If the Volkswagen Atlas is notable, it’s for being the first Volkswagen successfully designed and engineered expressly for the American market, an admission by the automaker that their haughty manner of foisting vehicles designed for Europe and expecting Americans to love them no longer worked. Oh, it did for decades, first with the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus, followed by the Rabbit, aka the Golf and its trunked sibling, the Jetta.
But slowly, it no longer worked.
German executives attempted to appease Americans by blanding down and cheapening products that had sold well here in their European form, such as the Passat and the Jetta. The price was right; the authenticity was not.
But that seemed to change with the introduction of the 2017 Volkswagen Atlas, a three-row SUV about the same size as the Ford Explorer. The broad-shouldered Atlas had an impressively roomy cabin, but it was awash in sterile, hard plastic, lending the car a cold, impersonal bearing.
Still, its package and performance were good enough to become Volkswagen’s bestselling U.S. model, although that includes both the three-row Atlas and its offshoot, the two-row Atlas Cross Sport.
Both the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport receive an extensive makeover for the 2024 model year that proves transformative. And Volkswagen has added more standard equipment than ever, making it far more tempting proposition.
We had the chance to drive both the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport, with this review covering the three-row Atlas. It’s offered in SE, SE With Tech, Peak Edition SE with Tech, SEL, Peak Edition SEL and SEL-Premium R-Line trim.
All models come with all-wheel drive, although the SE and SE With Tech can also be fitted with front-wheel drive. We drove a SEL-Premium R-Line at the vehicle’s launch this week in Saugerties, New York.
The Atlas always possessed a strong, broad-shouldered appearance, one that’s enhanced with refinements that add a noticeable dash of sophistication. Up front is a new adaptive lighting system with LED headlights and an illuminated logo in the center of the revised grille. There’s revised rear lighting as well. It’s just enough to add a veneer of newness to the Atlas’ timeless look.
That said, given its ground clearance is 6.3 inches, it seems the Atlas is more suburban foul weather friend than a tried-and-true boulder basher, despite the new outdoors-oriented Peak Edition trim package.
The bigger news comes inside, where hard plastic surfaces have given way to soft-touch materials. Designers even wrapped the center console where it comes in contact with a driver’s leg. As you might expect, pattern available-quilted leather seats are available, as is ambient lighting. But even buyers of the base model will enjoy additional standard goodies, including automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a height-adjustable passenger seat and voice control for vehicle functions.
The infotainment touchscreen is beautifully integrated into the instrument panel, lending it the look of a sculptural element, although some buyers may be put off now that volume and tuning knobs have disappeared. But now that the Atlas uses shift-by-wire, designers have opened up space beneath the center console for stashing a handbag or man purse.
But the revisions don’t change this SUV’s biggest allure: its spacious cabin, one where even the third-row can comfortably hold adults. It continues once you open the rear hatch, where you’ll find 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space, expanding to 96.6 cubic feet with both rows folded. Payload is rated at 1,091 pounds on front-wheel-drive models, and 1,135 for all-wheel drive models.
Last year’s 235-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder and 276-hp VR6 engines are history. In their place is a new turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine rated at 269 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
While the new engine has slightly less horsepower than the VR6, it possesses 28% more torque, with 0-60 mph times dropping by nearly a second versus last year. All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels, although front-wheel drive is available on SE and SE with Tech trims.
The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas runs on regular unleaded fuel. Towing capacity is rated at 5,000 pounds for all models and a tow hitch is standard on all but the base SE.
Safety and Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives a five-star overall rating to the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas SUV, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash tested the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas. Tests of the similar 2023 model yields “Good” ratings for all of its tests except for the moderate front overlap tests, where it rates a “Marginal.”
Volkswagen’s safety package consists of Travel Assist (VW’s semi-automated driving assistance system), Active Side Assist, Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Emergency Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind-Spot Monitor, Lane Keeping Assist, Exit Warning, Automatic Post-Collision Braking and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
Park Distance Control, Parking Steering Assist, Dynamic Road Sign Display, Head-up Display, Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control, Light Automatic High Beam Control and an Overhead View Camera are optional.
Given its redesigned cabin, it’s little surprise that the Atlas gets a far better tech package for 2024. Drivers face a configurable 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, alongside a new center-mounted 12-inch touchscreen. Wireless charging, 6 USB-C ports with 45-watt fast charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink come standard.
It’s astounding how much this year’s changes have altered the Atlas’ overall personality. The turbo 4 feels powerful enough for the task at hand, furnishing good power when needed. The engine is smooth, quiet and refined, without a trace of vibration.
Only when switched into the sport driving mode will you notice it, and even then, its note is a distant, but pleasing, growl that never intrudes. Neither does most road, wind or tire noise. While officials say there were no additional measures to quiet the Atlas’ cabin, it seems far quieter than before.
Handling is equally impressive, as it readily absorbs without translating much, if any notice to the cabin. The ride remains stable and assured while proving remarkably absorbent, lending a premium feel. Body lean is well-controlled, but there’s a bit more rebound in the Atlas than in the Atlas Cross Sport. And its added length and weight makes it less tossable than its two-row sibling. This is no Autobahn bandit.
2024 Volkswagen Atlas Specifications
|L: 200.7 inches/W: 78.3 inches/H: 70.4 inches/Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
|2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive
|19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined
|269 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque
|$39,075-$53,805, including $1,350 destination charge.
The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas is a beautifully balanced package, one that’s refined in every respect, something you can’t say of the 2023 edition. Its design updates make it far more competitive in the market, and erase the stark, unwelcoming manner that turned off buyers in the past.
For the first time, the Atlas has the muscle to interest more buyers in the midsize SUV market segment, one where it currently commands a mere 6%. Expect that to change.
2024 Volkswagen Atlas — Frequently Asked Questions
When can you buy a 2024 Atlas?
The first models should be reaching dealers in the next couple weeks from Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee factory.
Is the VW Atlas getting redesigned?
No, but it does get an extensive update for 2024 that’s transformative.
Does VW Atlas require premium gas?
No, it runs on regular unleaded.