VW “Goes Big” in the US
By Kevin Joostema, Partner, Car-ED.com | July 2017
With an additional investment of $900 million in the factory just opened in 2011, VW is bringing its biggest vehicle to date – the VW Atlas – to US consumers this summer.
What is this vehicle?
This is a competitive, 3-row, Midsize SUV newly developed by Volkswagen to compete in one of the hottest segments of the US vehicle market: Historically, Midsize Sedans have been the largest volume segment in the US. However, market volume – and profits – for the leading manufacturers, whether mainstream or luxury – are now driven by Compact SUVs and these Midsize SUVs.
It meets all the required cues for what the most popular, high-volume Midsize SUVs have given consumers for decades:
- It has a presence on the road due to its size.
- The driver has a commanding view of the road and feels “p0werful” from inside.
- It is cavernous inside – with flexible space in seating versus cargo
- It drives like a car – not a truck. Dynamically it is comfortable to drive.
Who is this vehicle for?
Mature families that want an alternative to the high volume (and thus common) leaders like the Honda Pilot or For Explorer in this segment.
This is a new buyer for the VW brand to attract – to date there has not been a 3 row SUV offered. The only 3 row from the past was the VW minivan called the Routan. So for VW enthusiasts with a larger family this is a huge opportunity to buy the brand of their choice. And it is a huge opportunity for VW to appeal to an entire segment of buyers that until now have had no choice in their showrooms.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
Like with other VW products, this is the only way to get “German engineering” in a non-luxury brand offering.
It is also made in Chattanooga, TN – so it is providing jobs for US employees and supplier jobs at the brand new manufacturing site opened in 2011. This is also where the VW Passat (US Market version) is made.
A bit more detail on the four key traits for consumers and their love of Midsize SUVs:
- It has a presence on the road due to its size:
The Atlas stands out when parked in a parking lot as well as when driving along the highway. From the outside it looks large. That’s because it is! It is almost 4 inches longer in overall length than a Honda Pilot and almost 5 inches longer than the new GMC Acadia. The boxier design also contributes to this presence, just like happens with Land Rovers / Range Rovers.
- The driver has a commanding view of the road and feels “powerful” from inside:
From the creases in the hood to the overall height and weight – it is bigger than other midsize SUVs in these key metrics.
- It is cavernous inside – with flexible space in seating versus cargo:
The typical German design of seating (thinner but very supportive) contributes even further to the spacious feeling inside. Nooks and holders are provided nicely in the rear and door panels. However, the actual measurement for cargo capacity – be it behind the front, middle or 3rd row – is always the most in the Atlas versus top competitors (Acadia, Pilot, CX-9, Durango) in recent head-tohead comparisons by @CarandDriver
- It drives like a car – not a truck. Dynamically it is comfortable to drive.
The Atlas uses the MQB platform from VW. This is the awardwinning underpinning for the Golf and other, core VW offerings around the world. Especially for highway cruising – the mentality of the German engineering teams is to provide comfort and control at Autobahn speeds that can exceed US needs.
Interesting facts about this vehicle!
The Atlas is a unique name just for the US/Canada/Mexico markets of NA. It will be called the Volkswagen Teramont outside of NA (mainly when produced in China for the China market).
The Atlas is the largest vehicle produced on the Volkswagen Group MQB platform.
What Impressed Us / Top Likes:
The “likes” are surprisingly many in this car.
- We have already mentioned the presence – both exterior and interior. This “cost of entry” for the segment has been clearly met by VW.
- The great space is seen not only in overall feel and size of the interior, but in the meaningful “extra” spaces, such as on the door trims (see spot in middle, below armrest as well as the unique, raised cup holder design) and the rear cargo cut-outs on both sides.
- Neat and New technologies are included in this vehicle, such as ADAS systems (Autonomous Driver and Safety systems) like Automatic Cruise Control, the segment-exclusive VW Digital Cockpit, and full top-down camera views for low speed parking. These technologies are required for the luxury brand price points – so it is good to see them offered here in the high $40K trim levels as tested.
Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):
Auto Cruise Control:
This technology as applied in this VW keeps you so far away from the vehicle in front of you on the highway that people are constantly cutting in front of you. The closest distance we would hope could be made a little closer.
Digital Cockpit (or FPK – for Fully Programmable Kombi in German)
This technology is great. It has had great success for the Audi brand. However, as applied here in the Atlas, if you have the Map setting in your instrument gauge – it takes it away from the center console. You can not have the Map in both places at the same time. Why not? And even if it is only in the driver instrument cluster, lets at least use the center console for some other information. Currently, it is almost blank. Perhaps it was just us in testing, but if that is the case, then some strong user instruction is going to be needed.
2nd row USBs:
Get the USBs for the 2nd row off the floor level. The USBs in use will be destroyed so close to the floor by the feet of passengers.
Other small items for improvement:
- Center Console compartment: We applaud the attempt to make this as large as possible. However, it frustratingly can not hold a piece of paper either way – up or laying flat. Pick one for the minor model change so that the box is even more useful for “papers”.
- For the captains chair option in the 2nd row on top trims: it must be spruced up a bit and given a bit more “exclusiveness”. Speaking of Exclusive, we know VW Group has an excellent “Exclusive” line of content and designs. Turn them loose on this 2nd row option to make something truly special for the 2ndrow with plusher seat designs and console options.
- Exposed seat belt anchors/tethers: these are OK on a Golf or Jetta or Passat, but not on a $48K midsize SUV called Atlas.
Segment and Competitors:
The leading volume Midsize SUVs in the marketplace:
- Ford Explorer
- Honda Pilot
- Nissan Pathfinder
- Toyota Highlander
- Chevrolet Traverse
- Mazda CX-9
- GMC Acadia
- Hyundai Santa Fe
The higher trims might also be considered against the lower trims of luxury 3- row SUVs, such as the Infiniti QX60 or Land Rover Discovery or Acura MDX.
Unique Specifications / Content:
The VW AWD system is called 4Motion. This is an option on most trims. There is an S, SE, and SEL, and SEL Premium trim line up.
The Digital Cockpit is a segment-leading exclusive.
The main powertrain is the famous VW VR6 – a 6 cylinder engine making 274hp. A 4 cylinder option will be available later this year.
VW is also offering a unique warranty on their new SUVs – the Atlas and the upcoming all-new Tiguan.
For other specifications and equipment go to: http://www.vw.com/models/atlas/section/colors/
or www.Car-ED.com and see if the Atlas or other 3-row SUV best connects to you.
Pricing and Availability:
MSRP starts at $30,500
As delivered and tested, our SEL Premium model with 4WD cost (excluding delivery charge) $48,490. This represents the broad range of price points for the Atlas.
Available across the country at VW Dealers now.