2024 VW Atlas Corrects Shortcomings for Better Value

Volkswagen upgrades '24 Atlas SUV lineup in hopes of increasing SUV sales and profits after discontinuing several passenger car lines.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

July 20, 2023

7 Min Read
VW’s top-selling SUV gets upgrade of interior, engine and value

SAUGERTIES, N.Y--Ever since Volkswagen led all imports in 1960s America in sales and clever advertising, it has struggled to find solid footing.

After the demise of the Type 1 platform that was the basis of the Beetle, Microbus, Thing, Squareback wagon and Karmann Ghia, and it went to water-cooled front-drive setups, it’s been a bit lost, like a lederhosen-clad tuba player trying to find work in New York City.

And remember the preposterous pronouncements of Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn a decade ago about 1 million sales in the U.S. by 2020 for the VW and Audi brands? VW is just not made for 1 million sales on this side of the Atlantic.

It’s worth considering the past to ponder Volkswagen’s present and future. On one hand, it is trying to be a global leader in the transformation of the internal-combustion engine to electrification. But current VW global brand COO Thomas Schäfer said last week – just as journalists were shaking down the new and improved Atlas SUV – that the company’s “roof is on fire” financially because it is over-committed on EVs, while sales of ICE vehicles are too slow and their labor costs, especially in Europe, are too high.

The Volkswagen Group reported its lowest sales in over a decade in 2022 as COVID-19 lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine mucked with supply chains. Meantime, VW has an astonishing 669,000 global employees while reporting sales of 8.26 million vehicles last year. Toyota, by comparison, has 375,000 global employees who produced 10.5 million sales. That’s just not competitive.

While we are all watching the shiny watch (EVs that go 300+ miles (483 km) on a charge) swinging back and forth in front of our eyes, and too many consumers stay on the EV sidelines, VW is trotting out a much-improved, gasoline-powered SUV offered in 2- or 3- row configurations that gets a measly, at best, 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km). While that might seem like a proposition right for 2005, it also could be just what the company needs to help douse the roof fire.

The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are extremely well-equipped, stylin’ SUVs that can be had for many buyers for well under $50K, which is about the average transaction price for a new vehicle these days.  But make no mistake, The ’24 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are well above-average kid and grandkid haulers, daily drivers and road-trip cars.

That brings us to what VW is trying to be these days: a German-engineering-led family car company. Indeed, a decade ago, passenger cars made up 91% of VW’s U.S. sales. They were very late to the SUV party. But by 2022, 83% of VW sales were SUVs.



The SUVs in the VW showroom, led by Atlas and Cross Sport (distinguishable by a sloped rear roofline and AWD) are roomy, comfortable, well-appointed, SUVs at good price points. What makes them “Volkswagens” as opposed to Brand X, however, is less clear.

But there’s clear value for the dollar. We drove the Premium R-Line, which starts at $53,085 including the destination fee, as well as the Cross Sport SE, starting at $38,065. Soft-touch interior materials have replaced the Family Dollar pebbled plastic surfaces of the outgoing model. And even the sub-premium trims get wireless phone charging and heated/ventilating seats. Best of all, the anemic VR6 and normally aspirated 2.0L engines are replaced with the 2.0L turbo engine across the lineup. Optional 30-color ambient lighting provides enough ambience for an EDM show.

Driving around the Hudson River Valley on twisty roads along rolling hills in the Atlas showed the SUV to be capable, sure-footed and up to any acceleration we required; no body rolls, nor was it too stiff. VW does excel at chassis engineering and damping. And it moves with much more confidence than the outgoing model.

Back in the day when Bill Clinton occupied the White House, VW seemed weirdly inept at cupholders and decent radios. It was a cultural blindspot. We can report that the cupholders and Harman Kardon stereo on the premium trims in the new model, and even the stock VW radios, are just fine. But today’s blindspot is the telematics.

I am loath to condemn a system upon first pushing the “on” button. After all, the owner is going to learn the system before the first payment is due. But the VW system deserves stones thrown at the 12-in. (30-cm) center screen for the convoluted menu system that had us turn the radio off rather than try and navigate out of the preset Sirius “Chill” channel, the lack of enough physical buttons, weird capacitive controls and what looked like a steering wheel volume control that wasn’t. Just who the heck vetted this system before VW signed off?

VW used to regularly botch the procurement of window regulators and windshield wiper motors until former Chairman Ferdinand Piech had enough. “Find out who does Cadillac’s wiper motors and buy those!” he barked at a quavering underling in the 1990s.  Problem solved. Hey VW! Find out who designed Hyundai’s Bluelink system and clone it! We’re serious. Problem solved.

The Atlas’s roominess, quality interior environment and value are its strengths. Seat comfort is solid.  Rear seat legroom is spacious enough for LeBron James. Make the fixes on the telematics and the Atlas’s report card goes from B to A. Brand CEO Schäfer says the roof is on fire, so these ICE SUVs are going to have to carry a lot of water until people start clamoring for the EVs that VW has invested so heavily in.

VW Atlas/Cross Sport Key Callouts

  • The VR6 engine (276 hp) and 2.0L inline 4-cyl. (235 hp) in the old Atlas has been replaced by the perky 2.0 turbocharged four-banger found in the GTI and Arteon, producing 269 hp and 273 lb.-ft (370 Nm) of torque.

  • Performance: 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.5 seconds equipped with AWD, compared with 8.3 seconds for the old VR6.

  • The electronic gear shifter is a small toggling piece of business in the center console, and there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

  • Fuel economy: an admittedly meager 20 mpg (11.7L/100km) to 23 mpg (10.2L/100 km) combined city and highway driving across the trim line.

  • Towing capacity is 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg).

  • 12-in. (30-cm) center screen and 10.25-in. (26-cm) driver display.

  • Standard three-zone automatic climate control.

  • Standard heated seats, ventilated seats and heated steering wheel.

  • Standard wireless charging and wireless AppConnect.

  • Standard IQ. Drive driver assistance that includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, blindspot warning and automatic emergency braking.

  • Up to eight USB-C ports with 45-watt charging speeds, but you’ll need an adapter for stabdard USB cables.

  • 21 cu.-ft. (595 L) of storage behind the third seat, and a cavernous 96.8 cu.-ft. (2,741 L) with both rows folded down perfectly flat.

  • VW engineers (take note, every other OEM) included an increasingly rare  rear-hatch pull-down handle through which you can hook a bungee cord or a hank of rope to tie the hatch closed when items like 2x4 lumber is protruding. Bean counters at other OEMs have been eliminating these handles when they install a power-liftgate to the chagrin of DIYers everywhere.

  • Second-row legroom includes 7.7 ins. (19.5 cm) of fore-and-aft sliding and 14 degrees of rear recline. Those seats, as was demonstrated, allow three child car-seats to stay tethered and folded forward, allowing kids or skinny adults to get into the third row without unhitching the child seats.

The midsize SUV category is an important one for American families since Generation Y parents began eschewing minivans along with hard-wired phones. The Atlas is meant not for off-roading, but for hauling families around the suburbs and interstate highways in all weather conditions. For that, it holds its own and then some with Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, etc., but with a serving of German engineering.

About the Author(s)

David Kiley

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

David Kiley is an award winning journalist. Prior to joining WardsAuto, Kiley held senior editorial posts at USA Today, Businessweek, AOL Autos/Autoblog and Adweek, as well as being a contributor to Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics and more.

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