Mountain Wheels: Updated VW Atlas and splashy Atlas Sport offer roomy rides
While the newsier news in the world of Volkswagen this week is the release of the company’s new ID.4, its first long-range electric vehicle, my subject this week is the vehicle sort of at the other end of the spectrum from that: VW’s large Atlas SUV models — still gas-powered and pretty gigantic by Volkswagen standards.
For those of us who like to have the ability to drive to Florida at the drop of a hat, the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport represent an engaging and attractive option, with loads of room, lots of different packages to choose from and did I mention loads of room?
Last summer, Atlas Cross Sport — the five-passenger, slightly chopped and very Audi Q8-styled version of the vehicle — won a place in my heart as it literally consumed an entire Ikea couch, rear seats dropped, no questions asked. I felt like you could probably get a Jet Ski in there, without trying too hard.
A 1980s Jetta the Atlases are not. The even-larger, regular Atlas is a little more than 200 inches long, 78.4 inches wide and 70.1 inches high. The refreshed 2021 Atlas model is now 2.4 inches longer overall; inside, there’s 153.7 cubic feet of total passenger volume for seven, and behind-the-front-seat cargo capacity of 96.8 cubic feet. That is a lot of acreage.
I got to drive the 2.0-liter turbo version of the Atlas’ SE trim level, with the Technology package added, bringing the price to $40,300; the most basic model can be found for $31,545, which has not changed from earlier models. There’s also a new, super-chunky Basecamp version, with off-roading tires, body cladding and old-school mag wheels.
That turbo, which is arguably more appropriate for high-elevation travel (more on that in a moment), is now available on the higher levels of the eight trims available, and 4Motion all-wheel drive is now an option with either the turbo or the 3.6-liter V-6 engine choices.
The bigger, seven-passenger Atlas has been given a wide range of stylistic upgrades, most noticeably a dose of the strong, chrome-edged facial features that seem to be the deal with every SUV and truck in the industry. Here, they’re tasteful, and with my vehicle’s 20-inch alloy wheels, its stance is even more punchy.
Unlike the competitors, Volkswagen also has chosen to go tastefully plain on the interior details, with a whole lot of black plastic, slightly offset by a couple of strips of woody veneer. The seating is great, the navigation setup is big and bright, and the 2021 vehicle’s improved range of electronic driver-assistance aids are comprehensive and easy to use but not overwhelming. Just don’t set the seating too low, or you’re going to feel like a 7-year-old sitting inside a refrigerator box. Again, this thing is like a German Yukon, though besides its lane-filling largesse, it handles confidently and smoothly. The 235-horsepower output of the turbo is perfectly adequate here, and also gives you an edge when making your way up over the passes.
The 2021 Atlas Cross Sport I drove — a $51,615 SEL Premium R-Line edition with the 3.6-liter, V-6 engine — is largely unchanged from previous models but does gain the improved infotainment system and a couple of new travel and emergency assist functions. It too has eight trim levels but starts at $30,855.
It, too, is not a small vehicle, though its proportions are different from the regular Atlas: It’s 195.5 inches long and 68.3 inches high with 77.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the front seats (still tall enough to make rooftop snow removal a chore), and it sits on 21-inch wheels. That space means an ultra-roomy interior with so much rear passenger foot room you could literally sleep on the floor, and the cargo space is certainly adequate for any ski trip needs.
And some of the spaces in the vehicle just seem to have been designed for the sake of spaciousness, including the carpeted console box. There’s bigness all around; I cannot imagine how European drivers would react to this Tennessee-built machine.
The additional R-Line flash, including perforated seat inserts, lots of glossy panels and even a flat-bottomed sport wheel make you wish you had 400 horsepower. Sadly, as previously experienced, the 276-horsepower VR6 is probably great at lower elevations but absolutely falls apart at 10,000 feet. We’ve all noticed that everyone seems to drive 85 mph all of the time on Interstate 70. While I do not advocate that, the Cross Sport’s V-6 just did not have the extra oomph I needed to keep moving over the passes.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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