Country Squire for the Modern Era
Coming off my second consecutive Buick Enclave lease, I decided it was time to add a smidgen of efficiency to the primary goal simply being roomy enough for the family. This is a car for my wife and her driving is skewed heavily toward city driving in congested traffic situations. I have three children who are all involved in year-round sporting activities and these days the miles are piling up fast.
The family hauler is used quite extensively, racking up about 20k miles per year. So, 15 mpg and 250 miles per fill-up just weren’t cutting it anymore. Interior space for my family of five, which includes giant offspring, is of course job one. My 14-year-old son is 6’2″ and my 11-year-old daughter is already 5’6″. They aren’t going to be shoehorned into the jump seats that some popular three-row vehicles pass off as being fit for human occupants … especially on multi-hour trips for travel sports, vacations, etc.
Refreshed for the 2021 model year, the successful Volkswagen Atlas doesn’t change what consumers already like — and part of that strategy means keep its entry price static. Donning a revamped front and rear fascia that mimics its slightly shorter two-row sibling, the Atlas Cross Sport, the midsize crossover again starts at $32,656 after destination.
That price gets you into a front-drive S powered by a carryover 2.0-liter turbo four. Should your wishes include all-wheel drive, expect to find a lot more choice.
What happens to an OEM that may have been caught napping while its competitors race to fill every possible niche with crossovers?
It takes its three-row crossover, lops off the third row and some rear space, gives it a name that plays off the existing moniker, and puts it out there.
Hence we have the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, which shares its platform with the Atlas (the wheelbases are even the same) but loses about three inches of length and a bit more than two inches of height while offering seating for just five.
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.”
The annual sales volumes of Volkswagen’s U.S. arm, if placed on a line graph, would resemble deep sea swells, rising and falling by significant amounts as the company reinvents itself again and again. Today, Volkswagen of America is an SUV-heavy automaker that really wants you to think about eco-conscious electric cars.
The utility vehicles are here. More are on the way, but so too are a selection of EVs. With 2019 sales now on the books, we can look at the current wave and speculate as to its final height.
Lusted after by no writer upon its debut, the intentionally inoffensive, strength-projecting Volkswagen Atlas did exactly what the automaker intended. It gave the brand a viable challenger in the midsize utility vehicle space, luring Americans into its Teutonic cabin and generating the margins necessary to help fund VW’s electric vehicle push.
The Atlas is a hit, and the coming year sees it undergo its first refresh. Details follow.
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport brings a rakish rear hatch to the refreshed Atlas line, but limits the midsize crossover’s seating configuration to five passengers. Once nestled inside VW’s upcoming Atlas variant, those five occupants will enjoy VW’s next generation Car-Net technology platform, while drivers can expect to be coddled by upgraded driver assistance technologies.
The Cross Sport applies an Audi Q7-esque not-a-coupe treatment that dials up the elegance, even when concealed by camouflage vinyl. If this is all it takes for buyers to feel like they’re avoiding the soccer parent image, then VW can expect to attract a style-sensitive buyer pool ready and willing to lose the small third-row seats. Even though the rear overhang is 5.7 inches shorter than the standard Atlas, it gains storage capacity in the transformation as a result of the removal of those rear seats. In its place is a flat load panel that covers a space-saver spare tire and optional Fender subwoofer. There’s actually a decent volume of unfinished storage capacity I’d expect many owners to find useful for infrequently used items.
The three-row Atlas was the midsize utility vehicle Volkswagen needed, but the model’s entry-level 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is apparently the engine Volkswagen doesn’t want.
For 2019, the Atlas seems some unusual rejigging occur at the bottom end of the trim ladder. Unless you’re totally stoked with the idea of having the least amount of power going to the fewest number of wheels, you’ll end up paying more.
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.
At launch, the lone Volkswagen Atlas available in the United States was the more powerful 3.6-liter V6, a Tennessee-built $34,425 three-row crossover with 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is an $1,800 option. The Atlas was rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city; 25 on the highway. City fuel economy for AWD models dropped by a single mpg; highway mpg fell to 23.
Now we know how much money you can save by purchasing the front-wheel-drive-only Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T, which suffers a loss of 41 horsepower but generates very nearly as much torque as the V6 (258 lb-ft) and does so 1,150-rpm closer to idle.
Not surprisingly, a small, modern, turbocharged engine is barely more efficient than the larger, naturally aspirated V6.
For whatever reason, Volkswagen has shied away from the mainstream, large, family vehicle market for decades. When most American parents and spawn headed to Wally World in massive station wagons, Volkswagen offered the Microbus. When minivans became the rage, the sages of Wolfsburg set forth the quirky, rear-engined Vanagon. And through the ‘90s, as the SUV became the default soccer mom transport, the Eurovan continued the tall and narrow van theme.
Certainly, the Routan was a typical minivan — albeit provided by Chrysler — and the Touareg followed a traditional (if pricey) luxury SUV path, but VW hasn’t been a player in the meat of the market. Considering the challenges the company has faced over the last couple years, Volkswagen simply cannot afford to yield high-volume market segments. Besieged dealers need something bigger than a midsized sedan to sell.
Most of all, as noted by Michael Lovati, Volkswagen’s Vice President of Midsize and Fullsize vehicles in North America, “VW needs to regain trust.”
Step one in rebuilding trust is the all-new, American-made 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, which aims squarely at the ever-popular three-row midsize crossover market, especially the beloved Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot.
Does Atlas hit the bulls-eye, or miss wildly?
The Atlas, Volkswagen’s entry into the hotly contested three-row crossover segment, is here — and it has the company’s future fortunes resting on its shoulders.
Volkswagen has not been doing well in the United States. Since 2012, its best sales year this millennia, VW has shed 30 percent of its sales volume. The brand that invented the compact car in the eyes of many Americans now finds itself in 14th place on the brand leaderboard with a 1.6 percent market share.
Dieselgate didn’t help, but its unbalanced product range may be the more nagging culprit. This is VW’s first mainstream, three-row crossover.