2024 Volkswagen Atlas review: Improved interior
A much-need interior refresh helps the huge Atlas make its case
2024 Volkswagen Atlas review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
What is it?
One of largest new vehicles on sale today, the Atlas is Volkswagen's atlas-sized utility vehicle with seven usable seats and tons of space. It's been on sale for half a decade, but this 2024 edition brings the urgent interior improvements needed to stay relevant against increasingly luxurious competition. It always won on real estate due its sheer volume, so now it can hopefully compete elsewhere, too . It costs $50,490 as equipped for this SEL with 4Motion AWD, and for the first time driving an Atlas, I can understand now why you might want one, though it's not without some annoying niggles.
Buy it for...
Short of a minivan, there aren't other vehicles off the top of my head that have extra interior volume. Thanks to its boxy (yet attractive) shape and 200" length, the cabin is more of a mansion in terms of square footage paired to high ceilings. The captains chairs in the second rows are comfortable with enough leg space for basketball players, while most adults could even deal with enduring the third-row. Fold down those extra back seats and you're treated to a mammoth cargo bay ready for your next trip to Costco and Ikea, both in the same day even. I thought a Toyota Highlander was a big car, but it's not until you climb into an Atlas that you experience what proper big is.
Past Atlases, even the supposedly 'high-end' ones, were admittedly low-rent when it came to their interiors, with cheap and hard plastics littered about like a parts-bin special, never coming close to the $50,000 price tag where quality was concerned. This 2024 features a near-total revamp, with soft-touch materials in many key and needed places. There's also a new, large, and attractive touchscreen in the center that looks the part. It's still not caught up to key rivals, a realm where Kia's Telluride and Mazda's CX-9 reigns supreme for their surprising real luxury they possess, but this new Atlas is a serious step in the right direction and better matches cars like the Toyota Highlander.
Bloated SUV it may be, but the Atlas does drive decently well. The ride quality is comfortable paired to a quiet cabin at cruising speeds, making for a nice place to be during extended periods of time. I find the steering too light for my own liking, but can understand the appeal to prospective buyers as it makes this large behemoth easy to maneuver and control. It is at least accurate, too, and once you acclimate to the lack of weight in the wheel and become more delicate in your inputs, it's an enjoyable machine to helm. The handling and AWD impress for this class, with capability beyond what any average owner could wish for in a vehicle like this, with relatively lean understeer and a good ability to deploy power even when exiting a corner.
Another worthy note is that, in the right configuration, the Atlas can tow up to 5,000 pounds, a rather usable figure for occasional extracurricular activities.
Skip it because...
This should come as no surprise, but the Atlas is far from an efficient vehicle. However, despite VW dropping the V6 to make a turbocharged inline-four the top choice, it's still a guzzler to the tune of 20 MPG over the course of a week. That is at least a solitary MPG improved upon the last V6 Atlas I tested, but it's 3 less than a new Toyota Highlander with a 2.4L turbocharged four-banger achieved recently in the same driving routes. On a brighter side, the engine is exceptionally smooth for only four cylinders and it doesn't trip over itself with bad transmission programming like other recent Volkswagens have. It's a solid engine with ample power (269 horsepower), but it's pretty poor four-cylinder where economy is concerned.
The interior may be huge and improved quality-wise, yet there are several significant demerits that must be mentioned, with the most minor being seats that were too flat for my taste. Maybe some will love the seats, but I found them too shapeless even after adjustments and lacking in lateral support, especially around my upper back. However, there's more pain in the electronics, with several terrible decisions having been made by the boardroom execs in Germany.
Volume knobs are simple and easy, no? You want to adjust the loudness? Turn a little knob left and right - piece of cake! Yet, VW has decided to axe the traditional volume knob for a touch sensitive sliding thing that is iffy in practice at best. It gets worse when placed directly adjacent to the volume apparatus are two individual air temp controllers, also operated by sliding. In other words, it's quite easy to accidentally adjust temperature instead of volume and vice versa. But, that's not the worst part. At night, this slide-activated volume does not illuminate. Simply put, you cannot see the volume control at night without turning on a cabin map light above. What were they thinking?
I also experienced a massive glitch during one drive with the center display. Because the screen is used for basically everything, including climate (which there's a shortcut physical key lazily labeled 'CLIMA.'), I ran into some serious problems when adjusting my seat coolers. Touching the screen to activate them results in an addible clicking sound for feedback, but after I chose my desired setting, I kept hearing clicks in quick succession. It turns out, by some weird malfunction, the screen started repeatedly clicking itself and turning on the seat warmers over and over and over. I turned them off, and then they'd seemingly click themselves back on. What in the world? Luckily, it happened over only a single drive and didn't reappear, but this glitch left a sour taste.
If you can deal with, or maybe even enjoy the weird slidey-volume-thing, then great. If you find the seats fit your body better than myself, then great, this might be a seriously good option for you. The size cannot be underestimated, and those with kids and even some German Shepherds will surely appreciate the space the Atlas offers while also enjoying the improved interior furnishings. I'm not sure it warrants a $50K asking price as this one sits, but it is a better car than its immediate forebear, and at least Volkswagen has taken criticism into concern and upgraded the interior, even if it introduced some new problems. It's one of the biggest new cars on sale today, and that alone might be the reason to place it at the top of your list.
As-tested Price: $50,490
Pros: Improved interior; Huge interior
Cons: Thirsty; Some wonky controls inside