2018 Volkswagen Atlas: The Details Count

It started with a look in the hatch of the Atlas. There was something I’d never seen before. So I reached out to the rest of the VW Vortex editorial brain trust. They hadn’t seen anything like it either. The Atlas had a feature that none of us had seen in another vehicle. One that might be my favourite feature of the year. It had a storage compartment for the cargo cover.

Bear with me for a moment. That’s a really useful feature. It’s the kind of detail that everybody else had missed for decades. Sure you can cover your stuff up with that fancy trunk awning, but what if you need to transport bigger stuff? Then you had to find somewhere to stuff the wound up cover that was nearly as wide as the entire vehicle. If you were lucky, you could angle it on the floor of the second row, and listen to it thumping around. As long as you didn’t have rear-seat passengers. Or you could put it between or beside your large items. With the same problems. Only if there was room and only if the middle row was up. If your cargo was big, it was a huge pain.

But Volkswagen has finally given you somewhere to put that cover. Under the floor cover, down there with where the spare tire used to go.

So if they’ve put that much attention into the cargo space of the made for America Atlas, what kind of attention have they given the rest?

Let’s start up front. Every other VW has a nose fit for Europe. A narrow and long European front plate, that is. But 31 states require you to have a big, fat, US-style plate affixed prominently to the front of your vehicle. They look terrible on a nose not meant for it.

Take a look at that big schnoz on the Atlas. Plenty of room for your giant front plate, and the inevitable dealer advertisement frame that surrounds it. No ugly grille-blocking (looking at you, Mazda) or hanging off the lower edge of the bumper. We’re doing well so far, Atlas.

Pop that long hood and you’ll find an engine compartment that’s really big and really tall. It looks like something a whole lot bigger than the 3.6L VR6 in my test car would fit in there. Not that the 280 hp isn’t enough, or delivered smooth and quiet, because it is. But if you’re loaded with passengers and have a 5,000 lb trailer out back, more is always better. The real detail here is the washer fluid filler. In an engine compartment this big, it’s easy to put the filler somewhere that’s difficult for drivers, especially shorter ones, to reach. Not here where it’s big and bold and right up front.

There’s one more thing before we get inside the Atlas. That handy gas-cap holder. Lots of automakers give you a spot to hang the cap while you stare at the pump numbers rising, but some of them take an ASE certification (or a look at the manual) to figure them out. Not the handy long protuberance on the cap of the Atlas. It fits gently and smoothly into that convenient and accommodating ring on the filler door.

Ok, inside now. Again. Sit in the driver’s seat and everything you can see looks like someone took a Golf and inflated it. It’s the same, but a bit stretched out. With lots of shiny fake-metal trim. It’s like a Passat, but bigger. And truckier. Which feels right for this big SUV.

That interior plastic harkens to one of the world’s most legendary family haulers. The Dodge Grand Caravan will never be seen as a luxury home, but when it comes to long-lived interior plastics it reigns supreme. Those hard plastic door panels are built to withstand a kidpocalypse. The panels in the Atlas seem to have come from exactly the same plastic mines. Only these ones are the cream of the crop. Better colours and a slightly better feel. It’s not what VW buyers are used to, but it will absolutely get the job done without becoming marred beyond recognition or waterlogged with old milk.

On top of the massive dashboard, you’ll find a great big cell-phone holder. It’s deep enough, with a nice soft texture, to keep your phone in place in quick driving. Or at least quicker driving than you’ll be able to do in this vehicle. The Atlas doesn’t exactly have the agility of the big Golf Wagon that lives underneath.

Next up, USB ports. Hey, this is a seven-seat SUV. One that actually has enough space for your author, who has trouble sitting in the middle row of some crossovers, to sit in all three rows. Comfortably, not pried in with a shoe horn. Volkswagen even does an impressive job of making the center row slide all the way forward to let passengers in back there. The long doorway and the wide gap the sliding seat leaves makes for easy access. But when you slide the seat back into place it locks all the way forward. It doesn’t remember that you had it 94 percent of the way back before you moved it. Which takes away from that easy access, since you then have to re-adjust the middle row. Every time you want to get in or out of the back.

Oh right, USB ports. For family vehicles, they’re like the cup holders of the 1990s minivan. If you’ve got the family loaded up, the devices are out. And they need to be charged. More ports is always better. Look at the Chevrolet Traverse. It offers up about the same amount of interior room as the Atlas, and it has a whopping seven USB ports. Seven! That includes the one hidden behind the radio so you can keep your phone out of sight and in the green. The Atlas offers up…one. Yup. A single, solitary USB. If you want more, the SE trim and above offer up four. Which still isn’t many, and none of them are accessible from row three.

So what about cupholders? Think of them like the USB ports of the 1990s minivan. The Atlas has some strange ones. The ones up front are huge, and can easily hold two of the largest drinks you’re going to find, though I just learned that the 32-oz Large cup I filled up Tuesday morning is only a Medium in the U.S. The ones in the rear are a little more unusual. The three-hole design looks like it’ll handily hold big drinks, but smaller containers like Red Bull cans and juice boxes won’t be left flopping around either. Because Red Bull is exactly what the kids need on a road trip. As far as fitting two big drinks in there, it’s a little tight. But it’ll work for the two middle-row passengers to share. Load up three-wide and they’ll need to stick to bottles instead of cups. Those’ll fit in the door pockets.

And the third-row passengers? They each get a three-hole holder to keep hydrated. Just don’t forget about them back there when it comes to bathroom break time. They get their own HVAC vents, too.

So the designers of the Atlas can take a bow for that extremely handy cargo cover compartment. And for some other details in the big crossover too. But that attention to detail didn’t quite cover every part of the family hauler experience. It’s a good first effort, but they should probably spend some more time in the back of an old minivan when they’re working on the next one. Bring some USB ports. And some ground-up Cheerios.