Class: Midsize Crossover SUV
Miles driven: 481
Fuel used: 24.5 gallons
|CG Report Card
|Room and Comfort
|Power and Performance
|Fit and Finish
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
|Big & Tall Comfort
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.
Real-world fuel economy: 19.6 mpg
Driving mix: 50% city, 50% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 16/22/18 (city, highway, combined)
Base price: $48,995 (not including $1020 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Aurora Red Metallic paint ($395)
Price as tested: $50,410
The great: Cavernous interior provides ample space for both passengers and cargo
The good: Clean, easy-to-use control-panel layout; nicely balanced driving manners
The not so good: Plus-size dimensions can make close-quarters maneuvering a chore; so-so fuel economy for the class
Offered the chance to freshen up after a considerable journey, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas midsize SUV says, “Yes, thanks.” The sizeable 3-row people hauler that’s been on the road since model-year 2018 gets a styling update, new driver-assistance features, and wider availability of 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
For its test of the ’21 model, Consumer Guide went right to the top with a V6 SEL Premium. Starting at $50,015 with delivery, it is the most-expensive Atlas, though buyers who pick a Premium with the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine save $1800. (Aurora Red Metallic paint being the test truck’s only extra-cost option, it topped out at $50,410.) Premiums rise above “base” SELs by dint of things like standard leather seating surfaces, Park Assist that can steer the vehicle into a properly sized space, Fender audio system with center speaker and subwoofer, and an overhead-view camera. AWD is the sole driveline available for Premiums; any SEL Premium is $4800 more than an SEL with the same engine and 4MOTION.
The pairing of the 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive is one of the changes for ’21. Previously, the 2.0 had only been teamed with front-wheel drive—which precluded the engine from being offered in the SEL Premium. The exterior facelift brings a new three-bar grille integrated with the lighting elements. (New headlight and taillight designs feature standard LED lighting.) Revised bumpers make the Atlas about three inches longer overall. Drivers grip a redesigned steering wheel, and can call upon an improved Car-Net telematics system with an upgraded mobile app that enables various no-charge services for up to five years.
A number of the changes made to the 2021 Atlas were previewed on the shorter 2-row Atlas Cross Sport that made its debut in 2020. Beyond the items previously mentioned, other standard equipment found on the SEL Premium includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive front lighting and high-beam control, panoramic sunroof, heated power-adjustable mirrors with memory setting, silver roof rails, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 10-way power adjustable memory driver’s seat and 8-way power adjustable front-passenger seat, heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and tri-zone automatic climate control.
The list of technology and infotainment items is pretty extensive by the time it reaches the top rank. There is a “Digital Cockpit” instrument display (configurable through steering-wheel buttons); adaptive cruise control; forward-collision warning; pedestrian monitoring and autonomous emergency braking; automatic post-collision braking; front and rear parking aids; lane-departure warning; blind-spot monitoring; rear cross-traffic alert; remote engine start; keyless access and starting; “hands-free” power liftgate; wireless charging; Wi-Fi hotspot for up to four devices; and AM/FM/HD audio with voice control, satellite radio, and navigation. New for the year are Traffic Jam Assist and Dynamic Road Sign Display.
For the most part, the rest of the ’21 Atlas story is a familiar tale. The carried-over V6 and turbocharged 4-cylinder engines are still paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The fine passenger room and cargo space are unaltered, and the driving dynamics from one of the largest vehicles VW has ever sold in the U.S. are competent and comfortable.
The narrow-angle V6 makes 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, enough for eager launches in city driving or when passing on the highway. It is smooth and commendably quiet. Selectable drive modes—“Eco,” “Normal,” “Sport,” and “Custom”—modify throttle response and transmission operation for more or less zing as desired. EPA fuel-mileage estimates for the V6/4MOTION combo are 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway, and 18 combined (all 1 mpg down from 2018, when CG last tested an Atlas powered this way). This driver saw 20.5 mpg from a stint of 60.6 miles composed of 35 percent city-style operation.
Ride is smooth and handling is fairly easy. However, given its size—the Atlas is larger than the majority of entries in the class—it’s not as easy to maneuver in parking lots and other close-quarters situations. The 4MOTION “On-road,” “Snow,” “Off-road,” and “Custom off-road” modes tailor powertrain operation to surface conditions. Off-road incorporates hill-descent control for heightened vehicle control on steep grades.
Where that size shows up to its best advantage is inside, where there’s lots of leg- and headroom in a wide cabin, especially in the front and middle rows. The generous width and a flat floor make three-across seating for adults in the middle row a reality. (Individual captain’s chairs that restrict seating to six people are available.) Cushion level for the Atlas’s third-row seat is high enough to be acceptable for grown-ups, and adjustable middle-row seats can free up some legroom for them—but nothing can be done about the middling headroom. Second-row seats tilt and track forward a bit to facilitate getting in and out of the back row.
Even with all seats up there’s good cargo room, plus some underfloor storage. Side pockets off the load floor hold incidentals. The halves of the 50/50-split third-row seats drop at the tug of a cord, and with the 60/40 second-row seats down too, there is 96.8 cubic feet of flat-floor cargo-hauling area—19 cubic feet more than in the shorter Cross Sport with its somewhat-sloped roofline.
SEL Premium passengers are treated well with comfortable and supportive seats, and abundant soft surfaces on the dash, door panels, and tops of the front doors. Storage for personal items is managed by capacious glove and console boxes, a pull-out drawer at the left of the steering column, good-sized pockets with bottle holders in all doors, and pouches on the backs of the front seats. Cup holders reside in the console, central armrest in the middle-row seat, and sidewalls flanking the third row. The Discover Media infotainment system (with 8-inch touchscreen) is fairly straightforward to use, though saving radio presets requires an extra step or two. The climate system has convenient dials for temperature and fan speed, and middle-row occupants get their own controls.
Roominess, comfort, and competitive pricing—all of which the Atlas has—never get stale. Still, it doesn’t hurt to freshen them up.
2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium Gallery
2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6