The light goes green. The front tires jump, chirp as they lose traction, then settle as I pull away from the line. Such has been my experience with the Volkswagen Atlas. And before you jump to conclusions and assume I’m gunning it at every stoplight, let me assure you that I am not being overly aggressive in my acceleration. Unfortunately, our V-6-equipped brute is not equipped with the $1,800 optional 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, which means the entirety of the 266 lb-ft is directed forward overwhelming the limits of the front tires. And that’s when the ground is dry. When it rains, luckily a rare event in Southern California, you really have to let the Atlas begin to roll without giving it any throttle input in order to mitigate tire slippage. I would hesitate to drive in wetter, colder climates that could see snow or ice without replacing its current 245/60R18 Continental CrossContact LX Sport tires.
The front-end traction is not the only driving characteristic that reduces my confidence in the Atlas’s overall handling. Like a 4,200-pound Great Dane puppy, it bounds places, full of unnecessary movements and unsure of how to control its enormous extremities. My commute includes a section of rough coastal road, and once the bumps, drops, twists, and turns start, I never feel like the Atlas settles until I get back to a smooth, level road.
Despite the Atlas’s shortcomings, the generously sized VW has become a favorite of our video crew, who regularly uses it to haul multiple people as well as countless cases of equipment. The cavernous Atlas, with its 96.8 cubic feet of cargo room, provides ample room to store their stuff and still have room to work out of on the road. With two USB ports servicing the front passengers, two for the second row, and one 12-volt plug per row, the Atlas has plenty of power options to support the needs of passengers in the first two rows. Absent from the Atlas’ interior: USB ports for the third row as well as a 110-volt outlet, which is much handier than 12-volt plugs requiring inverters in order to plug most electronics in. The missing USB and 110-volt outlets are what keep the Atlas from joining the true family hauler ranks alongside minivans and full-size SUVs.