As nice as the new Jetta and Tiguan are, the most important addition to Volkswagen’s lineup has been the American-made Atlas, which gives VW an ever-important three-row crossover. We’ve already been quite impressed by the SE and SEL Premium trim levels of this crossover, but both of those were equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive. Looking around at this segment, one of the more important factors for success is the amount of variety offered to buyers, so this time around we were able to sample the front-wheel-drive 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL equipped with the R-Line appearance package.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Exterior
Compared to a lot of the three-row crossovers out there, one thing we love about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is its more rugged, SUV-like exterior styling. Up front, the tall headlights and wide grille give the Atlas an imposing presence even though the rest of the design displays more of the conservative VW styling we’re more familiar with. Either way, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas definitely stands out from this crowded segment that includes the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Opting for the R-Line model (only offered on the V-6 models) brings a little more style to the exterior with body-colored front and rear bumpers, stylish 20-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels and exclusive R-line badges on the fenders and front grille. This tester was painted in one of the best colors you can find on the new Atlas, Tourmaline Blue Metallic.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Interior
That tall, boxy body gives the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas a cavernous interior with three comfortable rows of seating. While some crossovers in this segment try to get too stylish with shorter roofline and smaller exterior dimensions, the Atlas delivers 153.7 cubic feet of passenger volume, which includes almost as much space for the third-row (including more headroom) as the full-size Toyota Sequoia we recently drove. For easy access to the third row, the second row can tilt and slide forward even when a child seat is installed; the second row can also recline up to 14 degrees and slide fore and aft 7.7 inches. In true family-ready style, the Atlas provides up to four USB ports and 17 cup holders.
This tester was not equipped with VW’s high-tech Digital Cockpit, but it did have the glass-covered, 8.0-inch capacitive touch screen display. VW’s Car-Net App-Connect smartphone integration is standard, and it allows pairing with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink devices. The SEL comes with a panoramic roof, V-Tex leatherette interior and three-zone climate control with HVAC vents for all three rows. The only upgrades made to the cabin with the R-Line package include the stainless steel pedals and the R-Line logo added to the slightly flat-bottom steering wheel.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Powertrain
You won’t confuse the R-Line package for a full-fledged performance R vehicle, but VW’s 3.6-liter VR6 engine does give the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas plenty of get up and go. This unique engine has six cylinders in a narrow-angle (just 10.6 degrees) V configuration, and the cylinders are in such a compact layout that the engine takes up about the same amount of space as an inline four. The base engine for the 2018 Atlas is the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the VR6 produces 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. This bump in power does result in slightly lower fuel economy than the base four-cylinder with EPA-rated estimates of 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway** for FWD models – compared to 22 city/26 highway for the 2.0T FWD models and 17 city/23 highway for the VR6 4Motion models. Both engines are paired to an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission offering manual shift capability and a Sport mode.
When it comes to driving dynamic, this tester gave us a different look than we’ve had in previous Atlas reviews since this model weighs about 100 pounds more than the 2.0T but almost 200 pounds less than 4Motion-equipped models. Despite its boxy looks, the Atlas has a smooth, quiet and compliant ride that is not as car-like as rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse yet not as truck-like as rivals like the Dodge Durango. The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is also ready for just about any towing requirements crossover buyers will have with a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Safety
Volkswagen is always focused on safety, and the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas shows this with a five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Atlas SEL comes equipped with driver-assistance systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Park Distance Control (front and rear), lane departure warning, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert and Intelligent Crash Response System.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas Overall
Before going on sale last year, the closest thing Volkswagen had to a three-row crossover was the Chrysler-built Routan minivan. Now, thanks to the all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas and the redesigned Tiguan, VW has two vehicles capable of seating more than five people in its lineup. As evidence of just how popular the Atlas has been for VW so far, the Chattanooga, TN plant cranked out the 100,000th Atlas – not even two years since production first started.
We’re still waiting to sample the entry-level Atlas 2.0T, but this 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL R-Line FWD shows that the Atlas lineup delivers excellent diversity without breaking the bank. The aforementioned Atlas S 2.0T has a starting price of $30,895*, but stepping up to the Atlas SEL raises the price to just under $40,000. The added features and styling upgrades of the SEL R-Line raised the as-tested price of this front-wheel-drive Atlas to $43,345.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Volkswagen dealership and test drive the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.