2023 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE Review

Only two driven wheels messes with success

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Huge cabin in all three rows, user-friendly and simple infotainment, great digital cockpit is now standard, competitive towing capacity, solid V6 power.
Negatives: Poor driving manners with only two driven front wheels, jerky at low speeds, mediocre gas mileage.
Bottom Line: The Atlas is showing its age in terms of styling, driving manners, and technology. Front-wheel drive makes the driving experience less than peaceful or thrilling. It's great with space, but it falls short in so many other areas.
When we last drove the Atlas back in 2021, we were pretty impressed with its space, driving manners, and styling. But over the past couple of years, the competition has gotten very stiff, indeed. With segment leaders like the Kia Telluride and the Honda Pilot, the bar is high for these family-friendly vehicles. The Pilot has since been totally redesigned, and so has the pricier Toyota Sequoia. The Atlas has its work cut out for it. For 2023, VW ditches its base S model and has added the 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro gauge cluster as standard equipment for all trims above the SE. Our tester was a front-wheel drive model, which proved itself to be a major hurdle toward really liking it the way we did a couple of years ago.

Driving Experience



Without the benefit of 4MOTION all-wheel drive, the front-wheel drive V6 Atlas is squirrely and not great to helm. While the reduction in driven wheels reduces traction in poor conditions, the power to the front wheels overwhelms it. We would not recommend the front-wheel drive setup for this big three-row SUV.

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 class-leading, but it is more than respectable. The problem arises when you get on the gas and the front wheels reproductively spin. The Atlas feel skittish, and the slow transmission doesn't help matters.

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 is pretty good until you overwhelm the front wheels. When things are under control, the steering is precise, responsive, and decently weighted, too. Get on the gas too much, and the equation starts to fall apart.

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.




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.




The Atlas is attractive from all angles, but it's starting to show its age as a bit of a vanilla-styled SUV. When more fetching offerings like the refreshed 2023 Telluride and the redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot, the Atlas is a bit understated both inside and out.

Front: The front fascia looks masculine and clean. The incorporation of the headlights and grille from the Cross Sport is a win.

Rear: The Atlas is thick at the back, but the refined taillight pattern helps a little bit.

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 Teutonically clean and unobtrusive.




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.




The 2023 Atlas does fairly well in crash tests by both testing bodies, but it fails to win awards from the more stringent IIHS. The standard equipment list is decent with some features deficient compared to the Premium trimmed model.

IIHS Rating: The Atlas fails to earn a top score, even though it did well 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, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning & autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and lane departure warning.

Optional Tech: None.




The Atlas provides great levels of interior storage options and rear cargo space. It's up there at the front of the pack when it comes to hauling stuff, and the towing capacity is 5,000 pounds in either FWD or AWD configuration.

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



The Atlas doesn't fare as well in this are as some of the competition. It's a tad better than the AWD version, but the wheelspin probably doesn't help the fuel efficiency.

Observed: 16.5 mpg

Distance Driven: 189 miles




Our SEL V6 came with the stock audio system, which is decent but not great. It was fine in terms of listening quality, but it lacked the bass and clarity of pricier systems.

Final Thoughts

The FWD Atlas with the V6 engine is harrowing to drive. The power overwhelms the front wheels, and the jerkiness from a stop doesn't help matters. It lacks to composure and traction of the 4MOTION equipped version, and it's not pleasurable to drive. That's a game-changer for us, despite the fact that the interior is spacious, the tech is easy, and the visibility is very good. Get the AWD version, one we can recommend.
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