This week I bring you the 2021 VW Atlas, a stylish, roomy and enjoyable to drive three-row SUV that seats up to seven. The Atlas debuted as a 2018 model -- touted as a vehicle VW designed specifically for Americans and our need for a lot of cupholders. Apparently, we need our options, too, because there are 8 trims to choose from in the lineup. I’ve just spent a very enjoyable week behind the wheel of the SEL Premium equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
New for 2021, a 235-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder is now available on top trims, but I’d definitely go with my model’s more powerful 276-horse 3.6-liter V6 with 266 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic. I wouldn’t mind a few more horses out of the gate, but overall power was well-matched to this heavy 4,612 pound SUV. The V6 also comes with a factory installed trailer hitch that tows up to 5,000 pounds. The Atlas’ stop/start feature is one of the more noticeable systems I’ve experienced, but you can easily turn it off if you wish. You can also use the remote engine start on your key fob to start the car, which is a great feature.
Ride and Drive
What impresses me most about the Atlas is its smooth, comfortable and quiet ride. The suspension feels great and I enjoyed the ride height. The steering is on the looser side in normal mode. I preferred Sport mode which increased throttle response and made it feel more responsive which led to a more dynamic driving experience. Other drive modes include eco, snow and off-road (Atlas models feature 8.0 inches of ground clearance.) Making U-turns is also surprisingly easy thanks to its great turning radius. All in all, it was very enjoyable to be behind the wheel.
The Atlas looks quite polished in Tourmaline Blue Metallic with 20-inch alloy wheels. (You can even optionally add Dynamic Wheel Center Caps that keep the center logo from moving while in motion.)
The 2021 features more aggressive front and rear bumpers. Up front, a three-bar grille extending to the front light signature mirrors that of the Atlas Cross Sport. The SEL premium is equipped with 900-lumen LED headlights with adaptive front lighting as well as integrated fog and cornering lights. Rain sensing wipers are standard across the lineup and the SEL Premiums’ are also heated. The sides sport power-operated, heated, power-folding side mirrors with memory. At night, the puddle lamps look great. In the back a chromed “Atlas” name strip sits above a newly sculpted rear bumper.
Up top the SEL Premium sports silver roof rails as well as a large panoramic sunroof measuring about 4.5 X 3 feet. It has a two-part glass opening system and powered sunshade.
Open the door to the Titan Black and Quartzite interior of the Atlas and you’ll find a minimalist, well-designed and roomy cabin, with a mix of soft-touch materials and plastic. (More plastic door paneling in the 2nd row than the 1st.)
Upscale leather 1st and 2nd row outboard seating with available contrast stitching comes on the SEL Premium. A 10-way power driver’s seat with side bolsters is comfortable but on the firmer side. The passenger’s side is 8-way power and both front seats are heated and cooled. You’ll also get a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel.
The center console houses a leather gear shifter, drive mode select and electric parking brake along with buttons for the surround camera and park assist.
This model has the 2nd row bench seat and seats seven. Optional captain’s chairs reduce seating to six. The 2nd row bench seats are fairly flat and on the firmer side. Triple zone climate gives 2nd row passengers control over their temp setting and (air vents are in the 3rd row as well). Manual sunshades keep the sun’s rays from second row passengers as well. The third row is big enough to fit two adults.
The Atlas is loaded with technology. My favorite tech feature is VW’s available 10-inch TFT display digital cockpit. It’s bright, with a lot of info, including dynamic road sign display. It’s configurable with numerous ways to view the information and I love the full-screen navigation view.
VW’s MIB II 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is great, too, both responsive and fast and you can pinch and zoom the map. The system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
As with the Jetta, I’m not so much a fan of VW’s voice command system. I found it cumbersome to use and it required multiple steps and specific phrases to operate. Other systems are easier to use. Note: VW’s new MIB III system features enhanced voice recognition. It’s optional on this model and standard on most of the 2021.5 Atlas lineup.
The panoramic view camera is one of the best I’ve seen. On the flip side, I expected better back up camera resolution.
A 12-speaker Fender Premium Audio System with subwoofer in the SEL premium sounds great and yay for wireless charging. One item I’m surprised I didn’t see in here is a head up display.
You’ll get 5 USB ports between the 1st and 2nd rows, along with next-generation CarNet, VW’s app that connects car functions to your smartphone as well as available in-car Wi-Fi.
The Atlas is a vehicle VW designed to be more than a commuter SUV. It has great utility from a cargo space perspective and it features great rubber mats throughout. Many of the options tailor to the adventure set, with snowboard/skiing or cycling special attachments.
The second and third row slide forward with a lever. I’d love to see a power option. VW designed the second-row bench seats to tilt and slide forward with child seats in place. You’ll get the usual 60/40 split folding 2nd row and 50/50-split folding 3rd row. I also loved the nice, yet durable-looking rubber mats through the SUV. An available hands-free Easy Open kick sensor tailgate is easy to use and worked on my first attempt.
VW does a great job with driver assist features like Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic, Forward Collision Warning with Automatic Emergency Braking Assist and Pedestrian Detection and High Beams. However, for me, Adaptive Cruise Control wasn’t as intuitive to use as other systems.
What You’ll Pay
There are no options on this model and it stickers for $50,015, which I consider a great value for an SUV that delivers a great ride, nice interior, safety features, and a lot of technology and connectivity along with a great digital cockpit. It should be on your shopping list if you need a three-row SUV that fits adults in the third row.
2021 VW Atlas SEL Premium 4Motion
- What I liked most: The great ride and drive. Impressive digital cockpit. Polished looks.
- What I would change: The voice command system should be more intuitive and user friendly.
- MSRP: Base price $48,995, as equipped $50,015.
- Fuel Economy: 16 city/ 22 highway/18 combined.
- Official Color: Tourmaline Blue Metallic.
- Odometer reading when tested: 4,411 miles.
- Weight: 4,612 pounds.
- Spare Tire: Temporary Compact Spare.
- Length-Width-Height: 200.7” long/ 78.4” wide/ 70.1” high.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 18.6 gallons with the filler on the passenger side.
- Towing Capacity: Available maximum 5,000 pounds when equipped with trailer hitch.
- 2021 VW Atlas SEL Premium in a few words: A successful effort by VW to deliver a tech-filled, roomy and enjoyable to drive SUV.
- Final Assembly Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Manufacturers website: Volkswagen
- Warranty: Volkswagen New Vehicle Limited Warranty: 4-year/50,000 miles Bumper-to-Bumper Limited Warranty and Carefree Maintenance Program, schedule maintenance services for 2 years of 20,000 miles; 7-year/100,000 miles Corrosion Perforation/3-years/36,000 miles 24-hour roadside assistance.