Driven

Space: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas

The Volkswagen Atlas, VW’s first foray into the world of large, 3-row family hauler SUV’s, has been refreshed for 2021. Packing plenty of space and refined chassis tuning, the Atlas has been on sale since the 2018 model year and was due for some timely updating. Equipped with the essentially the same 2.0 liter turbo 4cylinder as in the GTI or the Audi A4, our Atlas arrived to us in the rich shade of red VW calls “Aurora Red Metallic.” Have the mid-cycle updates kept the Atlas relevant in an ever-expanding segment? We embarked on our week-long Atlas residence with the determination to figure that out.

Exterior-wise, the 2021 Atlas receives updates in the forms of new front and rear fascias and a new grille. Its easy to spot the changes from the 2020 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sports we compared last year. Our SE level trim Atlas came equipped with large 20″ wheels, adding some curb appeal to the Atlas. “Aurora Red” metallic paint definitely set our test Atlas apart from the sea of silver, white and grey SUV’s that clutter the roadways, and makes one wonder why more people don’t get a red Atlas. The styling updates are successful in updating the look of the Atlas to my eyes. The Atlas has always had strong body character lines, with pronounced boxy fenders and an unabashedly square SUV appearance. The Atlas does not try to hide its size with swoopy lines, and the refresh succeeds in tweaking just enough to rejuvenate the Atlas without ruining the boxy yet classy looks that have worked well since the Atlas debuted in 2018.

Our SE level Atlas came nicely equipped with an 8.0″ infotainment screen, V-tex pleather seats, and acres of space. The seats themselves are covered in a durable grade of pleather, which should be well-suited to family use that may not always be so forgiving to more delicate materials like cloth or leather. They also did not appear to be easy to stain and should be easy to clean when necessary. They were reasonably well padded and firm but not overly so, and made cruising for over an hour an easy task. The dashboard pad itself was a soft-touch plastic that was smoothly grained and communicated a sense of quality materials. However, the hard plastic almost everywhere else did not entirely live up to the dash plastic. The dashboard itself has a very simple, linear, utilitarian appearance. The infotainment was relatively quick to respond and looked modern. The backup camera was of good resolution and the sound system was decent, if not exceptional. Where the Atlas’s interior truly shines is in the space. There is ample space in the front row, second row and even third row. At 5’10”, I could even fit into the third row in relative comfort, which can’t be said for all of the other vehicles in this segment. There is ample room behind the Atlas’s third row even with the seats up, and with them folded you could pack many bikes, golf clubs, and whatever else it is your active lifestyle calls you to. The second row seats recline and were also very comfortable.

After being somewhat underwhelmed with the interior, I did not have high hopes for the driving experience of the Atlas. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised, especially so when the road got twisty. The Atlas has a firm yet compliant ride, which prevents it from feeling floaty or disconnected, yet also neither harsh nor bouncy. The Atlas is at its most comfortable cruising down expanses of open interstate, but still impresses with its ride more urban settings. VW has struck an exceptional ride and handling with the Atlas, and I found myself enjoying the surprisingly direct steering response. The Atlas was even somewhat tossable into corners, with less body-roll than the average three-row SUV. Instead of feeling like a lumbering SUV of yore, the Atlas felt more like a surprisingly agile, large wagon. In addition to the sporty handling, the responsive nature of the turbo 4 was better than expected. The 2.0 liter turbo 4-cylinder has plenty of low and mid-range torque, while not feeling strained or winded when wound out to red-line. Overall, the driving experience of the Atlas was the best part of it for my tastes, and I think anyone that enjoys enthusiastic driving yet needs a 3-row family hauler will enjoy the capability of the chassis of the Atlas.

The newly refreshed 2021 Atlas impresses with its interior space and practicality. When you add in an unusually well-tuned ride and handling balance, what’s created is a 3-row family hauler with a unique yet endearing personality. VW has kept the Atlas relevant in the looks department while also ensuring that it appeals to the entire family, not the just the passengers or the driver. Therefore, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas is an easy-to-recommend option for families that need minivan rivaling space but want something with a more macho look and enjoyable driving dynamics.

-Ken Wilson

2021 VW Atlas 2.0SE w/ TechnologyS38,795
Aurora Red Metallic$395
Monster Mats for Bench Seat & Heavy Duty Trunk Liner$285
Privacy Cover for Cargo Area$200
VW Prepaid Maintenance w/ 30,000 services$195
Destination Charges$1,020
As-Tested MSRP$40,890

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