BOERNE, Tex. – It has been a difficult 18 months for Volkswagen.
The diesel scandal and its aftermath has consumed a great deal of the company’s time and resources in North America since late 2015, as both the U.S. and Canadian arms of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based auto giant have been working hard to resolve class action lawsuits affecting 2.0L and 3.0L TDI vehicle owners.
Things are progressing well in the U.S., with an approved federal court settlement covering 2.0L owners already in effect and a proposed settlement for 3.0L owners (which also includes Audi and Porsche vehicles) awaiting final approval from a judge at a hearing scheduled for May 11.
In Canada, the process is moving forward, albeit more slowly, with approved settlements on the horizon for 2.0L owners. Claimants with affected 3.0L cars will also be dealt with, after the 2.0L settlement is approved and after 3.0L proceedings wrap up in the U.S.
As one might imagine, the cost – financial, reputational and in showrooms – has been enormous, but the company remains committed to making things right and moving forward with new products.
One of the new models the company has high hopes for is the reason I was invited to Texas Hill Country – the 2018 Atlas.
Designed primarily for the North American market and built at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant in Tennessee alongside the Passat sedan, the Atlas is a large, seven-passenger SUV.
Like a growing number of Volkswagens, it’s built on the company’s Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform that underpins everything from the European subcompact Polo to the current Golf to the forthcoming next-gen Tiguan compact utility.
MQB, like Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, saves time and money in product development and can be scaled up or down to accommodate regional variations and multiple powertrains.
In the case of the Atlas, MQB means big: at 5,306 mm long with a 2,979 mm wheelbase, a 2,042 kg curb weight and up to 1,570 litres of cargo space, it is by far the largest SUV Volkswagen has ever built.
Available with two engines, a beefier version of the 2.0L turbocharged TSI four-cylinder (235 hp / 258 lb-ft.) found in the GTI and a 3.6L VR6 (276 hp / 266 lb-ft.), the Atlas is available in front-wheel drive and 4MOTION all-wheel drive. The only transmission on offer is an eight-speed automatic.
Of note, only the 2.0L models at the lower end of the grade walk are available with front-wheel drive. All VR6 models come with standard all-wheel drive and they will arrive in dealerships first, as Volkswagen Canada expects them to represent the bulk of Atlas sales volume.
In terms of design, the Atlas grew out of the CrossBlue concept Volkswagen first revealed in 2013, but the former carries a bigger, blockier profile with bold lines that’s very much in keeping with North American SUV tastes.
On the inside, its typical Volkswagen – somewhat minimalistic with a focus on function and ease of use, rather than cutting-edge style.
In terms of content, App-Connect smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, MirrorLink), 18-inch alloy wheels, engine stop-start, rearview camera, 6.5-inch (Trendline) or 8-inch (all trims above Trendline) colour touchscreen radio and LED headlights are among the features that are standard across the model range.
Depending on the trim, the Atlas can also be outfitted with a number of other add-ons including heated and cooled leather seats, a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, a Fender Premium Audio System with 12 speakers and a subwoofer and a slew of collision mitigation tech.
On the road, the Atlas is a comfortable, spacious and quiet-riding vehicle. The Texas roads I drove on weren’t the smoothest, but road and wind noise were reasonably well-suppressed and I thought the Atlas handled the twisty terrain well.
Body roll was minimal for such a large vehicle and unless you mash the accelerator from rest, the VR6 engine operated with quiet and smooth efficiency. In sport mode, the change in throttle mapping and shift points made for a more dynamic driving experience, but it doesn’t transform the underlying character of the Atlas. It is a large SUV, after all.
Of note, these impressions are based on a few hours of seat time in an early-production U.S. spec model (SEL Premium 4MOTION), that roughly equates to the Execline trim in Canada (pricing listed below).
The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas goes on sale in Canada in June with VR6 models arriving first. Four-cylinder models will follow later this summer.
2.0L FWD – $35,690
3.6L VR6 4MOTION – $39,970
2.0L FWD – $39,690
3.6L VR6 4MOTION – $43,790
3.6L VR6 4MOTION – $48,990
3.6L VR6 4MOTION – $52,540
Look for a more in-depth feature on the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas in the Summer 2017 issue of Ignition, on newsstands in June.
Photography by Lee Bailie