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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2024 VW Atlas SEL Premium R-Line review

2024 VW Atlas SEL Premium R-Line right front
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2024 VW Atlas SEL Premium R-Line right front

Sometimes it’s good when a car maker doesn’t futz too much with its designs, if the original was well executed.

Such is the case with Volkswagen’s Atlas, a mid-size crossover it makes at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant, along with the Atlas Cross Sport, which is 5 inches shorter. The difference is the tested Atlas SEL Premium R-Line (top trim level) is a three-row crossover, while the Cross Sport only seats five.

Past drives have proven Atlas a smooth and comfortable driver with fine ride and handling with just a few quirks to consider.

This top R-Line model also comes with 4Motion, VW’s AWD system, so traction is not an issue once winter arrives. And know that Winter IS Coming.

VW’s big change for the 2024 model is the addition of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 to replace both its old I4 and six-cylinder engines. This new powerplant delivers a fine 269 horsepower with a 273 torque rating, about the same as the previous six-cylinder, but delivering fuel economy like the former I4.

I got 21.3 mpg in a mix of driving while the EPA rates the new Atlas at 19 mpg city and 25 highway.

The new engine is certainly peppy enough and shifts from the 8-speed automatic are smooth. Even the old engine’s hesitation upon hard accelerating has disappeared. One downside, the turbo I4 is a growler, much like the boxer engine in our family Subaru Outback. Heavy acceleration creates quite a grumble until the Atlas slips into a higher gear and the revs calm.

So, good power, but with some sound and fury.

Still, VW’s Atlas handles so well and rides so well, that it’s an easy mid-size crossover to drive and enjoy on a daily basis. Crumbling city streets will jiggle it, but never seriously thump the passengers inside and the steering is light enough for easy parking lot activity. VW packs in electric power steering along with independent four-wheel suspension to accomplish these tasks.

Another plus is the handsome exterior styling. Nothing fancy mind you, but there are well blended lines from the grille and hood to the remainder of the vehicle, plus a sophisticated looking R-Line logo and trim that blends in with the accent lines that come off the well-formed wheel well bulges. Dressed up in the no-extra-charge Platinum Gray Metallic, (medium silver/gray) the Atlas would fit right in at any country club.

Amazingly too there’s plenty of room in the third-row seat as VW added a couple inches of length to Atlas a couple years back. Position the row two seats mid-way back or far forward and legroom is easily sufficient for adults in row three. Headroom is good throughout.

The VW’s optional ($695) second row captain’s chairs are not only comfy, but slide forward easily with the back angling forward to make for easy row three access.

Behind the third row is a generous 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space and naturally the third and second rows fold flat, making for simple hauling of long or bulky items.

I like that row two also has heated seats and its own climate controls, along with multiple plugs for electronics. Oh, and the second row windows include manual sun shades.

Up front, the Atlas looks sharp too with plenty of functionality, but some quirks.

First, the test vehicle included upgraded black quilted leather seats that look snazzy with white stitching, but also provide good support without being overly constraining. Seats also are heated and cooled.

There’s a fake wood trim that looks elegant on the dash and doors with matte silver, pewter-like trim on the door releases, air vents, steering wheel hub and around the big touchscreen and console. A shiny gloss black sets off the console’s top.

The driver’s digital instrument pod is adjustable, allowing a person to select the major info they wish to see, say speedometer, etc. And the 12-inch touchscreen for radio and other info is easy to see too, but tricky to operate.

How so?

Well, I couldn’t figure out how to call up new local stations that weren’t automatically listed by the digital radio. So lots of Chicago stations were on tap, but not Milwaukee stations. Usually there’s an easy Refresh Station List button. Not here. The thick owner’s manual was of little help for this, or for other settings, like the odometer.

Also, many friends and car folks I’ve talked with don’t care for the radio’s new tap or slide arrows here on the screen’s dash ledge and steering wheel hub to adjust volume. Seems it’s always too loud or soft. Knobs or toggles are much easier to adjust.

Like so many other makes VW puts the climate controls on the screen. And once you find the Climate button below, it that’s not so tough to adjust — except the fan speed, which is nearly impossible. Also the heated and cooled seat adjustments are on screen, so not as convenient as console buttons. VW designers apparently live where it’s warm.

If one can get beyond that though, there is a flat-bottom steering wheel that both looks racy and eases a driver’s entry and egress. Oddly, VW angles the wheel differently than all other car makers with the top of the wheel angled away from the driver. Think school bus steering wheel angle, just not that severe.

Yet, I like the giant panoramic sunroof overhead, although again, the roof-mounted controls are ones where a driver slides his or her fingers to the desired opened or closed position for the shade or the opening roof. After a week, I had become a fan of the little stubby shifter on the console, seeming more like a toggle once I was used to it.

There are still extremely thick A-pillars and side mirrors to partially obstruct side visibility, so thank goodness for 360-view cameras and a bevy of standard safety devices, with the latter being part of IQ.DRIVE, VW’s driver assistance technology. It includes features such as lane centering, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking. There’s also adaptive cruise control and a head-up display in the R-Line. But they are optional on lower trim levels.

Another plus, Atlas will tow 5,000 pounds of trailer, making it useful for camping outings or pulling a small boat and trailer to the lake or a couple snowmobiles and trailer up north in winter.

Pricing covers a wide range, starting at $39,075 for the base model with front-wheel drive and going all the way up to $53,805 for the tested top-level R-Line. With just the captain’s chairs added here, the tester ended up at $54,500, actually a bit lower than some of the competition.

There are several other trim levels between the two extremes, an SE with Tech package for about $43,000 and the SLE for nearly $50k. A new trim, the Peak, starts about $48k and blacks out some exterior trim, etc., so mostly visual changes.

Certainly there’s no shortage of competition in this segment with the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade being among the best for luxury look and feel. There’s also Honda’s revamped Pilot, Toyota’s revamped Highlander, and Chevrolet’s Traverse, to name some major players.

VW’s Atlas delivers a lot for a reasonable cost and with its peppy new engine and upgraded interior it remains a sophisticated contender.

FAST STATS: 2024 VW Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

Hits: Handsome SUV with good power, handling and ride, plus AWD. Good third-row passenger room, massive cargo room and attractive leather interior with comfy seats, all rows. Large screen, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, wireless charger, flat-bottom wheel, solid safety features.

Misses: OK power but grumbly engine during hard acceleration, odd steering wheel angle, info screen awkward to adjust and all climate functions only via screen, volume touch-icons on screen ledge and steering wheel awkward to adjust, and thick A-pillars/side mirrors limit visibility.

Made in: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 269 hp/273 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,663 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.3 in.

Length: 200.7 in.

Cargo: 20.6/55.5/96.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/25

MPG: 21.3 (tested)

Base Price: $53,805

Invoice: $51,655

Major Option: Second row captain’s chairs, $695

Test vehicle: $54,500

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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