The VW Atlas is a spacious and upscale SUV designed for North America

Ted Laturnus: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas unmatched in space and versatilityDesigned specifically for the North American market, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is somewhere between the company’s Tiguan and Touareg … and is offered in four trim packages: Trendline, Highline, Comfortline and, top of range, Execline.

Power is provided by either a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder or a 3.6-litre V6 engine. The Execline model I tested back in 2018 had the V6, while the base Trendline comes with the four-banger.

This latter powerplant is also found in the Touareg, incidentally. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission only with VW’s Tiptronic feature and a full-time AWD system VW likes to call 4Motion. VW has utilized these two last features for years, and they are, as they say, proven. That said, the Atlas is not a rough and ready off-road bush-walloper. The idea behind 4Motion is to make the vehicle more stable and tractable during city/highway driving.

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A few other specs. The Atlas is an honest-to-goodness seven-seater and, with all the seats folded flat, there are 2,700 litres and change  (95 cu. ft.) of cargo room. By comparison, the Ford Explorer offers a maximum of just over 2,300 litres (81 cu. ft.), while the Honda Pilot is good for about 2.375 litres (83.0 cubic feet). By any standards, the Atlas is a spacious vehicle, with scads of head, elbow and leg room. Access to the third row of seats is a little tricky, but that seems to be the case with virtually all vehicles of this size.

As befits any self-respecting upscale SUV, the Atlas Execline has all the modern conveniences one would expect in a vehicle of this ilk. Heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats (second row), leather upholstery, app-connect smartphone integration, Navi, and a nice Fender auto system are all part of the package, as is an automatic lane departure warning system, hill descent control, hill holder, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, etc., etc. You won’t lack creature comforts with the Atlas Execline, and it’s very much in line with other models in the category when it comes to the bells and whistles.

Slide behind the wheel and it’s obvious that you are in a well-assembled vehicle. Fit and finish are pretty much impeccable, and the Atlas is quiet and civilized with minimal NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) when underway. Like most VW products, it feels upscale, and if you were blindfolded, you could easily mistake this one for an Audi.

But all is not perfection. Number one with a bullet for me was VW’s accursed lane departure warning system. When you’re driving, any minor deviation from the lane you’re in results in a gentle tugging on the steering wheel as the car attempts to put itself back on track. Fine in theory, but disconcerting and, I would argue, potentially dangerous.

For example, if you need to switch lanes in a hurry because the moron beside you has decided to cut you off or the guy in front chooses to stop and turn at the last minute, the system will slow you down just enough to make it awkward. Nine and three-quarters times out of 10, you can override this. Still, that mini-second delay could theoretically make the difference between safely executing a collision-avoiding manoeuver and total disaster. For prospective buyers, I would suggest you disable this nuisance ASAP … it’s nothing but a pain in the ass.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 3.6 litre V6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Drive: AWD
Horsepower: 276 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque:  266 ft. lb @ 2750 rpm
Original price: $53,000
Fuel Economy: 13.7 L /100 km (city) & 10.1 (hwy.) Regular fuel.

Some Alternatives: Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Volvo XC90, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Rogue, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander.

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976.

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