The 2023 Volkswagen Atlas brings a combination of premium features, lots of cargo space, and an attractive aesthetic at a reasonable price.
One drive down any major highway or thoroughfare, and it becomes pretty easy to tell that there are a myriad of options when it comes to choosing an SUV. Yes, there are crazy expensive SUVs like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and there are also crazy, stupid-fast 1,000-horsepower EV SUVs like the Tesla Model X Plaid.
But those are at the extreme ends of the SUV spectrum, and the truth is that the majority of people will need something a bit more… realistic. SUVs like the Kia Telluride and Honda Pilot are far more popular when it comes to pure sales numbers. The Volkswagen Atlas is a relative newcomer to the SUV arena, but 2023 brings us its best version yet.
As with most family-first sport utility vehicles, the Volkswagen Atlas is a big vehicle that has space for five full-sized adults and their luggage as well. No, it isn't quite as massive as say, the Ford Expedition, but then, most families won't need something quite that enormous anyway. Riding high enough to clear most day-to-day obstacles, and also some off-road ones, though that doesn't seem to be the main focus of the Atlas. Volkswagen keeps things pretty simply when it comes to powertrain options for the big, burly SUV. The base engine is a surprisingly smaller-than-expected, but potent, 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC inline-4 cylinder engine that produces 235-horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The only other engine option is a larger 3.6-liter, naturally-aspirated, DOHC V6 that makes a more powerful 276-horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.
As with most modern, family oriented SUVs, there are two options for how the drivetrain is set up. You can have the (fuel) economical front-wheel drive, which for most intents and purposes is enough to get you, your family, and the Atlas though foul weather, and any snow storms this side of the Great Lakes. But, if you'd like to upgrade your traction, and have a bit more peace of mind, then you can opt for the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system that VW has become known for. In either case, with either engine, you will get the same 8-speed automatic transmission to route power to your choice of drive wheels.
When it comes to SUVs, the idea of "performance" can be a number of different things. Most obviously, the tried-and-true 0-60 mph test is very telling. And despite its 4,500 pound heft, the Atlas, when equipped with the base 2.0-liter turbocharged motor manages a reasonable 7.8 seconds to make the run to 60 mph. If however, you upgrade to the bigger, naturally-aspirated V6 (and all-wheel drive), then that 0-60 mph sprint takes a more impressive 7.1 seconds. No, the Atlas won't be challenging any Bentley Bentaygas at the drag strip, but the big Volkswagen brings more to the table than just speed.
While the smaller turbo motor-equipped Atlas only has a max towing capacity of just 2,000 pounds, the larger 3.6-liter V6 can haul a much more respectable 5,000 pounds. Payload capacity maxes out at 1,400 pounds. In terms of performance at the pump, the EPA tells us that the fuel economy for the VW Atlas is, at its best of 21/25/23 city/highway/combined MPG when equipped with the base engine and front-wheel drive. If however, you want the bigger engine and all-wheel drive, that fuel efficiency drops somewhat to a best of 18/24/20 city/highway/combined MPG.
There are a total of five trims in all to choose from with the 2023 Atlas, each coming with its own set of features. The base trim is the SE, which comes with such features as 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, and 8-inch color infotainment display. Upgrade to the SE w/Technology trim, and you get larger 20-inch wheels, remote start and seven USB ports. Level-up to the middle SEL trim, and you're granted a 10.25-inch digital instrument display, a power tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof, and 8-way power adjustable front seats.
The SEL R-Line trim gets all the fun of the SEL, but adds the sportier R-Line exterior package, which is similar to what Acura did with their A-Spec package on the MDX. While the top-of-the-line SEL Premium R-Line, gets the same sport styling but adds even more features like bigger 21-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, an overhead-view camera, leather interior, heated first and second row seats, and an upgraded Fender sound system.
Depending on what options you choose, the price tag of the 2023 Volkswagen Atlas can climb fairly steadily, but thankfully not quite to the same heights as a truck like the 'everything-optional' BMW X3. At its lowest, the base VW Atlas SE has a starting price of just $35,150. The mid-range SEL trim comes in with a base price of $44,940, and the top-level SEL Premium R-Line starts out at a lofty $52,340.
Lou was born with motor oil in his veins. His first car was a 1965 Mustang convertible and it’s only gotten better from there. He has written for mass market publications such as AutoTrader, AutoConnection and the PowerAutoMedia Group. Import or domestic, as long as it looks good and goes like hell, Lou will have something to write about it.