According to the ancient Greeks, the Olympian god Zeus forced the titan Atlas to carry the weight of the heavens on his shoulders for all eternity. Much like the Greek deity it’s named after, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is tasked with carrying a heavy burden: attracting more North American consumers to VW showrooms.
Targeting the heart of the three-row, mid-size-crossover market, the Tennessee-built Atlas is available with either a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four or a 276-hp naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and route torque to the front wheels; all-wheel drive is optional only with the six.
Little Big Four
Despite being down 41 horsepower to the V-6, the Atlas 2.0T SE tested here was surprisingly quick at the track. The little forced-induction four pushed the hulking Atlas from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.6 at 91 mph. Both figures bettered the results we recorded for an all-wheel-drive Atlas V-6, which needed 7.9 seconds to hit the mile-a-minute mark and 16.0 seconds to cross the quarter-mile at 89 mph.
Credit the Atlas 2.0T’s peppy performance to its comparatively low mass, which, at 4268 pounds, was 460 pounds lighter than the all-wheel-drive Atlas V-6. Additional accelerative assistance comes courtesy of the Atlas 2.0T’s wealth of low-end torque. With 258 lb-ft available from 1600 rpm, the 2.0T offers similar punch to the optional V-6, which produces 266 lb-ft at 2750 rpm. This Atlas 2.0T’s passing times were similar to those of the all-wheel-drive V-6 model. The four-cylinder needed 4.1 seconds to accelerate from 30 to 50 mph and 4.9 to get from 50 to 70 mph, whereas the AWD V-6 performed those tasks in 3.9 and 5.2 seconds. In other words, the story has a much happier ending this time than when Ford tried stuffing a 2.0T in its portly Explorer, where buyers were forced to pay extra to opt for its terminal lagginess.
With less weight to haul around and two fewer cylinders to feed, the Atlas 2.0T was notably thriftier than its V-6 stablemate at the pump. The 2.0T’s EPA estimates of 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway better the V-6’s 18/25 mpg city/highway ratings (17/23 with all-wheel drive). In our hands, the Atlas 2.0T returned 23 mpg over nearly 2000 miles of driving, while the V-6 managed only 19 mpg. It also sipped fuel at a rate of 27 mpg on our 75-mph real-world highway fuel-economy test, as opposed to 24 mpg for the AWD V-6.
The Atlas 2.0T also changes direction more spiritedly than the V-6 model, and our test car’s 18-inch Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires helped the crossover achieve an impressive 0.86 g around our 300-foot skidpad—0.02 g better than the understeer-prone all-wheel-drive Atlas V-6 SEL Premium on 20-inch examples of the same rubber. Both models ate up 174 feet of tarmac on their way to a halt from 70 mph.