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2024 Volkswagen Atlas Road Test and Review

Brady Holt
by Brady Holt
January 29, 2024
2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

When Volkswagen launched its first three-row crossover SUV for the American market, the German carmaker had a clear focus. Americans wanted big, and big was what we got. The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas had more legroom and cargo space than most of its competitors, despite bringing a measure of sporty European flavor to its firm ride and handling. It didn’t adopt traditionally upscale interior quality, though, leading critics to grouse that VW cheaped out to bring a big SUV at a reasonable price. 

Six model years later, the freshly updated 2024 Volkswagen Atlas is still among the roomier three-row crossovers you can find. But an all-new dashboard dials up the SUV’s luxury and technology. Volkswagen also updated the Atlas’s exterior styling, gave it a new engine, and more standard features. We just spent a week testing the updated 2024 Atlas, priced from $37,995. Keep reading as we explore this three-row SUV’s pros and cons to learn if the changes make it right for you. 

Updated Styling

The Atlas has become a senior citizen in its class. But its confidently chunky shape still looks fresh to us. Upright and purposeful, with pronounced fender flares and big windows, the Atlas’s body is a timeless SUV. 

This year’s new front and rear ends are trendier, but they’re unmistakably new. The front end’s bigger headlights jut forcefully into the grille (chromed on most trim levels, but with more black on the sport-themed R-Line like our test vehicle or the off-road-themed Peak Edition). A slim lightbar now connects the headlights above the grille. And the taillights have become one big rectangular bar spanning the tailgate. We’re not as sure these details will age as well, but they’ll keep you from confusing your Atlas with an earlier model. Volkswagen also sells a smaller five-seat variant of the Atlas called the Cross Sport with a lower, sportier roofline; this review focuses on the three-row Atlas. In one quirk, the Atlas’s color palette is limited to silver, gray, red, black, white, and Avocado Green – the latter exclusive to the Peak Edition and several others restricted to upper trim levels. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Swanky New Interior

Last year’s Atlas had a blocky dashboard with a small touchscreen (8 inches on most models, a mere 6.5 inches on the base version), plain-looking buttons and knobs, a conventional gear selector, and humdrum plastic trim. 

All that is gone, for better and for worse. The swanky new dashboard is more elegantly curved. It’s higher-tech and more minimalistic, with a big 12-inch touchscreen and a cleaner-looking layout. A higher center console floats up toward the dash, helping reduce the expanse of plastic while also creating an open storage space. And materials have greatly improved. What’s lost in the change is ergonomics. Most physical buttons and all knobs are gone, replaced by touch-sensitive sliders and other controls, plus touchscreen operations. (Unlike some VWs, the Atlas’s steering wheel at least keeps plastic buttons instead of a smooth surface.) Simple adjustments now require more concentration. We also don’t love the new infotainment system, which adds extra steps for seemingly simple tasks like seeing what song is playing on the radio. Also, the gear selector has become a small toggle. The best crossovers have managed to provide elegance and storage space without becoming so difficult to use. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Still Tons of Passenger Space

Most three-row crossovers have comfortable seating for no more than four or five passengers. VW built that Atlas to be big and spacious, and it remains one of the most comfortable wherever you’re sitting. Even the third row is adult-friendly. We remain surprised that VW doesn’t configure the third row with a third seatbelt, which would let it seat up to eight passengers. As it is, capacity tops out at seven with a second-row bench seat like our test vehicle and six with second-row captain’s chairs. 

Comfort amenities abound. Every Atlas includes either leatherette or genuine leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. All but the base SE model also include second-row windowshades, and upper trims add heated second-row seats as well. Another useful feature allows the second-row seat to move forward for third-row access with a child safety seat still installed (via LATCH anchors on the outboard seats or even using the seatbelt on the bench seat’s center position). 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Excellent Cargo Room, Too

The big, boxy Atlas delivers an excellent cargo capacity for a three-row crossover. You get 20.6 cubic feet behind the third-row seat, 55.5 cubic feet behind the second row, and 96.8 cubic feet behind the third row. That’s more than most competitors, including the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, and Nissan Pathfinder. 

Volkswagen also sweated the details to make those seats fold perfectly flat and low, too. You don’t just plop down the seatbacks; the seat cushion also drops lower as well when folded. It takes some extra force to get the second-row seats back up, though. The Atlas is also rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, typical for a three-row crossover. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Improved Power and Efficiency

Last year’s Atlas was available with a choice of two engines: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and a 3.6-liter V6 with 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Instead, every 2024 Atlas gets an overhauled 2.0-liter that promises better speed and fuel efficiency than either 2023 engine. 

The new engine makes 269 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque and feels suitably peppy for a big family-friendly SUV. The updated Atlas can also pipe synthesized growls into the cabin if you want to feel more ferocious without going any faster. In EPA testing, the 2024 Atlas gets 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 1 to 3 mpg less with all-wheel drive depending on the trim level; our AWD SEL Premium R-Line test vehicle scores 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined – about 1 mpg better than last year and still just OK for this class. We also didn’t love the ride quality on our R-Line’s big 21-inch wheels, which slammed hard over certain bumps. We’ve previously tested Atlases with 18-inch wheels that rode much more smoothly. (For 2024, only the base SE and the Peak Edition have 18-inch wheels, while the heart of the lineup has 20-inchers.) Every Atlas is agile for a big three-row box, at least – not exactly sporty, but closer to fun than the typical seven-seat SUV. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Top Safety Status

The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas earned the highest designation of Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reflecting top-notch performance in IIHS crash tests and collision-avoidance evaluations. It scored just Marginal in the organization’s newest crash test, which measures rear-seat safety in frontal impacts, but only a couple of competitors (the Subaru Ascent and Ford Explorer) do better. The Atlas also earns five out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though just four stars for frontal-impact protection. 

Safety features abound even on the base model: forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane-keeping assistance, and a blind-spot monitoring system with a rear cross-traffic alert. All but the base model also include front and rear parking sensors and reverse automatic braking. And the top SEL Premium R-Line like our test vehicle adds a surround-view parking camera. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Well-Equipped Below $40,000

We’ve hinted at this on previous pages, but the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas packs a lot of high-end features into its entry-level model – the $37,995 SE. To recap, in addition to those safety features, it brings heated and cooled front seats and a 12-inch infotainment touchscreen. Other notable features are 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry with push-button starting, tri-zone automatic climate control, a wireless smartphone charger, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Prices rise quickly, though, if you’re interested in certain features. The next-up SE with Technology costs $42,100, and we’re not convinced it has an extra four grand worth of stuff. A power liftgate is a must-have for many people, though, and the parking sensors and automatic braking are a potentially useful complement to the SE’s backup camera and rear cross-traffic alert. This is also the first trim to offer second-row captain’s chairs ($695 extra) or a panoramic moonroof ($1,200). Other trim levels are the SEL ($48,880) with genuine leather and GPS navigation, the SEL Premium R-Line like our test vehicle ($52,890) with upgraded leather and a Harman Kardon stereo, and two Peak Edition versions that cost about $2,000 more than equivalent SE with Technology and SEL models. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Competitors to Consider

The Atlas faces a variety of three-row crossovers. Two of our favorite bargains are the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride cousins, which match the upgraded VW’s interior ambiance while also providing easy-to-use controls. The Palisade and Telluride also have eight-passenger seating instead of the Atlas’s seven, smoother and quieter rides, and silkier V6 engines. The VW has more cargo room and livelier handling, though. 

The all-new Toyota Grand Highlander is another notable entry. It trumps even the Atlas for cargo room and also seats up to eight (though we find the VW’s third-row seat a little more comfortable), and it’s available with a choice of three fuel-efficient powertrains: a peppy turbo and two gas-electric hybrids. But it costs thousands more than the Atlas. Meanwhile, the ever-popular Honda Pilot is roomy and comfortable, and its controls are masterfully simple. But the Atlas costs less than the Pilot, too, and its upgraded interior is more opulent. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the Atlas for a touch of sporty performance more than maximum-functionality spaciousness, we love the new Mazda CX-90. Powerful yet economical, elegantly finished yet reasonably priced, and agile without being too stiff, it’s a luxury car at mainstream prices. But it doesn’t try to match the Atlas’s spaciousness, and its infotainment system has its own flaws. 

2023 Hyundai Palisade ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2023 Hyundai Palisade ・ Photo by Brady Holt

Final Thoughts

We love the spaciousness, driving manners, relative luxury, and overall value of a 2024 Volkswagen Atlas SE. Well-priced yet packed with high-end features, and rolling on smooth-riding 18-inch wheels, it’s a family-friendly SUV that doesn’t look or feel dull. The new control layout is a real drawback, and some competitors get better gas mileage despite this year’s updates, but we’re still fans. 

The Atlas’s value quotient weakens as you move up the trim ladder, though. Once you’re spending well past $40,000, we become less forgiving of the Atlas’s foibles – including the stiffer ride that plagues upper trims’ bigger wheels. The huge cargo hold and purposeful design remain appealing at any price, but our favorite Atlases cost the least. 

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・  Photo by Brady Holt

2024 Volkswagen Atlas ・ Photo by Brady Holt


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