2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL R-Line Review - German Comfort Food

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
Fast Facts

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.
2018 volkswagen atlas sel r line review german comfort food

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.

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.

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

More by Tim Healey

Join the conversation
2 of 66 comments
  • Ernest Ernest on Feb 22, 2018

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

  • Nick0264 Nick0264 on Feb 27, 2018

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

  • Tassos Unlike Tim, I don't use this space as a wastebasket for ANYTHING BUT a proper used car.If you seriously need a car AND you are as destitute as Tim's finds imply, HERE IS A PROPER ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS:You can probably get it for only $4k, WITH Leather, Factory Navigation, plenty of room and a V6.https://www.cars.com/research/toyota-camry-2005/I even considered getting it myself as an extra reliable car.
  • Jeff Of all the EV trucks I like the Rivian the best but I am still years away if ever from buying an EV.
  • Kwik_Shift I definitely like the looks of the newest 300s over the Chargers.
  • SCE to AUX "Should car companies shack up with tech giants in order to produce legible infotainment systems and the like? Or should they go it alone?"Great question(s).The River Rouge days are gone, where Ford produced whole cars out of raw materials entering the plant at the other end. Nearly everything is outsourced these days - sometimes well, sometimes disastrously.But the problem with infotainment systems is that they are integrated with the car's operation. VW has delayed entire products for issues with infotainment.For me, the question boils down to a contractual arrangement - who owns and maintains the code forever? Since more and more of the car's function is tied to the infotainment system, I'd argue that the car mfr needs to own it - especially the larger ones.Do mfrs really want to share intellectual property with Huawei just to fast-track some code they've managed themselves in the past?
  • Kwi65728132 I always did like the styling of the 300C and it was on my short list for a new (to me) rear wheel drive, naturally aspirated V8 luxury sedan but I found a Hyundai Equus that was better optioned than any 300C I could find and for several grand less.