The 2.0-Liter Atlas is About to Get Better in the Name of the Planet

The Volkswagen Atlas comes in two engine configurations: 6-cylinders and not enough cylinders. Or at least, that’s what you’d think at first blush. When you look at the numbers, though, the four-cylinder looks a lot more impressive than the six.

The 2.0-liter Atlas makes nearly as much torque, nearly as much power, and gets to 60 mph faster than the six-cylinder despite consuming less fuel.

And that last figure is an important one for VW, because corporate average fuel economy figures, and the failure to meet goals set by the government, can be a very expensive proposition.

So, despite selling well it’s still frustrating to VW that so many people are opting for the 6-cylinder and not the 4. Despite introducing a powerful, lightweight engine, it just happens to be too small for most people’s tastes.

“If you look at the pure data, the inline four-cylinder is the better engine,” Matthias Erb, Chief Engineering Officer for VW’s North American Region told us at the New York Auto Show. “The acceleration is faster—and it will become even better for the next model year. You have almost the same torque, but this only above 4,000 rpm where you see a difference.” 

And despite being competitive with, or outperforming the V6, the I4 has combined fuel economy of 24 mpg, whereas the V6 FWD only manages 20 mpg, and the V6 AWD manages a measly 19 mpg. 

What makes the V6 so much more attractive than the I4? According to Erb, the problem is twofold.

“We made a mistake in the planning,” admits Erb. “This is going to change. The four-cylinder is not offered as a four-wheel drive.”

For the Q7, he argues, which offers both a six- and a four-cylinder engine, but which has AWD available on both configurations, the take rate is close to 30%. Not something you can say about the Atlas, but which he has high hopes of achieving soon.

The second problem is take off. Although the 0-60 time for the four-cylinder Atlas, the six feels better off the line.

The four-cylinder “engine is faster, but the initial one we currently have in the car is a little bit slower to, let’s say, 200 yards,” explains Erb. “So what are we going to do? We are going to adjust this engine again a little bit and then you will see the 0-10 the same performance.”

Erb argues that VW’s job is to “convert the market” to the four-cylinder because of its efficiency advantages.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Adjusting the drivetrain for better off-the-line performance is one thing, but there’s more in store for the Atlas of the future.

“This is a short-term thing we can do next year already, but we are also doing—the second step is we look at the four-cylinder and we will increase the engine power,” he said. “We are going to adjust the four-cylinder to exactly or a little bit higher engine power and the acceleration will much better. This is the next generation to come for the Atlas.”

That way, he argues, the four-cylinder will be better by every metric. Not just on economy, but on power, torque, and fun, as well.