After being on the market for just over two years, the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas Execline has made a pretty good dent in the large three-row crossover segment. One size up from the Tiguan, the Atlas was introduced as a new product to try to keep buyers in the VW family who needed a larger vehicle after the discontinuation of the Routan minivan and Touareg sport-utility.
First impressions from the Atlas at initial sight is that it’s seriously huge. It doesn’t look quite so big from a distance, rather a larger Volkswagen product, but when in close proximity its sheer size is obvious. On par with full-sized SUVs such as the Honda Pilot (reviewed here), Toyota Highlander, and Mazda CX-9, this width translates right into the interior, where there is a lot of room to move about. The interior design is standard fare Volkswagen; clean, simple, and quite functional.
The dashboard layout is similar to other VW vehicles, with an eight-inch display serving up the infotainment and navigation systems, complete with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink. Below the screen is a cluster of HVAC controls including automatic climate control. A traditional gear selector is found on the console, where the ignition button is also located, which is something that takes getting used to if you come from other brands. Completing the clean look of the dash and doors is a nice warm-coloured wood inlay that adds luxurious feel to the cabin hand in hand with the beautifully crafted speaker covers for the Fender Audio system.
This audio system is unique to the top-end Execline trim, which also comes along with the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, which provides the driver with a customizable experience and in-cluster navigation maps. A 360-degree surround view camera system and park assist are also both included in the Execline trim, but if you tack on the R-Line appearance package on top of it, these features are sadly removed.
The base Atlas starts at $36,740 for the front-drive four-cylinder model, with the 4MOTION with six cylinders starting at $40,540. The top-trim Execline starts at an MSRP of $53,590, with the $760 R-Line package adding unique wheels and badging all around. Captain’s chairs for the second row are a $645 option and ideal if you want to use the third row all the time and don’t need to carry a seventh passenger. That comes to an as-tested total of $54,975 before fees and taxes, which is really good value for what you get, and clearly why the Atlas is such a hot seller.
The Atlas has a broad stance and boxy high roofline like a football player’s shoulder pads, and thanks to that, the second and third rows of seating are extremely spacious. The panoramic sunroof allows for even more headroom, especially for tall people climbing between the bucket seats to get to the third row. Sitting back in row-three is reasonably comfortable, not too far off from the experience of a minivan, and a bit better than a truck-based SUV provides.
Cargo room is of course generous, with 583-liters available when all seats are in an upright position, growing to a maximum of 2,741-liters with the second and third rows folded down. The second row can slide forward to give or take legroom from the third row, and rear seat HVAC controls as well as USB ports are conveniently located on the rear of the centre console.
Providing the grunt to move the large and in charge Atlas around is a 3.6-liter direct injected V6 that provides a peak of 276 horsepower at 6,200RPM, and 266 lb-ft. of torque at 2,750RPM. While this is not an earth-shattering level of power by today’s standards, it is plenty for the Atlas and competitive within the segment. A smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engine is available on lower trim levels, but only on front-drive versions. For 2020, the four-cylinder can be had with 4MOTION, as well. The added weight and efficiency loss of the 4MOTION all-wheel drive-system requires the 3.6L engine.
Stuck between the engine and all-wheel-drive system is the component that makes the Atlas fall out of our good books. The eight-speed Tiptronic transmission takes what could almost be a perfect crossover and makes it something that’s cumbersome drive in the city, when you consider what else is out there. The gearing itself is not the problem, but rather the programming that VW has implemented. Likely as a measure to try to keep fuel economy ratings low, the throttle tip-in is more aggressive than a Subaru and the transmission is constantly upshifting.
We had a very hard time pinpointing what the real problem is, but it seems like the transmission is programmed to stay in as high of a gear as possible, but also engaging the torque converter as soon as possible. What this translates to in real life is an aggressive launch that is instantly followed by the torque converter kicking in and bogging down acceleration. This experience is akin to the feeling of riding a bucking horse
All that transmission trickery seems to be necessary however, with the Atlas being near the high side of average for fuel economy ratings in this segment. Official ratings are 13.8L/100km in the city, 10.2L/100km on the highway and a combined cycle rating of 12.2L/100km. Also in line with the majority of its competitors, the Atlas has a towing capacity of 2,268kg (5,000 pounds) which is more than enough for what most buyers will ever need.
Overall, the functional interior design and especially the airy feel in the second and third rows make the Atlas stand out against other newcomers to the segment such as the Subaru Ascent (reviewed here) and a tough contender against the new Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride (reviewed here) siblings. The Dodge Durango offers more horsepower and towing capacity, while the Honda Pilot offers similar driving feel and better fuel economy.
If space, interior design and utility are much higher priorities to you than drivetrain dynamics, the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas Execline is probably the perfect fit. With a ton of value packed into a good price point, solid handling and ride control for a vehicle of this size, expect the Atlas to be a respected household name for a very, very long time.