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S.O.S.: 2021 VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS SEL PREMIUM R-LINE

The life behind a crossover can be fairly boring; designed to be a multi-tasker by hauling screaming toddlers while transporting a delicate volcano science project after running late for a board meeting is all part of its infrastructure. That’s why they sell in bulk like a sale on toilet paper at Costco during a global catastrophe. Being a jack-of-all-trades is the Volkswagen Atlas’ forte and with it being Volkswagen number one performer out of their lineup, it was due for a sprucing up.

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, so if you thought the previous version was attractive, then you might find this one handsome as well. The Atlas’ lines have been rounded out and restructured that makes it much more desirable. Tweaking some of the design at the back and the Atlas sees a new set of LED taillights and a pair of rather annoyingly placed fake exhaust tip housings. Inside, we’ll find most of the interior has remain the same apart from an updated steering wheel, a wireless charging pad on high end models and a more improved enhanced version of its adaptive cruise control that features start/stop capabilities.

Photo provided by Volkswagen

There is a small problem however… when our sampled 2021 Atlas arrived wearing its highest of eight trim level options with the SEL Premium R-Line package, our aspirations were potentially held a little too high. You see, most of the Volkswagens we get are normalized to real world models like the SE with Technology we tested back in 2018 and the Atlas Cross Sport 2.0t SE with Technology we tested back in 2020; with those our expectations were far less and they proved their weight in value, we suppose. But when our SEL Premium R-Line had a sticker price over $50,000, we had to pause for a minute and face reality…

Facing the brutal world of a very competitive segment, the Atlas is, well, to put it blunt, cheap. The interior feels like something that would come out of a base model Jetta with more plastics than a bottle factory. The buttons and switch gear doesn’t quite seem to hold up to the German premium value that present a feeling like they might fall off or snap apart. While most of the touchable areas are covered in leather, Volkswagen is known for its soft-trex vinyl materials and most of the interior feels like it’s covered in a fake knock off.

Photo provided by Volkswagen

Since our subject was the top trimmed, it was outfitted with a host of technology that is appealing to the naked eye. As we look deeper into this lavish technological lifestyle, we find it isn’t as all it’s cracked up to be. The 360-degree camera is about as useful as sticking our heads out the window – it can only be activated when the vehicle is not in reverse and requires the driver to push the park camera button. The 10-inch digital instrument gauge is a nifty gimmick, but that’s all it is, a gimmick – it’s not very intuitive, we found it difficult to navigate and customize.

In most large-sized crossovers, there are alternative engine options to boost the most valued needs and the Volkswagen Atlas is no different with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder at the bottom end of the trim options and an available 3.6-liter V-6 at the higher end. With our Atlas supporting the mighty roar of its V6 power, its 276-horsepower was all grunts and no glory. And it’s not like its 8-speed automatic transmission was of any help either. Let down by its repulsive, unresponsive transmission, the Atlas struggled to take over 8-seconds to 60-mph – that’s one more second than its base, 2.0-turbo engine. Last we checked the smaller engine option shouldn’t be the quicker one.

Perhaps if we left it’s annoying to use drive mode system in sport, some of our problems with the transmissions would be solved. But with the drive mode select button tied into the all-wheel drive terrain select module, we found ourselves turning the dial into sand mode rather than pushing the button to alter the drive mode when all we could do is pull the gear lever out of drive and down into ‘S’. Do you get where we’re heading with annoyance?

Photo provided by Volkswagen

That wouldn’t be the worst of it all either – the R-Line package is supposed to represent the sportiest of the bunch, it even comes with beefy 20-inch wheels and extra styling goodies. But the lack of chassis enhancements makes it less of a fluid machine. The chassis is all over the place with the suspension crashing over bumps unable to manage smooth composure over rough surfaces. The steering is as lazy as an old hound with unresponsive inputs that feel like we’re driving a bloated Passat.

And herein lays the problem:

Chevrolet Traverse
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Kia Telluride
Hyundai Palisade
Mazda CX-9
Subaru Ascent
Toyota Highlander
Dodge Durango

We don’t like having a negative view point and even more so expressing them, but when we look at the $51,715 price tag our Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line 3.6 arrived with and the outcome we drove away from, we expected better from the company that brought us one of the most beloved hot hatches in the world.

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS:

Vehicle: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line V-6 AWD
Base Price: $31,555
As-Tested Price: $51,715

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS:

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
HP | Torque: 276-HP | 265 lb-ft of Torque
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
MPG: 16 | 22| 18 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 15.6-MPG City (Highway MPG testing is currently suspended due to high fuel prices)
Fuel Range: 380 miles
0-60 MPH: ±8.0 seconds

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