dreary colours.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      they sold 27K of these in 8 months and low inventory

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I think this SUV will sell in big numbers (for VW). I would expect numbers to stabilize at about 25k per year after the new-model bump. And a lot of these buyers would be new to VW.

      I think this will be a home run for VW.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Well above $40K to get AWD? Here’s where a used CPO Audi makes a lot of sense. And yet, VW will sell all they can build.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      You can get a V6 AWD Atlas for <$34K. For each trim level, the AWD version costs about $1800 more.

      I live in FL, I need AWD like I need a hole in the head, so I applaud VW for offering the choice of whether to have it or not in the higher trim levels. Though it does really prove that ultimately these are just minivans for the vain.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Unremarkable. Wait a second, that was a remark, wasn’t it?

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    The Subaru Ascent pricing doesn’t seem too bad all of a sudden eh?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    With the Passat sales in freefall I hope they ditch it and make a 2 row version of this. Give it the 2.0T and 3.6, tuned to a torquey 240HP and a full 300HP respectively. Rake the pillars a bit and make the wheel fitments a little more aggressive. Give it a nicer interior. Keep the price within range of equivalent Passats (key). I think it would do well. I am looking to stay in a RWD 3 box for as long as possible but I’d love to have that in the stable as wifey’s car.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    For that starting price, I’d Really Rather Have a Buick…Enclave.

  • avatar
    e30driver

    Came close to pulling the trigger on one of these in the fall. Dealers in the DC area were all quoting about $38k plus destination for an SEL with 4motion and 2nd-row captains chairs (but without the R-line package reviewed here). We cross-shopped with the Pilot EX-L and Highlander XLE.
    Pros: interior looks upscale (but don’t look too carefully), super comfortable, super roomy, easy to use 3rd row for adults, smooth/quiet ride
    Cons: feels underpowered, I anticipate abysmal fuel economy in urban driving, seems like a reliability gamble

    We liked it better than the Pilot and Highlander, but the Cons mentioned above swayed us away from making a purchase. Decided to stick with our current vehicle a bit longer in hopes VW starts offering more discounts, or that Toyota upgrades the infotainment in the Highlander (that vehicle’s big downside, in our opinion).

  • avatar

    $43,000 for a VW minivan is insane.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Big SOB in person. Even the largest wheel and tire packages are too small for the wheel openings.

    I like VW’s current lineup, enough that we’ll likely replace my wife’s ’16 CRV with SOMETHING from VW. As much as I wanted to hate the “pleather” seats in my Jetta, I’ve grown to really like it. If BMW and Mercedes can foist vinyl seats on “luxury” buyers, surely VW can swing it too.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    German comfort food? Spare me.

    “Whatever passes for hale and hearty fare in Lower Saxony likely shares a lot with the feel of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.”

    A bit unlikely, given that the Atlas is not sold there or in the rest of Germany. It obviously does not appeal or VW would be flogging it in a nanosecond. Rather, it’s VW’s take on what might sell to fast food swallowing North Americans, who by and large abandoned diner food 40 odd years ago.

    Ever hear of an artificial construct? You have just wasted several sentences on such nonsense in the review.

    This is a VW minivan disguised as a crossover for fashion purposes, to make it acceptable in suburbia. People hate to be reminded of practicality in this dog-eat-dog world. They’d rather daydream of better days and avoid reality. Result from VW Product Planning is a big box of air called Atlas with not much else to recommend it other than space and the ability to ford nine inches of raging stormwater on the school and Costco runs.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “People hate to be reminded of practicality in this dog-eat-dog world.”

      So why are they buying a crossover instead of something like a CC?

      I’d actually argue the opposite and say that today’s buyers are largely obsessed with practicality (and ride height). Everything has to be able to carry a pallet of mulch and 3 big screen TVs and 6 passengers and tow a boat and go up snowy hills or else you may as well be in a Gallardo.

    • 0 avatar
      Carrera

      The Atlas is one of the most comfortable and roomy 3rd row vehicle in its class. And this is coming from a hardcore Pilot guy. If they can get their quality control and reliability up, they have a winner. The warranty is certainly the best in the business.
      For Europe this would be huge. Also the V6 is too thirsty. When gas is $1.80 per liter, thirsty gas V6s are not really selling well.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    My wife’s Pilot is 12 years old and has about 170,000. Still going strong but I know the time will come. I am seriously looking at the Atlas. I’ve noticed none of you mentioned the crazy bumper to bumper warranty. Better than Hyundai and Kia. Decent vehicle. Not too many on the dealer lots and they aren’t cutting many deals. I was looking for the mid level SE and the dealer had none. Just a bunch of low level 4 cylinder or a few high end SEL. About 7 cars all together. And this is a good size dealer in Orlando.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Take a road trip to Houston. These are thick on the ground and running 10-13% off MSRP according to TrueCar. And anyone with an ounce of energy can do better than TrueCar.

  • avatar
    baggins

    I like the comfort food analogy, unlike some readers.

    However, I’d like to read about the effectiveness/annoyingness of the drivers aids. My wife wants a new CUV and wants these features. They are just listed as present, but in my thinking the functionality of relatively new set of technologies should be described in a thorough review.

    I have a 2017 Accord Hybrid with Lane Keeping (never use, I can manage steering), Road Departure Mitigation (have it set to warning only, not sure its working) and frontal collision warning/mitigation ( It’s never needed to put on the brakes for me, but I find its warning useful if I am distracted by something and am closing fast on the car in front of me.

  • avatar
    threeer

    German comfort food? Make mine Rouladen with Potato Salad (made as my Oma made it…cold and vinegar-based) and yes, Spaetzle. Finish it off with a piece of Linzertorte (okay, that might technically be considered Austrian in origin, but I’ll fudge that one).

    As for VW…not seeing much “German comfort” in their lineup anymore. Like so many German restaurants in America, they are German in name only and lack any of the feel that made them unique. Not sure what VW is to do. They had a hard time selling while advertising being a true German alternative, and when they “Americanized” many of their vehicles, they saw a temporary uptick, but now seem to struggle again (though some of that is likely attributed to the whole diesel fiasco).

    Now I’m hungry! I miss my Oma…

  • avatar
    marmot

    “Seems like a reliability gamble.” The understatement of the year.

  • avatar
    Delta88

    I like the Atlas but I cannot forgive the faux exhaust outlets. Once you notice them you can’t unsee them. Yes there are big chrome things poking out from the rear valance but they have black plastic inserts. Look under the bumper and there is a down-turned, unembellished exhaust a few inches ahead of them. It’s a cruel and cynical joke. Definitely designed for the US market because I can’t imagine them getting away with this in Germany. And why?!

  • avatar
    Delta88

    I tried Googling a photo of the fakery and I’ll be damned, its a new trend. http://shiftinglanes.com/2017/03/fake-exhaust-tips-gone-far/

    • 0 avatar
      asphaltcowboy

      Not as bad as fake brake/side vents and hood scoops…although those have been done for decades – aaaand nothing more pathetic than vinyl seats being passed off as leather – and fake stitching! – yech!

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        LOL c’mon, of course a Chevy W/T pick up with roll-your-own windows, black grille and rubber flooring is “loaded, with leather interior”! Eat your heart out, Sierra Denali!

  • avatar
    ernest

    I may be alone here, but for $40ish, a 2 yr old Yukon Denali ain’t looking all that bad.

  • avatar
    nick0264

    The Atlas looks like a Ford until it’s 20 feet away. Volkswagen is lost, hardly a surprise.

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