My Thoughts Exactly: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas

If you are a regular reader of this website, then you know that I have two columns that are set aside for vehicle reviews. One is for full reviews, which can get pretty lengthy. Hey, I love telling a vehicle's story, OK? Then, there's Quickies. They can be as long as most reviews you read on the web or on social media since I end up telling the story of the vehicle anyway.

As I just wrapped up working with a vehicle for one of the outlets I wrote for, I figured I should shuffle things a bit. There will still be full reviews, which I know you truly enjoy. There will still be Quickies, which is reserved for a synopsis of other vehicles driven for review elsewhere (on a quarterly basis) or vehicles that I sampled somewhere down the line (case in point: The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS from last year).

This new addition to V&R's vehicle content will be somewhere in-between…with a different tact. There are many vehicles out there that simply need a deeper dive or be told in a different way. To find angles from the vehicle based on the headlines from the automotive press or the media, in general, that might be extracted. In other words, a spark of thoughts may have been derived from my time behind the wheel of a certain vehicle, while "living with it" (as I try to do every time I have one of these vehicles). Someone has to tell another story about a certain vehicle, right?

I call it "My Thoughts Exactly."

Because, simply, these are my thoughts on a particular vehicle that I thoroughly enjoyed and want to tell its story or a vehicle that needs to be cross-examined to find out why it did not meet the hype.

I bored you enough, let me dive into my thoughts on the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas.

This is the vehicle that has split opinion amongst the Volkswagen faithful. One side loves the idea of a proper Volkswagen family transporter for this modern era. The other side questions why they made the Atlas for North American audiences only, instead of importing the new generation Touareg…or, the Passat made for the rest of the world.

The Atlas is still here. Sales have improved over a year ago by 37 percent. Volkswagen has shown that they want North American families to buy and love their vehicles again – in particular, ones that can carry families and their stuff inside.

The one thing I noticed a couple of years ago when the Atlas was touring the auto show circuit was the emphasis on third row room. Not just the space in the absolute rear of the Atlas, but how easy it was to access it through an easy-to-use sliding mechanism, combined with extremely large rear doors. If one is comparing three-row mid-size SUVs in this class, that should be a huge consideration as to which ones you should consider.

My SEL Premium V6 4MOTION tester came with the available second-row captain's chairs, which also help in third-row access. Without anything in-between the second-row seats, it would be easy for a third row occupant to stretch their legs a bit, much to the annoyance of a second-row occupant. Or, the delight of the same set of passengers. Which ever way you want to see it, without going into "don't make me stop this Volkswagen and (do something that would signal a call to Child Protection Services)!" mode.

When I evaluate vehicles for publication (here or elsewhere), I'm usually the only one in the vehicle. Not that it's a bad thing, even in a six-seat, three-row, mid-size Volkswagen SUV. What I look for in any vehicle is that I have something that is comfortable, does not induce fatigue, rides smoothly, has plenty of passing power, cruises effortlessly, has easy to read instrumentation, easy to use controls, and a wonderful audio system that has smartphone connectivity.

The good news is that the Volkswagen Atlas ticks all of those boxes. And, executes them very well. The luxurious two-tone Golden Oak perforated leather seating that offered both comfort and support behind the wheel. I felt at ease and relaxed behind the wheel on open stretches of road, thanks to the familiar and easy-to-use controls that are the hallmark of Volkswagen.

This tester had the digital cockpit, which is a full TFT screen that is customizable to the driver. There are a few screens I would love to have access to, such as a tire pressure gauge and a readout for fuel consumption history. At this point, I would be nitpicking, because I know these two readouts are available on its most formidable competition. I'll revisit those in a bit.

Infotainment-wise, I was treated to the Fender Premium audio system connected to Car-Net App-Connect and other services. The way Apple CarPlay seamlessly works with the 8-inch Discover media screen using its newest interface is a huge plus for me.

The way the Atlas drives is exceptional and somewhat Volkswagen-like. While it has a smooth ride and genteel manners, there are still traces of the German brand in some aspects of the car. The brakes and steering are two big giveaways as to its origins – the Passat. That is a very good thing!

The 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is a strong motor. Combined with the eight-speed automatic and the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, I got smooth shifts and solid traction on surfaces that ranged from dry to iced over side streets. The Snow mode helped to handle the latter surfaces. However, I wished I turned better fuel economy, as I averaged just 20.1 MPG.

While the Atlas starts from $30,895, my tester came with a sticker price of $50,320. If we compare this to other similar models, this range would be average for its class.

That is where I have a problem. The Volkswagen Atlas has plenty of company in the popular mid-size three-row SUV class. Yet, two of its competitors stand out – the Hyundai Palisade and the #VOTY19 winning Kia Telluride. Yes, both offer a more compelling design, more technology, turn better fuel economy, higher levels of quality and potential reliability overall, and offer even more passenger capacity. They also top out at under $48,000. Heck, the Kia is built not far from where the Atlas is produced.

If you were to consider the Atlas, Palisade, and Telluride, which one would you choose? I'm afraid that is the toughest choice of all. Upon initial and limited exposure, I like all three and can grab one or more aspects of each three-row mid-sized SUV to toy with making a choice.

One more note about this vehicle: You can still get 2019 Atlas models right now, as the 2020 version is delayed for a month or so. There are no changes for 2020, which will have a short run until the revised 2021 model comes out. The 2020 Atlas will be joined by the shorter, two-row version called the Cross Sport.

In all, I enjoyed my time working with the Volkswagen Atlas. It is really a comfortable vehicle for families and those of us who have a sense of wanderlust enough to fill the rear cargo hold with your imagination.

It sounds like a Volkswagen to me.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America

Photos by Randy Stern

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