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The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Is an All-American German SUV

The Atlas is designed for Americans, built by Americans — and bought by Americans in big numbers.

vw
VW

What is it?

The Atlas is VW’s three-row midsize family crossover. Not to be confused with the recently-introduced Atlas Cross Sport, which has a sportier, sloping roofline; the Atlas is a standard boxy SUV.

Is it new?

New-ish. VW launched the Atlas for the 2018 model year, but time flies; it's already time for a mid-life refresh. The changes are mostly aesthetic, with redesigned front and rear fascia and LED lighting. One significant change for those looking to save a little money: VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive can now be paired with the four-cylinder engine.

2021 volkswagen atlas
Tyler Duffy

Why is it special?

The Atlas is the All-American Volkswagen. It’s designed for Americans, and built by Americans. Plus, Americans bought about twice as many of them as we did examples of the entire Golf lineup in 2019.

The Atlas is not the standout of the sub-$50,000 three-row midsize SUV lineup; that would be the award-winning Kia Telluride. But the Atlas may do the best job approximating that American lux-truck SUV experience for less, when you consider looks, feel...and less endearingly, fuel economy.

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How does it drive?

Driving dynamics are not why you buy an Atlas. It’s more of a comfort-and-flashy-big-rims play. The Atlas drives lightly; it's agile for a big SUV. It should not be your overlanding rig of choice, but if “capable” means commuting in moderate winter weather, the Atlas will get you to work — at least in all-wheel drive spec.

That said, even the bigger 3.6-liter V6 engine seems like a less-than-thrilling enegine. And due to a finicky throttle, it can be hard to get it to deliver smooth, consistent power.

The engine is also just plain inefficient. I earned about 17 mpg over a week of driving, and the Atlas has to do a lot of overzealous upshifting to achieve even that.

2021 vw atlas
Tyler Duffy

What’s it like inside?

VW designed the Atlas for offensive linemen. Humongous doors provide easy entry to a vast expanse of an interior that offers a potential 96.8 cu.ft. of cargo space. At five-foot-eleven, I was able to sit behind myself, then sit behind myself again in the third row. It’s so voluminous, it felt like I had to extend my arms to reach the steering wheel.

The interior finishings did not quite match up with the R-Line bling of the exterior, however. It’s a place where VW has been cutting corners recently; if you’re cross-shopping with the Telluride or Toyota Highlander, you’ll notice.

What’s it cost?

The base trim Atlas is $31,545. The cheapest V6 with all-wheel-drive is the SE w/Technology w/4motion starts at $401,95. My V6 SEL R-Line weighed in at $45,015.

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL R-Line

Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6; 8-speed automatic, FWD

Horsepower: 276

Torque: 266 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

Seats: Seven (or six, if you opt for middle-row captain’s chairs)


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