At long last, VW built something large enough for seven graying hippies and their fading Grateful Dead jackets.
Wow. That’s enough old freaks to start a dinosaur-rock band or staff a good-sized head-shop in Colorado.
OK. To be honest, I seriously doubt that Volkswagen had old hippies in mind when it conceived its beefy mid-size crossover, the 2021 VW Atlas, the spiritual successor of sorts to Volkswagen’s psychedelic minibus from the ‘60s.
Hot crossover-style SUVs continue to drive the new-vehicle market in the U.S. and Volkswagen has been really late entering the mid-size fray, finally delivering the all-new Atlas in 2018.
Though the dark-green Atlas SEL R-Line I had last week didn’t even slightly resemble VW’s old Type 2 minibuses, it too is aimed at younger buyers.
And the handsome 7-passenger Atlas generates its own sort of ’00 distinction that doesn’t rely on two-tone paint, interiors heavy on herbal ambience or peace symbols.
Clean and contemporary, the broad-shouldered Atlas I had last week featured a sleek horizontal grille squeezing slender headlamps.
They were topped by a long, wide hood with four lines carved in it, giving the square-cut Atlas an aggressive presence.
As you may be able to tell from the photos, the 4,500-pound Atlas is a large mid-size crossover taller and wider than many, with mostly flat sides embellished by square wheel openings and a prominent character line.
Moreover, my high-end SEL Premium R-Line model arrived with the optional 21-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels shod with meaty 265/45 tires.
It looked ready to tackle mall parking lot as well as backwoods trails with its 276-horsepower V-6 and all-wheel-drive.
The narrow-angle 3.6-liter engine, one of VW’s longtime stalwarts, is one of the smoothest V-6s on the market and still generates decent power – as well as 18 mpg overall fuel economy.
Bolted to an 8-speed automatic, it pushes the Atlas to 60 mph in a reasonable 7.3 seconds, which is not class-leading but plenty strong enough to tackle high-speed freeways.
The engine felt a little soft on the low end, sometimes requiring a hefty boot when a sudden burst of acceleration was called for.
However, the Atlas felt so polished that it wasn’t all that irritating.
Its ride, for instance, was generally close to top in class as far as smoothness, becoming bouncy only on really rough pavement.
Although the vehicle rides on a platform based on the underpinnings of the great VW GTI, it is too big to boogie on backroads, leaning a bit in corners and feeling a little clumsy.
Like many other VWs, the Atlas’ steering also felt light and sort of numb, but it was precise and easy to drive.
The interior of the Atlas, while well-designed, wasn’t as impressive as the exterior.
It offered a lot of plastic surfaces for a $52,000 vehicle, starting with the flat upper-dashboard in slightly pliable black plastic.
The dash rolled down onto an upright mid-dash trimmed with a panel of faux carbon fiber and anchored by an 8-inch touchscreen.
To VW’s credit, the touchscreen relied on buttons and dials for controlling the stereo and climate systems.
Among the Atlas’ safety features were active cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.
Meanwhile, the door panels – also in hard black plastic – wore a swath of dark-brown leather in their centers that matched the vehicle’s Euro-style dark-brown seats.
The second row of seats provided good leg room, as did the third row, surprisingly.
As a high-line SEL Premium model, my Atlas had no options.
It really didn’t need them. The Atlas Premium comes standard with a certain amount of panache – just not quite enough.
With a few tweaks and some attention devoted to the interior, though, the vehicle could be a standout in the crowded mid-size segment.
Still, the Atlas should attract VW aficionados and young families looking for a crossover with more flair than most of the look-alike boxes in the segment.
Just don’t lend it to old hippie friends in the neighborhood. You might never see it again.
2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line
- What I liked most: The Atlas’ fresh styling and overall polish.
- What I would change: The interior, which while nicely styled and laid out doesn’t look or feel like something you expect in a $52,000 vehicle.
- MSRP: Base price, $35,915 for entry S model; as equipped, $51,715.
- Official color: Racing Green.
- Fuel economy: 16 miles per gallon in town, 22 on the highway and 18 mpg combined with filler on the right.
- Odometer reading when tested: 2,281 miles.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: About 4,500 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 200.7 inches long/78.3 inches wide/70.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 18.6 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Up to 5,000 pounds.
- 2021 VW Atlas SEL in a few words: A highly likeable, fairly refined mid-size crossover that is working hard to catch up to the rest of the segment.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty.
- Final assembly location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.vw.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro