Volkswagen is redoubling its efforts to gain ground in North America. Or regain ground, depending on your perspective. Popular opinion has it that the “dieselgate” fiasco represents the sum total of the company’s current challenges. But the struggle to sell “premium economy” vehicles on this continent – especially south of our border – predates this particular smokescreen.
This is why the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, revealed Thursday on the Santa Monica Pier, was designed and built in Tennessee. The accompanying press release called the Atlas, “The all-new seven-passenger SUV built in America for the modern American family.” So if you thought that VW was aiming to conquer Algeria with this new offering, you would be wide of the mark.
Set to land in dealers in the second quarter of 2017, the Atlas has the likes of the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander squarely in its crosshairs. All of these vehicles are, nominally, classified as mid-size SUVs. But all offer seven-passenger seating and all are on the large side. In this respect, the Atlas will fit right in. The price should be right as well; although specific figures were not released, VW representatives advised that it would be positioned aggressively compared to the competition.
The Atlas will slot into the company’s SUV lineup above the Tiguan and below the Touareg, even though it’s larger than the Touareg and it will be the largest VW available for sale in North America. From a visual perspective, the new addition shows familial features – the headlights, front grille, tail lights and D-pillar all bear resemblance to the current VW SUV fleet. But the side profile of the Atlas has more prominent wheel arches and a tougher look overall.
At launch, there will be two different engine/drivetrain configurations available. The base model will be a front-wheel drive version powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that generates 238 horsepower. The more robust version will feature the company’s VR6 engine, a 3.6-litre V-6 with 280 horsepower, and the 4Motion AWD system. Both versions will utilize an eight-speed, single-clutch automatic transmission.
From a packaging standpoint, there will be four different trim levels available – but final decisions on which amenities will slot into which level have yet to be made. (The models on display during the reveal event were well turned out with leather seats, soft-touch materials and slick interior surfaces.) Regardless of these choices, the VW Atlas promises to be a versatile and comfortable family hauler.
There’s ample space inside for seven passengers and their gear. The third row is accessed by a folding seat function that works even with child seats affixed in the second row. While the back row would not be the preferred choice for larger adults, it represents a workable solution for short commutes and shorter commuters.
As expected, the Atlas will be available with the latest slate of advanced driver aids and connectivity features. Optional safety systems include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and pre-collision braking. Another option, VW Car-Net, will integrate with all three of the major smartphone platforms, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. The VW Atlas will also be available with a driver-configurable instrument panel called the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit; educated guesses have this system resembling the virtual cockpit of corporate cousin Audi.
The Santa Monica Pier represents the end of the road for historic Route 66. But for Volkswagen, it represented just the beginning of a new journey to rediscover America – and to have Americans rediscover Volkswagen.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.