2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium Test Drive

Jerry Reynolds | July 5, 2017
2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium Test Drive

This week, I bring you the much-anticipated , the largest SUV VW has attempted, and the first one with a 3rd-row seat.  The VW dealers have been clamoring for a three-row SUV for years since the rage started over a decade ago.

2018 VW Atlas SEL

My review vehicle has the 3.6-liter V6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission.  Together, they put out 276-horses.  There is also a turbocharged 2-liter 4-cylinder available that is rated at 235-horses, and it has the same 8-speed transmission.  The one I have has the 4Motion all-wheel drive system.  From a round knob on the center console, you can choose from dry, rain, snowy, and rough terrains.

The Atlas comes in a lot of different trim levels.  I am driving the top-of-the-line SEL Premium.  Starting at the bottom, there are three different S Models that start at a base price of $30,500.  From there you move up to 4 SE models, or you can go fancy with 3 different SEL models.


Looking at the exterior of the Atlas, it is very chiseled and quite boxy.  If you are tired of the rounded, egg-like SUVs, the Atlas may be the answer for you.  The grill is classic VW, body lines run from front to rear and outline the wheel wells.  Large tires and wheels on my test vehicle fill the wheel openings, giving it a very athletic stance.


As you move to the inside, the leather seating looks nice, but not overly luxurious.  When you sit behind the steering wheel, with controls for the cruise control and radio, you see a large, colorful, configurable digital gauge cluster and driver information center, which is impressive.  The Atlas feels roomy for your legs, and there is a lot of headroom, even with the panoramic moonroof. 

On the center stack, you will find a very large center console, the 4Motion terrain control knob, pushbutton start, an electronic emergency brake, and the parking assist controls.  Moving up are the air conditioning controls, heated and cooled seat buttons, and the first button I hit after starting the Atlas, the start/stop OFF button.

Above this is the touchscreen to operate the sound system, navigation system, vehicle settings, a button to add your favorite apps, and a Travellink button for real-time traffic and weather, and a button for the Bluetooth.  The touchscreen is very sensitive to the touch, and several times reaching for the volume knob, I would hit a wrong button by accident and it was fairly annoying.  You learn quickly to use the steering wheel volume control to keep this from happening.


Second-row seating on my tester was a 60/40 configuration, but captain chairs are available.  Legroom in the second row is very impressive and the seats can be adjusted forward and backward.  They tilt and slide forward for access to the third-row seats, and VW did a great job making it easy to get to the far back.  Once there, the third-row passengers have plenty of room, even for two adults.  Also impressive is the amount of cargo area behind the third-row seat.  It has the most of any SUV I’ve seen in this class.

Standard Features

Being the top-of-the-line model, everything on this vehicle comes standard and the list is extensive.  Most notable are the 20” wheels, panoramic moonroof, dual power front seats, heated steering wheel, and heated second-row seats.  Leather seating throughout comes standard as well.

Technology and Safety

In the technology department, you get overhead view rear camera, forward collision alert, automatic parking assist with front and rear sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, remote start, keyless entry, Fender audio with 12-speakers and a subwoofer, and a power tailgate with hands-free operation.

Ride and Drive

The Atlas drives well and handling is nimble for an SUV this size.  It is also very quiet inside, something VW hasn’t always been good at.  From a value standpoint, the MSRP is actually lower than many similarly equipped SUVs and it is roomier than most this size.

I noted the issue with the touchscreen, and there are two other things that I suspect VW will address in the future:  Atlas feels a little underpowered and I felt like I was really pushing it at times, but it is livable.  Also, the front seats are not as comfortable as they look and after driving it for long stretches, my back started to ache a little.  It does have lumbar support, the seat bladder doesn’t move enough for me, but it could be OK for you.


For its first try, Volkswagen did a good job with the Atlas, and it is a vehicle I will recommend for its roominess and value.  It also comes with one of the best warranties out there.

One major screw-up by Volkswagen: the GVWR of this loaded SUV is 5997, three pounds short of the 6000-pound minimum to qualify for Tax Code 179, which is accelerated depreciation for self-employed and business owners.  That is going to hurt in December when most people take advantage of this.

2017 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium

  • What I liked most:  Interior room and price.    
  • What I would change: The touchscreen.  I would move the volume and channel buttons.
  • MSRP: Base price $49,415.  As equipped $49,415.
  • Fuel Economy:  17 City/23 highway/19 combined.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 400 miles.
  • Official Color:  Pure White.   
  • Weight: 4502 Pounds.
  • Length-Width-Height: 198.3” long/78.3” wide/69.7” High.
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 18.6 gallons with filler on the passenger side.
  • Towing Capacity:  5000 pounds.
  • Spare Tire:  Yes, a compact version.
  • Final Assembly Point: Chattanooga, TN.
  • 2018 Atlas in a few words:  A solid SUV, good value, and extremely roomy.
  • Warranty:  6-year/72,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, with 3-years of roadside assistance.    
  • Manufacturer’s website: 
Photo Credit: VW
Tags: 2018, atlas, volkswagen
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