Americans love the functionality and comfort of their SUVs, and they love to take them on road trips across the country. Now, thanks to Volkswagen, Americans have another really good choice when it comes time to pack up and head to grandma’s house.

Enter the 2018 Atlas, a new family-friendly three-row offering from VW that puts the German automaker squarely in the heart of America’s biggest market. With the new Atlas, Volkswagen is aiming to become a full-line, family-focused automaker.

To be sure, placing a successful vehicle in the family SUV market in America is a tough row to hoe, but from initial observations the new Atlas is up to the task.

Volkswagen invited automotive journalists to the Hill Country outside of San Antonio for a first look and drive of the new Atlas. After a full day of driving the new SUV, I came away impressed with its roominess, comfort and performance.

“It’s been tailored to fit the American family,” Atlas Project Manager Jim Burch told journalists in San Antonio. “Customers gravitate to this segment because they need the size.”

The 7-passenger Atlas is the largest Volkswagen ever built in the United States, and marks a new chapter for VW here. The Atlas, which will be assembled alongside the Passat in Chattanooga, comes in five trim levels: S, SE, SE w/Technology, SEL and SEL premium. An R-Line package for SE and SEL trims will be available later this year. Pricing starts at $30,500 for the base S and goes up to $48,490 for the SEL with the V6.

Two engines will be offered in the Atlas: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V6. The turbo four develops 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, while the V6 kicks out 276 horses and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard transmission in the front-drive Atlas is an 8-speed automatic, and Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD is available on the V6 models.

All Atlas models have a driving mode selector with four settings: on-road, snow, off-road and custom off-road. The on-road setting has driver options for normal, sport, comfort and individual.

Driving through the Texas Hill Country was no problem at all for the Atlas, which smoothly accelerated up to highway speeds. The cabin felt roomy, and it was quiet as a church mouse.

The Atlas cabin is typical Volkswagen, which is to say it has clean lines, quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. Gauges and controls are simple and intuitive, and there’s plenty of room for the family to spread out.

Seating is for seven in three rows, six if captain’s chairs (SE trim and above) are installed in row two. Total passenger volume is a whopping 153.7 cubic feet, with 41.3 inches of headroom in the front row. Row two has 40.4 inches and even row three can accommodate an average sized adult with 38.3 inches of headroom. The standard second-row bench is in a 40/60 split. With row three folded, cargo capacity is 55.5 cubic feet.

The base S trim has durable cloth seats, the midrange trims get leatherette and the SEL Premium gets leather. Two-zone air is standard, but it’s tri-zone in the SEL Premium.

The Atlas SEL Premium also gets Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit system with a 12.3-inch customizable display. Infotainment across the trim lineup is by MIB II. The standard display screen is an 8-inch touchscreen. The infotainment system also offers AUX, SD card and USB connectivity. Also included is a rearview camera, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth and a new Fender Premium Audio system.

Volkswagen’s Car-Net system provides smartphone connectivity and is standard on all trims. The system features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink in one of the most comprehensive suites of connectivity around.

Safety tests on the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas by the government and the insurance industry are underway but not yet complete. The Atlas is outfitted with six airbags and a wide array of passive and active safety and driver assistance systems including post-collision braking, so I’d look for good marks when testing is complete.

Ya better watch out Pilot, Explorer and Highlander, there’s a new SUV on the block.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas SE


3.6-liter V6


276/266 lb.-ft.


8-speed automatic


$33,590 (plus options & freight)

Manufacturer mileage estimates:

18 mpg city/25mpg highway/20 mpg combined

Estimated highway range:

520 miles