On Autos: VW’s new large crossover shows great promise

Review of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas goes on sale in May. (Brady Holt/The Current/April 2017)

Volkswagen has largely missed the booming demand for crossovers in the U.S. While most automakers have offered a seven-passenger SUV-looking car for years, VW instead chased smaller niches with the luxury five-seat Touareg and the upscale compact Tiguan.

But now, the company has two seven-seat crossovers hitting the market for 2018: a redesigned and enlarged Tiguan, and the all-new full-size Atlas.

A short preview test of the new Atlas suggests that even though VW is late to the market, shoppers would do well to consider this model alongside established favorites such as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, as well as upcoming redesigns of the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. On the suburban streets around Volkswagen Group of America’s Herndon, Va., headquarters, the Atlas demonstrated an enviable balance of upscale quality, stretch-out interior space, a smooth ride and even relatively agile handling.

Based on quick impressions, its handling and passenger space may even be class-leading, though VW doesn’t offer eight-passenger seating like several key competitors. Of course, big vehicles can be a liability in tight urban conditions, so further testing will be needed to fully evaluate the Atlas for D.C.’s own needs.

The Atlas will go on sale next month priced from $34,225, with a base $31,425 model following later this year. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, but most models — including every all-wheel-drive Atlas — will instead have the powerful but somewhat fuel-thirsty V6 (19 mpg in mixed driving with all-wheel-drive) from the tested car.