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All-New Atlas: Volkswagen’s family-sized SUV offers 3 rows

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After much anticipation from Volkswagen dealers and enthusiasts, VW is finally offering a 3-row, 7-passenger, family-friendly midsize SUV for the 2018 model year. The all-new Atlas enters the midsize SUV segment late and faces strong competition.

Does Atlas have what it takes to penetrate this market? I believe Atlas has some great appeal. Designed and built in the U.S. to please American palates, Atlas is the biggest and boldest vehicle VW has ever made on our shores. I like its size, exterior styling, spacious cabin, pleasing ride and available technology. However, those looking for strong acceleration and fuel-efficiency may be disappointed.

Priced between the smaller Tiguan and premium Touareg, Atlas is bigger than both models. Atlas is 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide, 70 inches tall, and offers 8 inches of ground clearance. While all-wheel drive is available, Atlas really is not made for off-roading.

DIMENSIONAL SUCCESS

Those dimensions make Atlas a great size for accommodating seven passengers comfortably. Atlas provides plenty of room for adults in all three rows. A 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat that reclines and slides fore/aft almost eight inches, comes standard in Atlas. Second-row passengers can really stretch their legs when the third-row is unoccupied. Second-row leg room is still good when sliding forward to accommodate long-legged third-row passengers.

3RD ROW

Accessing Atlas’ spacious third-row is easy, thanks to wide door openings and a nifty folding mechanism. Also, Atlas’ second-row seats can be tipped forward with child seats installed. That is a real timesaver for anyone dealing with child seats.

With a starting price of around $31,000, Atlas is available in five trim levels: S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL and SEL Premium.

POWER

Powering Atlas is either a 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine. Both engines burn regular unleaded fuel and each engine is mated to a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.

Either engine can be equipped with front-wheel drive (FWD), but only V6-powered Atlas models can be upgraded with VW’s available 4Motion all-wheel drive (AWD) system.

Regardless of which powertrain combination you choose, fuel economy is not impressive. The 2.0-liter engine is rated at 22/26 mpg city/highway. The V6 with FWD delivers 18/25 mpg, while AWD models offer just 17/23 mpg.

My Atlas tester was equipped with V6 engine and AWD. The V6 feels refined and delivered adequate power when driving by myself, but it required more forceful jabs on the accelerator pedal when merging into traffic with a full load of passengers and cargo.

RIDE QUALITY

Overall, the ride is very smooth and agreeable. I applaud VW’s engineers for providing Atlas with a suspension system that does well while at absorbing bumps while remaining mostly stable when taking corners at speed.

All VW Atlas models come standard with a long list of safety equipment, including a class-exclusive Automatic Post-Collision Braking System that will hold the vehicle stationary after a collision has been detected.

Although I was dissatisfied with Atlas’ subpar fuel economy and weak power output when fully loaded, it is certainly worth considering for anyone who needs a spacious 7-passenger family-friendly SUV.