In other words, the Atlas does a great job of providing the basics for a growing family. In fact, we think it represents the best value in its most basic form. When the price rises, you're more likely to notice its sub-par interior quality, dull design, underpowered engines and unusually springy ride. It's certainly one to consider, but also not a class leader.
What's new for 2019?Every Atlas now comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, plus blind-spot warning, automatic LED headlights and automatic wipers. The SE now includes tri-zone climate control, while the SEL gets Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, integrated navigation and a heated steering wheel standard. There are also two new trim levels, SE R-Line and SEL R-Line, which are effectively appearance packages.
What's the interior and in-car technology like?Interior materials and overall ambiance are a little disappointing. There is typically austere German design and then there's just plain – the Atlas skews toward the latter. That's especially true in the lower trims, but even swapping out the S and SE's silver plastic accent trim (pictured right) for the unusual wood-like substance of the SEL (pictured left) doesn't snazz things up enough. The quality of plastics, particularly on the center console, is worse than what you'd find in rival SUVs. Upmarket interiors used to be a Volkswagen trademark. Today, it's space and value, which might be fine for many shoppers.
In-car technology is a better situation. Even the base Atlas S we tested includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a touchscreen that's easy to use and see, if a bit small at 6.5 inches. There's only one USB port, however. Stepping up to the SE trim adds an extra three USB ports, satellite radio and an eight-inch touchscreen with effectively the same interface as the 6.5-inch one. That's the infotainment situation for all the upper trim levels, though the SEL does boast the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit that replaces the standard gauge cluster with one digital display. It can simulate regular gauges, or minimize them to show a large navigation map, audio interface or other display.
How big is it?The Atlas is enormous. Quite simply, if you need more space than this, you really have no choice but to go with a minivan or a full-size SUV like a Ford Expedition XL. Even the Chevrolet Traverse, which surpasses the Atlas in most dimensions, isn't so much bigger to really matter.
Like competitors, there is a second row three-person bench seat available for an eight-passenger capacity or captain's chairs with a seven-person capacity. We've tested examples with the bench, which is 60/40-split and slides further fore and aft than those of competitors. This allows you to bring children in car seats closer to mom and dad, or free up even more third row legroom. They also allow for a much larger pass through to the third row than other crossovers can manage.
Not only is it easier to get into the Atlas' third row, it is more spacious once you get back there. As we detail in the video above, someone 6-foot-3 has more than enough head- and legroom in the third row. True, you probably won't be stuffing NBA point guards back there, but whoever is in the way back will be less cramped and just generally happier.
As for cargo capacity, as you can see in our luggage test video below, the Atlas' 20.6 cubic-feet of space behind that raised third row allowed us to stow three carry-on roller suitcases, one mid-size check-in suitcase and an overnight bag. That people-to-luggage ratio should be pretty hard to beat in a three-row crossover.
Now, if there's lots of space with all rows raised, it shouldn't be surprising that trend continues when you lower them. With 96.8 cubic-feet of maximum cargo space, the Atlas is only outdone by the Traverse (barely), minivans, and those full-size SUVs.
What's the performance and fuel economy?Only the front-wheel-drive Atlas S in base trim comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That output arrives earlier in the rev range, meaning it actually feels a bit quicker off the line than the V6 found in all other trims. It's also literally quicker than the range-topping SEL, since the SEL's extra equipment results in a much heftier curb weight.
As for that 3.6-liter V6, it produces 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, meaning both available engines are underpowered for the segment. Like the four-cylinder, an eight-speed automatic is standard, but unlike it, you can specify front- or "4Motion" all-wheel drive.
Fuel economy is 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD. Those figures are low for the segment. The 2.0T engine is average at 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined, but again, it too is underpowered and also only available on the base S with front-wheel drive.
What's it like to drive?The base S trim level doesn't suffer for its four-cylinder engine as you'd might expect. Acceleration can actually be quicker than the V6 model and we found that having less weight to lug around makes the base trim lighter on its feet and comparatively tossable around corners.
That said, virtually every Atlas you'll find on a dealer lot will have the V6, and its acceleration is never as brisk as you'd find in most competitors. Handling is also a bit ponderous, both in comparison to the four-cylinder model and rival SUVs. The steering is at least pleasantly linear in effort and free from the extra-numb on-center feel of other Volkswagens.
As for the ride, it's very springy. The Atlas bounds and floats over undulations, yet greets manholes and broken pavement with typical Germanic firmness. The extra pounds added by the SEL settle those high seas body motions a bit, but the Atlas' ride is excessively soft.
What more can I read about the Volkswagen Atlas?
What features are available and what's the price?Pricing for the 2019 VW Atlas starts at $31,890, including the $995 destination charge. That's for the front-wheel-drive base S trim level, which comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, roof rails, accident avoidance technologies (see Safety section below), dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way manual driver seat, cloth upholstery, one USB port, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a six-speaker sound system. Opting for all-wheel drive also adds the V6 engine to the Atlas S.
Given the relative dearth of equipment included on the base trim, we'd expect many folks would find the $36,490 SE trim to be the sweet spot. It adds an eight-way power driver seat, simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, proximity entry and push-button start, rear sunshades, four USB ports, an eight-inch touchscreen, an eight-speaker sound system and satellite radio.
Features are ramped up even further with the SE Technology package ($38,290), SEL trim ($42,390) and SEL Premium ($49,390) to create a vehicle equipped similarly to a luxury model.
You can see a complete breakdown of Atlas features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.
What's its safety equipment and crash ratings?Every 2019 VW Atlas comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, a rearview camera and a typical assortment of airbags. Lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and an automatic parking features are available.
In government crash tests, the Atlas scored a perfect five stars for overall, frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible ratings in all crash tests, plus a rating of "Superior" for its frontal crash prevention systems. It fell short of a Top Safety Pick award due to a "Marginal" headlight rating.