By on February 6, 2020


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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16 Comments on “Subtle, Germanic Change: Refreshed Volkswagen Atlas Lands in Chicago...”

  • avatar

    An Atlas will pull a 27 foot Airstream? Really? How far? For how many consecutive hours at highway speed?

    • 0 avatar

      What you think that Airstream weighs more than 5000 pounds? /s

      *you made me go into the rabbit hole of the internet looking at towing ratings and airstream trailers!

      • 0 avatar

        those things have full-up weights pushing 5 tons (maybe more?). I think the Atlas must be the tow-behind vehicle so they don’t have to unhitch the F250 on the front of the Airstream.

    • 0 avatar

      A guy I know here in El Paso bought an Atlas last year from the local VW dealer and as a passenger I believed it to be underpowered, with a total of four adults riding in it.

      It had a nice interior, was quiet in the cabin, and rode smoothly enough, but when the driver had to accelerate hard to merge with I-10 traffic I heard a lot of noise from under the hood and only sluggish acceleration.

      I doubt the Atlas would pull a 27-ft Airstream, and if attempted, my guess is the tranny would give out prematurely.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Depends on what engine your friend’s Atlas has…base engine is a 2 liter 4 cylinder.

        • 0 avatar

          Roberto, I didn’t ask, didn’t tell.

          I suspect his wife, the German girl he met and married while stationed in Germany back in the 1970s, was instrumental in his decision to buy the VW product (for her DD).

          His personal DD is a 2009 Tundra DoubleCab TRD.

  • avatar

    $40 to $50 large for this.?
    I dont know. I know i m supposed to like VW. Never owned one. But, the quality and dealer visit horror stories scare me off.

    And i hate the heavy ‘shoulders’ above the wheel arches.
    my 2 cents

  • avatar

    Nice to see them offer the Atlas with AWD and the 2.0t. The V6 is somewhat of a relic and probably the least competitive V6 on sale today in the US in any vehicle save maybe for the Nissan Frontier’s 4.0. I think once the 2.0t is saddled with AWD it is going to be pretty close to the same EPA numbers but might be a little faster 0-60 and it is at least a modern engine.

  • avatar

    These days, don’t forget to say “thank you” for keeping the real shifter

  • avatar

    The redesigned front clip is a big improvement — an Ashlee Simpson nose job.

  • avatar

    The Atlas has struck me as the insurance-ad Generic SUV since the day it came out. This one doesn’t look any different.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    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.

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