The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Succeeds For All Its Efforts

2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL

Forget those hazy memories of clattering turquoise-and-white Volkswagen vans that needed a good tailwind to clear most hills.

You may even recall passing one of those old hippie-vans on your 10-speed bike, catching a quick whiff of incense and peppermint in the air.

Like most of us, though, Volkswagen Inc. doesn’t live in Woodstock anymore — as the 2018 VW Atlas SUV I had recently clearly showed.

Big, bulky and a bit in your face, the Atlas has about as much in common with old tie-dyed VW as I do with a bunch of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

But, then, the serious-looking, all-new Atlas must shoulder a much heavier load than a half-dozen leather-clad hippies and their herbs.

As VW strives to recover from Dieselgate, it will rely pretty heavily on the Atlas — its first three-seat, mid-size crossover in a market already dense with the vehicles.

It appears ready for the fight.

My silver Atlas SEL, for instance, had more hard-edged lines than I typically see in the mirror on Saturday morning.

Though the Atlas sported a broad, fairly conventional two-bar grille, its hood featured lines on its edges and down the center.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Credit: VW

Tall and kind of thick, the Max V-Dub also flashed squared off wheel-wells with more lines around the wells and down the sides.

Still, the angular lines of the Atlas did convey a sense of strength and capability – and that’s not a bad shirt to wear if you’re late to the crossover party.

Moreover, 245/60 tires on 10-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels did a pretty good job of filling those industrial-looking wheel-wells and kind of softening the sides.

Blocky wrap-around tail lamps completed the look, which felt fresh if not quite handsome.

As a well-equipped SEL model, the Atlas comes to the crossover battle with Volkswagen’s 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6 under its busy hood, a veteran though refined engine with 276-horsepower.

My all-wheel-drive model also was equipped with a smooth, sophisticated 8-speed automatic – not to mention 4,500 pounds of weight.

Though the burly Atlas could feel sluggish when pressed hard, its gutsy engine produced nice rushes of torque around town and decent acceleration.

The Atlas is only average in the 0-to-60 run, getting there in about 7.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver, while recording less-than-stellar fuel economy of 17 miles per gallon in town and 23 on the highway.

All those numbers suggest an engine working pretty hard.

Atlas’ strength lies more in handling and driving dynamics, something VW often excels at.

As hard as it is to believe, the Atlas rides on the same flexible platform architecture that underpins the nimble Golf.

Its steering felt light and precise, assisted by an independent suspension that kept the Atlas under control in moderate-speed corners.

Body-lean tends to accompany those corners, but the Atlas quickly settled on its suspension and didn’t thrash about.

Meanwhile, the ride was acceptably firm – reasonably smooth over most surfaces, but occasionally lapsing into lurches and side-to-side yaw in the rougher stuff.

I never found it irritable and I grumble about almost everything these days – even Girl Scout cookies. Sorry.

With a list price of nearly $44,000, my Atlas almost qualified as a near-luxury vehicle, meaning my expectations of its black interior soared along with the window-sticker.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Credit: VW

The Atlas kind of shrugged on that front, mostly getting there despite a fairly heavy reliance on plastic.

A flat, kind of shallow dashboard, for example, featured a nifty little storage area in its middle, as well as “stitching” on the edges of the dash.

An 8-inch display screen dominated a conventional-looking center-stack that offered buttons – real buttons – for tuning the stereo and controlling its volume.

In addition, a panel beneath the Atlas’ display screen included three knobs for climate control, while a regular, well-designed shifter sprouted from a broad console.

Kudos to VW for opting not to use distracting digital or frustrating electronic devices for any of those functions.

The Atlas’ black leatherette seats also looked reasonably good with smooth, comfortable bolsters and perforated centers.

More impressive was the leg- and headroom in the second seat and even reasonable space in the third row – providing some justification for the Atlas’ ample dimensions.

My big box, incidentally, did not contain a single option and still struck me as well-equipped.

Actually, I kind of liked the Atlas. In the messy wake of Volkswagen’s diesel-emissions cheating-scandal, the German automaker pledged – among other things – to be more responsive to the American market.

The Atlas is a solid effort.

2018 VW Atlas SEL

  • What I liked most: The vaunted VW “feel” in the way the big Atlas drove, a pleasant surprise.
  • What I would change: Give it 30 or 40 more horsepower to make it more responsive – and possibly more economical.
  • MSRP: Base price, $42,690; as equipped, $43,615 (including destination charge).
  • Fuel economy: Rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city, 23 on the highway and 19 mpg overall with filler on the right.
  • Official color: Reflex Silver Metallic.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 10,153 miles.
  • Weight: 4,550 pounds
  • Length-width-height: 198.3 inches long/78.3 inches wide/70 inches tall.
  • Fuel-tank capacity: 18.6 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds.
  • Spare tire: Temporary compact.
  • 2018 Volkswagen Atlas in a few words: A burly mid-size crossover that should be pretty good for the U.S. market and fill a large hole in VW’s lineup.
  • Warranty: Six-year, 72,000-mile overall protection.
  • Final assembly location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Manufacturer’s website: www.vw.com
  • E-mail meterry@carprousa.com
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