2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium Review

The big German family SUV gets a proper facelift


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: The once-blocky front fascia gets nicely refined, excellent interior space, good driving manners, user-friendly and simple infotainment, great digital cockpit puts all the relevant info where you want it, solid V6 power.
Negatives: Interior is a bit on the drab side, transmission can be unwilling unless in Sport mode, not as robust with standard features as some competitors, so-so gas mileage.
Bottom Line: As good as the Atlas is, the competition is getting stiffer. It's good some improvements have been made in terms of the Atlas's looks and feature set, but it has to go up against newer vehicles that provide more. Good thing it has German engineering and space on its side.
The Atlas is easily one of the best three-row SUVs around, and it's a big hit for VW. But other entrants into the hot segment have arrived recently. The Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, and the new Ford Explorer come to mind. The good news is that the 2021 Atlas has been updated with better steering, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, an improved lane-assist camera, traffic-sign recognition, and an available wireless phone charging pad. We drove the refreshed Atlas in top SEL Premium trim for a week to see if our love has grown. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

7.9

 

Volkwagen continues to impress us with engaging driving experiences, even in its largest vehicle. The Atlas drives smaller than it is, and we found it entertaining and easy to helm in virtually all situations, not something most three-row SUVs can claim.

Ride Quality: The Atlas's ride is smooth without being totally isolating. It can feel a little bit unsettled over large pavement gaps.

Acceleration: The 276-hp V6 isn't as potent as the Hyundai Palisade's 291 horses, but there's enough grunt to get moving off the line. The gas pedal provides jumpy starts, and the transmission is a bit sluggish. You can keep it in Sport mode for quicker shifts, but it starts eating at your gas mileage.

Braking: We had no problem bringing the Atlas to a firm stop. The brakes feel progressive, and we didn't find any irregularities.

Steering: Steering has been improved to provide more feedback, and the difference is noticeable. It's precise, accurate, and decently weighted, too.

Handling: The Atlas is a big vehicle, but it manages its weight well in turns. It's just not a champ when it comes to abrupt changes. It's then that you feel its size.

Technology

8.2

 

VW doesn't make the best looking infotainment systems around, but their functionality is finally quite good. We also like the Volkswagen digital instrument cluster, which mimics cousin Audi's setup.

Infotainment System: Our tester had the 8-inch screen, and although it's on the small-ish side, it's clean and easy to read. Menu navigation is easy, but it's about mid-pack when it comes to responsiveness.

Controls: The layout of controls, and the physicality of the gearshift and audio buttons make operation easy. We just wish the steering wheel buttons were larger and that the audio knobs weren't so shallow and close to the screen.

Styling

8

 

The Atlas has never been a looker. When it first emerged, the front end seemed a bit too blocky, while the bulk of the back gave it an odd look from some angles. The front end has been cleaned up to match the Atlas Cross Sport's grille and lights. The result is a handsome Atlas.

Front: Not many will notice the change, but we certainly do. The fascia looks more refind and less awkward. The incorporation of the headlights and grille from the Cross Sport is a win.

Rear: The Atlas is thick at the back, but the new taillight pattern helps a little bit. The rest of it remains unchanged.

Profile: The Atlas is a thick-looking vehicle, but the big fenders give it a nice ruggedness.

Cabin: VW loves grey plastic in its interiors, and it makes it a bit drab. At least the design is Germanically clean and unobtrusive.

Comfort

9

 

The Atlas is very good at providing a high level of comfort for all occupants with ample room in all three rows and good seating. Ergonomics and visibility are also good.

Front Seats: The leather in the SEL Premium isn't the most supple, but it's still pretty good. Front row seats are wide and accommodating with solid levels of adjustment. The seating position is also quite good.

Rear Seats: The second row is plenty big, as is the third row. It has more legroom in row three than the Telluride by a couple of inches and more than the CX-9 by about three inches. The sliding second row also helps with rear access. Six adults can fit no problem, and they don't have to be short.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): It's well made and solidly built. No rattles, squeaks or noise intrustions, even at high speeds.

Visibility: Visibility is good in almost all directions, except side rear due to the thick D-pillars. The 360-degree and birdseye cameras are a huge help when negotiating tight spaces.

Climate: HVAC and heated/ventilated seats worked well. We love the huge vents in the dash that move tons of air quickly.

Safety

9

 

Families can feel confident in the safety of the Atlas since it pretty much nails the top scores for crash safety ratings for both major entities.

IIHS Rating: The Atlas fails to earn a top score, even though it nailed all crash tests. It did get dinged due to "marginal" headlights and LATCH system.

NHTSA Rating: The Atlas earns the 5-Star crash safety rating, top marks for any vehicle.

Standard Tech: The Atlas in SEL V6 4Motion trim comes with Electronic Brake Distribution, Electronic Differential Lock, Intelligent Crash Response System, tire pressure monitoring system, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control (now with stop-and-go), forward collision warning & autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and lane departure warning.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

9.5

 

The Atlas isn't exactly a pickup truck when it comes to in-cabin storage, but it's still pretty great for an SUV. The cargo area, however, is pretty much as good as it gets.

Storage Space: A large dash tray is very helpful for large smartphones, and the center stack cubby and center armrest are also pretty large.

Cargo Room: The large 56 cubic feet behind the 2nd row and cavernous 96 cu. ft. with all seats folded flat are at the top of the class, more capacious than the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango, and the Toyota Highlander.

Fuel Economy

6.8

 

The Atlas actually was downgraded 1 mpg, making it less than superb compared to its rivalry. We didn't find the gas mileage terrible, and that's kinda par for the course when it comes to vehicles this size. Most of our driving was on local streets and in Sport mode.

Observed: 16.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 72 miles

Audio

9

 

Our SEL V6 Premium comes standard with the excellent Fender Premium Audio system, which also provides a big center speaker and a subwoofer. We cranked up the music to our delight, and it was loud, crisp, and without distortion. It's great that they don't make you pay for an optional package to get this.



Final Thoughts

Because we, ourselves, have a big family, we appreciate when a three-row SUV is a good one. The Atlas looks better than before, steers better than before, and has enough room for a growing family (in size and quantity). There's not much to dislike about it, really. But for $50,000, you can get the Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, which has a far better interior and a more expansive set of standard features. Competition is stiff, but the Atlas is still a very good buy.
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