This week, we’re debuting our latest feature, Drivers’ Notes. A variety of cars, trucks, and SUVs roll through our office, but we don’t always have an opportunity to showcase them. Consider this a weekly logbook of sorts, with quick-hit contributions from a variety of staff members. We get seat time in all sorts of vehicles, and we want to share our thoughts, opinions, and general musings. The goal is to obsessively cover cars in ways we can’t in First Drive or Quick Spin reviews.
For the past few days, we’ve passed around the key fob to the all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas. This big three-row crossover is the replacement for the Touareg, slotting above that all-new Tiguan. Like the current Passat and Jetta, the Atlas is designed with American tastes and sensibilities in mind. Some Volkswagen enthusiasts may lament the loss of European flair, but a big, handsome, and refined crossover is exactly what shoppers today are looking for. This may be the model that helps repair Volkswagen’s diesel-soaked image.
Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I spent a night in the Atlas and generally enjoyed it. It’s big, comfortable, looks pretty tough, and has a lot of space. I picked up my in-laws from the airport, and there was plenty of room for a couple suitcases, carry-ons, and four people. I also made a Taco Bell run in the Atlas and took it to the gym. Pretty much exactly what the target buyer would do with it. The touchscreen infotainment system is clear, colorful, and intuitive. It’s almost a little too responsive – I found myself changing the radio just by brushing past it while messing with the air conditioning. I probably put a little more than 90 miles on the Atlas in total and was impressed. It’s the right vehicle at the right time for VW.
Associate Editor Reese Counts: Volkswagen is still soldiering along with its venerable VR6 in the 2018 Atlas. In this particular guise, the narrow-angle direct-injected V6 displaces 3.6 liters and turns out 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. That’s about average for the class. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Acceleration isn’t astonishing, but the VR6 has refinement down to a T. The power comes on smooth and predictable and makes the Atlas feel a little more premium than its price might suggest. It’s going to be a sad day when Volkswagen puts this engine out to pasture.
Senior Green Editor John Beltz Snyder: In town, the Atlas’ 3.6-liter V6 does a good job of projecting a sense of urgency with a soft touch. It doesn’t take a lot of footwork to get it moving, and it gets up to speed with traffic on city streets with ease. That responsiveness goes a long way toward making this feel like a smaller vehicle the first time you get in to drive it. When you get on the highway and put the hammer down, you don’t get the same feeling of potency as you do in casual city driving, and it can actually feel a bit breathless when trying to pass someone at those speeds.
I was impressed with the stop/start system. It shuts down quietly and it picks up again the very moment you lift your foot off the brake, allowing one to get right on the gas as soon as the light turns green. It seems to make a practical difference when it comes to fuel economy, too. My commute is about 37 miles, about eight of which are on city streets. On that drive, I got an average fuel economy of 24.3 mpg, which beats our tester’s 23-mpg highway rating.
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: “I love this car!” That was the opinion of the 12-year-old from the backseat, who reveled in the roominess of the second row. With that second row down, the car easily swallowed a man’s bicycle and could’ve fitted two. This truly is a big, roomy SUV. I agree with John that the Atlas seems quicker around town than on the highway, and yes, the stop-start system is probably the smoothest I’ve driven. On a weekend day trip, the driver-assistance features worked well, though the lane-keeping technology understandably wanted to follow the fog line up offramps I didn’t want to take. One design feature that sets the Atlas apart from other big SUVs in the parking lot is the pronounced crease down the side of the car and over the wheel openings. In certain lighting conditions, it almost looked like a stripe of a different color.