Subtle, Germanic Change: Refreshed Volkswagen Atlas Lands in Chicago

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
subtle germanic change refreshed volkswagen atlas lands in chicago

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]

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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.

  • KOKing I car-sat an A32 while its owner was out of the country, and the then whiz-bang VQ motor was great, but the rest of it wasn't any better than a XV10 or XV20. Definitely the start of its downward slide, unfortunately.
  • Norman Stansfield Why are leaf springs still a thing on this truck?
  • Syke The expected opening comments. Have had mine for two years now, the car has done exactly what I want out of it, and a little better. I'm quite happy with the car, haven't had to adjust my driving style or needs in the slightest, and . . . . oh, did a mention that I don't give a damn what today's price at the pump is?Probably going to go for a second one in the coming year, the wife's happy enough with mine that she's ready and willing to trade in the Nissan Kicks. Eventually, the not often used van will end up getting traded on a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, basically ensuring that we don't use gas for anything except the occasional long trip.And the motorcycles.
  • Bobbysirhan I've never found the Allegro appealing before, but a few years of EV rollouts make it seem downright desirable.
  • Scoutdude I know that dealership. Way back when my friend's grandfather was that Turner that owned the Chrysler Plymouth International dealer, in MacPherson. Of course the International was dropped when they didn't deem the Scout reason enough to keep the franchise. I moved from there in late 1978 so it is possible I saw this running around town way back when.