Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

The Volkswagen Atlas is a big midsize SUV with three full rows of seating for seven passengers to accommodate the typical American family looking for a cavernous cabin and plenty of utility, flexibility, technology and comfort. It represents as VW’s largest production vehicle and joins a small but adventurous family of German SUVs including the Tiguan and Touareg.

In Texas Hill Country I was able to aptly explore the attributes of the muscular sport utility which epitomizes a new, refreshing product for VW. Built in America alongside the Passat at the VW Chattanooga Assembly Plant customers will have five unique trims to choose between. Competing against the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander to name a few I was impressed with its athletic stance and strong silhouette that features a bold cutline running around the aggressive front wheel arch to the rear. Its appearance is also enhanced by flush, dual tailpipes, a stylish tailgate spoiler, front and rear skid plates and modish rims, especially if you put black 20s on the Mustard hued Atlas ($995 on SEL and $235 on SEL Premium). Standard items include stainless-steel roof rails, 18” aluminum-alloy rims, Rearview Camera, front LEDs and Automatic Post-Collision Braking. With two engine choices available pricing starts at $30,500 for the 4-cylinder turbo 2.0-liter TSI S FWD while the 3.6-liter V6 S FWD kicks off at $31,900.

At 198.3” in length, 78.3” wide and 70” tall the Atlas is roomy but does not feel bulky on the road. It moves fluidly with light steering and adept cornering control. The larger size equates to increased comfort for all passengers. To get to the third row VW introduced an innovative solution for the folding seat which simultaneously tilts and slides in one piece, and can be done so when a child safety seat is strapped in. As they claim the third row is truly suitable for two adults unlike many in this competitive set. In addition, the second-row has a fore-and-aft sliding range of 7.7” for increased passenger legroom. For $625 captain chairs can be inserted to replace the standard bench row.

“This is the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States, delivering the distinctive design and craftsmanship we’re known for, now with room for seven,” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO of the North America Region, Volkswagen. “The Atlas marks a brand new journey for Volkswagen to enter into the heart of the American market.”

For the drive VW set me up in their SL Premium model with 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) and the 276-horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 engine with 266 lb-ft of torque. The numbers read small but power and acceleration were not a problem. The 4Motion Driving Mode Selection allows adjustments so the Atlas can acclimate to road and weather conditions. You can set your Atlas in the Onroad mode (Eco, Normal, Sport or Individual) or Snow, Offroad or Custom Offroad modes. The other engine choice is a 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI 4-cylinder (coming later in the year) with 258 lb-ft of torque. Both are married to an 8-speed automatic transmission but sadly it does not have paddle shifters on the sporty, flat bottom steering wheel. Buyers can opt for either the front-wheel-drive variant or 4Motion AWD that comes with the VR6 models. The factory hitch (standard on SEL and SEL Premium) offers 5,000 lbs of towing while an aftermarket solution only provides 2,000 lbs.

Inside, the Atlas is quite intuitive and versatile since it features the customizable 12.3” Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrumentation, an 8” touchscreen infotainment system that awakens from hand gestures, Volkswagen Car-Net connected vehicle services with App-Connect for pairing with either Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink, an enjoyable 12-speaker Fender Premium Audio System with third row speakers; ambient lighting, dual USB ports in the front and dual ports in the rear and a 115V outlet (also in the rear). The large HVAC knobs and smaller audio knobs deliver ergonomic satisfaction to VW’s digital technologies. One thing I don’t like is swiping or searching through menus for simple tasks such as volume control. The panoramic sunroof and storage atop the dash for your phone, wallet or keys are also nice touches.

The technical acumen of the Atlas is presented in an amalgamation of driver assistance systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Front Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert with Braking, Lane Assist and Park Assist to name a few. Moreover, the aforementioned Automatic Post-Collision Braking system kicks in when the airbag sensors detect an initial impact triggering the vehicle to apply the brakes to reduce the unfortunate opportunity of a secondary impact and further damage or injury. These strategic advantages allow VW to attract a wider range of smarter buyers with a vehicle that broadens appeal.

As stated, an expansive range of Atlas SUVs are available for the diversity of individuals VW is targeting. The Atlas TSI S starts at $30,500, Atlas S Launch goes for $33,500 (FWD) or $35,300 (AWD), Atlas SE commences at $33,590, Atlas SE with Technology begins at $35,690, Atlas SEL is $39,160 and the top-of-the-line Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490 with 4Motion and the VR6. The R-Line package will come later in 2017.