Bigger is better
Words by: Adam Allen
It might be late to the party, but it’s made quite an entrance.
As the competition began printing money several years ago with their respective three-row SUV’s, Volkswagen dealers were clamoring to join the festivities- but without anything to offer they remained on the outside looking in. The old Tiguan was way too small and the Touareg, while excellent, was not big enough. VW knew that they’d need to go big or go home, and that mantra was taken literally: the Atlas is big.
So it’s got the size…but does it have the bling?
It sure does, assuming you have spec’d Execline trim found on our tester. Actually, our Atlas was as swanky as it gets, meaning it also enjoyed the fruits of the R-Line package. There are no performance or chassis upgrades, but aside from a few badges inside and out you get striking 20” Trenton wheels (which puzzlingly look much smaller than they actually are in those huge wheel wells) and stainless steel gas and brake pedals. The second row also had Captain’s chairs, and families of kids aged 5 and up will want to order them- they’re a very reasonable $695 and worth every penny for the comfort they provide, not to mention that they tilt and slide forward even with a child car seat installed for added ease of entry.The interior as a whole exudes a sort of minimalist vibe, the only real flourish being some not-so-convincing wood trim on the dash and door panels. It’s hard not like what VW has done or to get settled comfortably inside the Atlas, and room in any dimension is never a concern. After spending a week with this big dog, we especially liked the intuitive nature of the infotainment system- long a weak point for Volkswagen’s past- and the slick Digital Cockpit instrument panel.
Is an SUV of the Atlas’s stature going to be as fun to drive as say, a GTI?
It’ll surprise exactly no one that the Atlas cannot hold a candle to its frisky stablemate in terms of driving enjoyment or offer the prevailing nimbleness or chuckable nature that the GTI excels at. But then, you wouldn’t be buying an Atlas if those criterions were at the top of your shopping list, now would you? Taken in context, the Atlas’s driving dynamics are first rate amongst its peers, and while careful suspension and chassis tuning can go a long way in making a bus like this decently engaging, there’s only so far that will take you before the laws of physics call a time out. That suspension, which underpins this XL version of VW’s MQB platform, delivers a silky ride on the highway but can seem a bit stressed by scabrous asphalt and exposes some unwelcome body motions. For those Moms and Dads with a thirst for spirited driving will be surprised how well the such a big brute can acquit itself nicely when you show it a fun stretch of road. The 8-speed transmission behaves well under most conditions and when it sees that you want to hustle it adjusts it shifting behavior accordingly. We also like the 3.6 litre V6- an engine that traces its lineage to the legendary VR6 found in various VAG products going back 20 years or so, and while most folks will find it more than adequate we’d like to see more power. Finally, the brakes deliver smooth, authoritative stops and the pedal feel is what you can expect from most VW products, which means it’s generally excellent.
What might go wrong?
You wouldn’t expect the Atlas to be a fuel miser, what with its massive size and big V6 powering all four wheels but jeepers, this thing is thirsty. Our eyes would widen as the onboard average fuel consumption calculator kept climbing despite our best efforts to drive it as gingerly as we could. The structure isn’t a fan of large impacts as we noted earlier, and it emits a strange noise when setting off from rest- we’ve noticed this in all Atlas models we have encountered which tells us that while there’s nothing mechanically wrong, it’s just a bit strange. Finally, we thought the Fender audio upgrade would be music to ears but we didn’t find it that much better than the unit you get in lower trims.
Should I buy a Volkswagen Atlas Execline?
If you require a family hauler that has a ton of space, this is your rig. Only the Chevy Traverse has more room but it doesn’t drive with the polish of the VW. As nice as the Execline is, we think the Highline trim level is the sweet spot of the lineup, despite it going without the bigger wheels, upgraded sound system and the digital dash. So it seems that yes, in this case bigger really is better, and the Atlas was worth the wait.
2019 Volkswagen Atlas Execline 4Motion – Specifications
- Price as tested: $54,975
- Body Type: 4-door, 6 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/All-wheel drive
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Engine: 3.6 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 276 @ 6,200 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 266 @ 2,750 rpm
- Curb weight (GVWR): 2,720 kg (5,997 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 14.1L/100km (17 mpg)