The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas offers everything crossover buyers seem to want these days. Rugged, truck-like styling, a high seating position for a commanding view of the road, a competitively powerful pair of engine options, all-wheel drive, three rows of seats, and more interior space than the average apartment in Manhattan. It’s got 17 cupholders, a brace of USB charging ports and some desirable options, like a massive panoramic sunroof, hands-free rear tailgate, and a fully digitized instrument cluster. It’s even reasonably priced. On paper, then, it’s an ideal vehicle for crossover-crazed American families.
But there’s one thing that’s completely lacking in the Atlas: emotion. It’s a terribly boring take on the modern crossover formula. There’s just no character to the Atlas; it’s devoid of personality. Looks are subjective, and in a sea of me-too passenger bubbles, the Atlas seems like it’d stand out with its taut horizontal shapes. But in reality, there just aren’t any design details that draw in the eye. Somehow, even the LED lighting elements lack design imagination.
Most cars have some sort of unique selling point. For that Atlas, it’s roominess. The third row is big enough for real adults in a pinch, and the second row is almost comically spacious. In fact, with the driver’s seat in position for a six-footer, we managed to fit a full shopping cart worth of groceries in just one rear-seat footwell. That makes the Atlas perfect for a monthly run to Costco.
But all that space is hampered by its four traditional doors. Sliding doors, as much as America seems to hate them, are so much more practical. They offer larger portals from which to enter or exit, they open up nearly flat with the vehicle, making it easier to fit into small parking spaces, and, these days, they are almost always electrically powered.
Look, we’re not going to tell all crossover buyers that they should really be driving minivans. But if the reason you’re looking at the VW Atlas is because of its cavernous interior, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not cross-shopping other options in the box-on-wheels segment. And yes, that includes both mini- and fullsize vans.
There may not be an emotional bone in its steel body, but there is a rational buying case for VW’s Atlas. Specifically, if you want the most interior space you can buy for less than $50,000 and you absolutely need all-wheel drive, the Atlas might be your ideal family vehicle. You certainly won’t hate the Atlas, we just don’t expect that you’ll feel very attached to it.