Subtle, Germanic Change: Refreshed Volkswagen Atlas Lands in Chicago

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It’s no secret the Atlas is a massive sales and revenue driver for Volkswagen of America, yet time marches on. The model entered production in Chattanooga in 2017 after a debut at the 2016 LA Auto Show, meaning the midsize crossover is ripe for a mild makeover. With the model’s two-row Cross Sport sibling arriving this spring, Volkswagen desired a freshened Atlas line for 2021.

It’s a game of “spot the changes.”

Like the Cross Sport, the upcoming Atlas dons a three-bar chrome grille that flows into the revised headlamps. Below, a new lower fascia sees a larger air opening ringed by a matte bar that lends the impression that this thing is better off-road than it really is. It’s a less blocky look than before, and that’s a good thing, at least according to this writer.

The two Atlases see a fair bit of differentiation in that lower fascia, helping to tell them apart in a parking lot. Instead of big side scoops, the Atlas keeps things tame. Out back, the taillights see a subtle visual change.

New for 2021 is standard LED lighting front and rear, and VW says the bumper alterations have added 3 inches to the model’s length. If you’re looking for more menace, there’s an R-Line variant that dons side skirts, a bumper all its own, and a choice of 20- or 21-inch wheels. Sport-minded crossovers with no additional horsepower are so hot right now.

There’s no extra horsepower for any 2021 Atlas buyer. Carrying over from 2020 are a 3.6-liter V6 making 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder returns with 258 hp and 235 lb-ft. Both engines put power to the front or all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic.

One thing worthy of note is that VW has more jobs in store for the four-banger. No longer will the 2.0L be relegated only to front-drive units nobody buys.

You’ll find a new steering wheel inside, joined by an 8-inch Composition Media infotainment system — unless you opt for the base S trim. Good luck finding an Atlas S, anyway. Buyers with a deep-seated hate of tradition can spring for a digital cockpit. Elsewhere, niceties like ambient lighting and three-zone climate control remain available. Forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitoring, and rear traffic alert are standard on all trims.

Pricing isn’t expected to diverge much from the 2020 model, but we won’t know for sure util closer to the Atlas’ spring launch.

[Images: Volkswagen, Tim Healey/TTAC]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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4 of 16 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Feb 06, 2020

    It looks the same to me. So I have no further comments.

  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Feb 07, 2020

    As the owner of a 27-foot Airstream travel trailer, I can report that it has a GVWR of 7600 lbs. The Atlas could probably tow it, but not happily. More important is the fact that Airstreams have a high "tongue weight," that is the weight carried by the hitch of the towing vehicle. Fully loaded, a 27-foot Airstream has a tongue weight of close to 1,000 lbs. I doubt that the Atlas would be happy with that.

  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.