When my girlfriend Eli and I landed at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, summer was waning. The start of fall was only a few weeks away, but we had managed to fit in a late summer trip to visit her parents and busia (a Polish word for grandmother). Even though we were going to stay at a resort for a couple of nights and visit the shops and restaurants in the Glendale/Phoenix/Scottsdale area, our time in Arizona was going to be a working vacation for me. I had to test the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas that was waiting for us in a nearby parking lot.
According to Volkswagen, the three-row, seven-passenger 2018 Atlas is the largest vehicle it manufactures in the U.S. It’s available with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or 3.6-liter V6 engine in six basic trim levels: S, Launch Edition, SE, SE w/ Technology, SEL and SEL Premium. Front-wheel drive is standard on all of those; Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system is optional. Prices start at $30,750.*
The V6-powered SE w/ Technology model that Eli and I picked up had a base price of $37,090* and an as-tested price of $38,015 (including a $925 destination charge). It didn’t have any options on it, but its standard equipment included the 3.6-liter V6, an eight-speed automatic, 18-inch wheels wrapped in all-season tires, automatic LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, halogen fog lights, an eight-inch touchscreen, an eight-speaker sound system, V-Tex leatherette seats, and three-zone climate control. An assortment of airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Warning with Pedestrian Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert were just some of my Atlas tester’s safety features. I opened the power liftgate and manually folded down the third row of seats, which provided 55.5 cubic feet of cargo space for our two large suitcases and medium suitcase, and my camera bag. Then we headed to Eli’s parents’ house in the nearby town of Glendale.
The next morning before we headed to breakfast, Eli’s family got a good look at the Atlas. Busia commented on how good-looking it was. I had to agree. The Atlas was a handsome rig with strong lines and bulging trapezoidal wheel arches that conveyed solidity and strength.
Eli’s father was going to give me directions to the restaurant, so he got into the front passenger seat. He’s 6’5” so he immediately put his seat way back. We slid and tilted one of the sections in the 60/40 second-row bench seat back so that Eli could ride in the rear and leave plenty of room for her mom and Busia in the second row. Despite having eight inches of ground clearance, the Atlas had a step-in height that made getting in easy and pleasant for Busia. At 92, she’s learned to appreciate characteristics like those in a vehicle. I quickly learned to appreciate the fact that I didn’t reserve a low-slung sport sedan.
After a filling breakfast, we decided to go clothes shopping at some of the stores in nearby Peoria. Arizona may not have high humidity levels, but it still gets unbelievably hot there. Once we left the blessed coolness of the air-conditioned buildings and went out into 100-degree-plus temperatures, it was nice to know all I had to do to remote start and pre-cool the Atlas was press a couple of buttons on the key fob.
The Atlas had no problem getting up to highway speeds quickly, even with all five of us on board. Its naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 was satisfyingly potent, cranking out 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic with sport mode processed that output into brisk, authoritative launches. Passing power was abundant.
According to the EPA, my FWD V6 test vehicle was capable of getting 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined.** I was pleased by those numbers, but even more pleased by the fact that I only needed to put regular gas in the Atlas’s 18.6-gallon fuel tank.
Although I had to sometimes watch out for aggressive and inattentive drivers around me, I had plenty of time to make mental notes about the Atlas. I’ve driven several modern Volkswagens over the years, going back as far as Eli’s 2013 Beetle. All of them, from the Beetle to the Jetta GLI to the Golf R, seem to have the same DNA: a thin steering wheel rim, easy-to-read analog gauges, a surprising amount of space, high-quality switchgear, and a driving experience with an undeniable mechanical feel that reminds you you’re in an advanced machine comprised of countless moving parts. I marveled at how Volkswagen has been able to weave that common thread of genetics through so many different types of models.
Later that first afternoon, we dropped Busia off at home, then packed our bags and headed to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix. It was time for three days of poolside pina coladas and floating on the lazy river and two nights of relaxing in the pool and hot tub. I could have used the Atlas’s Apple CarPlay functionality, but decided to get into the HOV lane and once again use Eli’s father’s guidance. Given that we were going to be on the highway for about half an hour, I was glad the Atlas also came with adaptive cruise control, which saved me from having to do the brake/gas dance with my right foot. During lulls in conversation, I fiddled with the Composition Media system, which includes HD and SiriusXM satellite radio, a CD player, dual USB inputs, an aux-in port, and voice control. Having driven new VWs previously, I recognized the layout and design of everything. Unlike the other Volkswagens I had experienced, the Atlas had touchscreen “buttons” for various functions, such as the phone and media menus. While they looked cool and futuristic, I would’ve preferred regular, old-school hard buttons.
More shopping followed over the next couple of days. The Atlas was a breeze to drive through suburban streets and park. We spent our last night in Arizona touring Old Towne Glendale, home of 100 antique and specialty shops. We rolled up to La Piazza Al Forno and celebrated Eli’s parents’ 35th anniversary over an outstanding Italian dinner of fried calamari, Neapolitan pizza, cannelloni, and cheesecake. My time with Eli’s family had come to an unforgettably delicious end.
Eli and I dropped the Atlas off at the airport the next morning and flew back home to Austin. We had put the Atlas to the test of vacation travel and it aced it. It was an attractive, comfortable SUV with plenty of space for passengers and luggage (and shopping bags) that made our vacation even more enjoyable. To get a 2018 Volkswagen Atlas of your own, visit an AutoNation Volkswagen dealership, drive it home, then load it with loved ones and luggage and go on your own little getaway.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.