A Titan of an SUV

This photo provided by Volkswagen shows the 2021 Atlas, which is quiet and comfortable on the road. It also has the lowest starting price among three-row midsize SUVs. (Courtesy of Volkswagen of America via AP)

Combined ShapeCaption
This photo provided by Volkswagen shows the 2021 Atlas, which is quiet and comfortable on the road. It also has the lowest starting price among three-row midsize SUVs. (Courtesy of Volkswagen of America via AP)

Volkswagen Atlas gets updates and upgrades for 2021 model year

The Greek mythology surrounding Atlas has led to a lot of derivatives. Atlas, you may recall, was punished to bear the weight of the entire world on his shoulders for all of eternity. However, Atlas has had mountains named after him (Atlas Mountains) and even an ocean (Atlantic Ocean). So he has a fine and proper legacy, even as a mythological Titan.

A couple years ago (2018 to be specific), Volkswagen added to the legacy by naming their seven-passenger SUV after Atlas. Since its creation, the Volkswagen Atlas has been quite successful for the German automaker in helping to reshape its product line.

The 2021 version of the Atlas has a refreshed look (it’s quite difficult carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and can age you quickly). Also of note for the 2021 model year is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with all-wheel drive (AWD) is now available for all trims.

Compile that with an upgraded exterior and refreshed interior, and the Atlas feels fresh.

Spending time with the three-row Atlas gave me a chance to see the changes up close. I’ve been fortunate to drive each model year of the Atlas so it’s like I’ve seen it through its entire life cycle and evolution. A vehicle like the Atlas can get pretty outdated quickly, and certainly the seven-passenger SUV segment is chock full of heavy-hitting competition. And the Atlas holds up and for 2021 even stands out.

The looks remain thoroughly modern with a refreshed grille. Three horizontal lines span the grille with further styling indentations on the hood. Likewise those sculpted lines run the side panels, helping to give the Atlas a long but consistent look. The back end loses a bit of the styling with taillights that are dull and lack distinction.

The exhaust pipes have USB-outlet shape and are a saving grace for the back of the Atlas that adds some distinction.

Generalizing, many German vehicles have big driving personalities. However, the Atlas, even with a turbocharged engine falls short of the enthusiasm. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine lacks much personality. It’s adequate with 235 horsepower, but yet that still feels underpowered for a vehicle that weighs more than 4,200 pounds. For more enthusiasm (but less fuel economy) consider the 3.6-liter V6 engine which has 276 horsepower.

As such, my tester felt a little sluggish off the line, although eight-speed automatic transmission did a good job of helping this engine and presented very little turbo lag. While this engine may not invoke much enthusiasm it is smooth, refined and mature. The all-wheel drive is confident and the steering is firm and competent.

Inside, there are some new highlights for the Atlas that include some creature comforts like heated rear seats, adjustable vents for even the third row and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Small touches like this help add to the overall value of the Atlas which has comfort for all passengers. The third would be best suited for children, but adults could also fit comfortably in the third row. There is 20.6 cubic feet behind the third row but that overall cargo area expands to 55.5 cubic feet with the third-row seats folded down and 96.8 cubic feet with all rear seats folded.

The virtual cockpit as Volkswagen calls their infotainment system information integration, is cool and cutting edge. It feels fresher and newer than other infotainment systems. It’s really in the presentation more than the actual features. It has everything you can ask for and the system is intuitive.

The 8-inch touchscreen looks attractive but feels smaller than other vehicles in this segment. However, unlike some of the competition it’s not overwhelming with the center stack looking clean and organized.

My tester was the 2.0T SE trim with a starting price of $36,795. With a few options, the final MSRP of my tester was $37,815.

The smaller engine with all-wheel drive has an EPA rating of 20 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of mixed driving I averaged nearly 25 mpg.

Volkswagen’s seven-passenger entry the Atlas has a lot of pressure on it to succeed. Maybe not as much as the weight of the world, but still with all that’s expected from this SUV, it’s appropriately named.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at jimmydinsmore73@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2021 Volkswagen Atlas 2.0T SE

  • Price/As tested price................................................ $36,795/$37,815
  • Mileage.......................................... 20 mpg/city; 25 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. x235hp/258 lbs./ft.
  • Transmission................................. Eight-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Chattanooga, Tennessee

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