Volkswagen unveils new 2018 Atlas, its largest SUV for U.S.

Volkswagen has created one of its largest SUVs yet with the U.S. market in mind. It received its debut in Santa Monica, Calif. Video by Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Volkswagen may be known for small cars like the Beetle, but now it’s offering something on the large end of the scale — a new seven-passenger crossover SUV that it calls the Atlas.

The 2018 model marks a broadening of the Volkswagen line at a time when cheap gasoline is luring automakers to build larger vehicles, especially SUVs. Those big sport utilities come with higher price tags that make them more profitable, an irresistible lure for Volkwagen as it is paying out billions of dollars in the fallout from its diesel car emissions scandal.

At 16.5 feet long, Atlas would be a three-row SUV that’s bigger than the brand’s present largest offering, the Touareg SUV, although it still would be considered a midsize. Atlas will be made at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., with plans to export it to certain markets where large SUVs are as popular as they are in the U.S., like Russia and Middle East.

“This is the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States, delivering the distinctive design and craftsmanship we’re known for, now with room for seven,” said Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of the North America for Volkswagen. “The Atlas marks a brand new journey for Volkswagen to enter into the heart of the American market.”

To underscore the American journey connection, the unveiling of the Atlas took place under a tent on the wooden Santa Monica Pier, west of Los Angeles and the end of fabled Route 66.

Coming to showrooms next spring, Atlas will be offered with either a 2-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine producing 238 horsepower or a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 280 horsepower. Both will be paired with an eight-speed transmission. Woebcken said, at least initially, he expects the six-cylinder engine will be the most popular.

VW plans to equip Atlas with an array of safety gear, including a new system that applies brakes after an initial crash is detected. VW says the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System is aimed at limiting additional damage in a crash. Woebcken touted the easy access to the third row of seats, a big problem in a lot of SUVs. And he says the SUV will be among the roomiest. “It’s enormous in there,” he says.

Even as it offers a big new SUV, Volkswagen has said repeatedly that it is going to concentrate more on building electric cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles. It says it will have 30 electrified models by 2025.

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US judge ‘strongly inclined’ to approve VW buyback settlement


A worker tests a red 2016 Volkswagen AG Golf TDI emissions certification vehicle inside the California Air Resources Board Haagen-Smit Laboratory in El Monte, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A worker tests a red 2016 Volkswagen AG Golf TDI emissions certification vehicle inside the California Air Resources Board Haagen-Smit Laboratory in El Monte, California.

A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday said he is “strongly inclined” to approve a record-setting $10.033 billion proposed buyback and compensation offer from Volkswagen AG for 475,000 owners of polluting 2.0-liter diesel vehicles.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said he will issue a final decision in the matter, stemming from Volkswagen’s use of illegal software to defeat U.S. emissions testing, by Oct. 25.

Owners, lawyers and others appeared before Breyer during a hearing raising arguments about why they think Volkswagen is failing to offer enough money for buybacks or refunding for other out-of-pocket costs like extended warranties, maintenance and government licensing fees. VW has agreed to spend up to $16.7 billion to address its so-called U.S. “Dieselgate” costs.

Breyer also on Tuesday granted preliminary approval during the three-hour hearing to a $1.21 billion settlement with VW’s U.S. brand dealers. He also stressed the urgency of VW reaching agreement with regulators on a resolution for about 85,000 polluting vehicles.

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Car Review: 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Comfortline

It’s been a while since I’ve driven one of the milder versions of the Golf family, my experience of late with Volkswagen’s ubiquitous hatchback relegated to the higher performance — and very satisfying — GTI and R models.

But the regulation TSI proves to be entertaining in its own right, which I accidentally discovered when road construction forced me take an unfamiliar exit to get to where I was heading. Instead of a straight shot on a smooth stretch of tarmac, I found myself on a series of undulating, mostly unpaved concession roads. It turned out to be the best 20 minutes spent being “ lost” in a long time — ending when I reconnected with the original road.

During that time, the four-door hatch, though lacking the rewarding surge of power its more enhanced siblings provide, demonstrated similar handling dynamics. There was an intimate connection with the road surface, with crisp turn-in from the electric power-assisted steering — just a bit of understeer on looser gravel, which could be corrected by easing up on the throttle. Later, checking the mechanical specs for the car, I discovered that all Golfs are equipped with the XDS Cross Differential System. According to VW, this acts somewhat like an electronic substitute for a traditional mechanical limited-slip differential, working by actively monitoring data from each wheel sensor. So, if the suspension becomes unloaded, the system automatically applies braking to the driven inside wheel as needed to help reduce understeer. Ergo, greater stability, plus improved handling and cornering performance.

So, while not being a sport hatch per se, the TSI certainly has a sporty vibe to it, by no means compromised by the turbocharged and direct-injection 1.8-litre four-cylinder TSI (gasoline-fuelled) engine that powers it. It’s a strong but growly motor — 170 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and 199 lb.-ft. of torque starting at 1,600 rpm and lasting until 4,400 rpm (when paired with the six-speed automatic) — that has to move just 1,371 kilograms of car. Acceleration is fairly linear, and hitting 100 km/h takes something in the eight-to-8.5-second range, quick enough for a reasonably priced — $21,245 to start — compact runabout that, again, is not sport oriented.

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Comfortline

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Comfortline