We all like comfort food. Itâ€™s not sexy, it may even be bland, but it keeps us feeling full and fulfilled. Meatloaf, a basic steak and potatoes, a hot turkey plate â€“ all of these items serve that purpose.
I donâ€™t know enough about German cuisine to guess what constitutes comfort food in Wolfsburg, and I donâ€™t want to stereotype with guesses about spaetzle and schnitzel. Whatever passes for hale and hearty fare in Lower Saxony likely shares a lot with the feel of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.
Big, boxy, and brawny-looking, the blocky Atlas has one main mission â€“ get up to seven folks from point A to B simply and comfortably. While there are plenty of modern features, that doesnâ€™t mean thereâ€™s frills or design silliness, and while it offers enough power to do the job, itâ€™s not precisely built for speed.
Full disclosure: Sometimes an auto journalist can arrange a press-car loan when traveling. I was in Los Angeles and Orange County for a full week for events, so I arranged for a press loan. I chose the Atlas because I hadnâ€™t driven one yet. Also, I got nailed for Orange County tolls since I have no FastPass, and have since paid the $12 owed.
I was prepared for boredom when I picked the Atlas up at the parking garage just east of LAX. My test vehicle was white with an all-black interior, and the boxy shape doesnâ€™t exactly inspire. But vehicles are much more than their styling, so I hopped in and headed out.
Most of my initial mileage came on the freeway, and the Atlas feels best suited to the leisurely cruise. Surely the MQB platform deserves some credit for that â€“ the Atlas may look truck-based to non-car-people, but we all know it shares its underpinnings with the Jetta and Passat and Arteon. I canâ€™t say the Atlas feels as â€œcar-likeâ€� as other unibody SUVs, but the ride is still better than what a body-on-frame SUV wouldâ€™ve provided in the past.
Volkswagen touts its weight-saving measures, but even with the attention paid to cutting pounds, my front-drive tester still weighed in at 4,336 of them. Not obscenely heavy, but enough to tax the 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque from the 3.6-liter V6. The good news is that peak torque comes into play at less than 3,000 rpm, so itâ€™s there when you need it for passing.
I couldâ€™ve spent all my time in the Atlas on the freeway and surface streets, like most Angelinos do, but I had a couple hours to kill and was leaving a hotel that was a short drive away from Malibuâ€™s most famous roads, including the Mulholland Snake. So I did what any owner of a seven-seat kidmobile would do â€“ I took it to the canyons and drove it hard. I think I perplexed the bros who film the Snake for further YouTube perusing â€“ I know the California Highway patrolman who was hanging out gave me a bemused look as I roared up the hill.
The Atlas reacted predictably â€“ lots of body roll and a sense of unease when pushed a little too hard. Not shocking â€“ itâ€™s not meant for this duty, even if it does have an independent suspension all around.
At least the steering felt reasonably connected to the road and well weighted, and the eight-speed automatic never fouled up the proceedings.
What was shocking was that the Atlas and I settled into a rhythm once I learned how far I could push it. Again, it wasnâ€™t happy in the canyons, but it became manageable after a while.
Circling back to freeway cruising â€“ not only does the Atlas feel well-suited to that from a ride perspective, itâ€™s also got the proper interior for long drives. My body never complained after a long trek, and I had a few two-hour-plus stints behind the wheel. I had plenty of room up front, as well.
I sometimes roll my eyes at that maudlin Atlas ad featuring a family hauling an elderly woman of Irish decent across America to deposit her late husbandâ€™s ashes, but cynical heartstring tugging aside, the adâ€™s contention that the Atlas is comfortable for long road trips with seven passengers is fair. This thing is purpose-built for that.
The interior is standard Volkswagen fare â€“ lots of Vader black, simple switchgear, few frills. My test vehicle included Apple CarPlay/smartphone integration, leatherette seat surfaces, USB, satellite radio, tri-zone climate control, and heated front seats. Interestingly, you canâ€™t get navigation with the SEL V6.
The R-Line appearance package added 20-inch wheels, unique bumpers and trim, special badging, and stainless steel pedals. Itâ€™s not much of a performance enhancer â€“ itâ€™s more about show than go.
Other features included adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, park-distance control front and rear, lane-departure warning, power liftgate, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Comfort food is supposed to be affordable, and this is where the Atlas loses the plot. The SEL I tested started at $40,890. Thatâ€™s without nav, VWâ€™s digital cockpit/configurable-gauge system (you’ll need to step up to Premium trim for that), and all-wheel drive. Desire any of those, and youâ€™re spending more cash.
The only option was the R-Line package. So thatâ€™s $1,960, plus the $925 destination fee, for a total of $43,775. A tad steep, at least in this scribeâ€™s opinion.
As a commuter SUV, the Atlas is a fine vehicle â€“ I even managed 20.2 combined mpg despite the hefty weight and V6 power. Itâ€™s comfy on the freeway, roomy, and interior materials feel upscale. But the $43K price tag for FWD and no nav gives me pause.
I guess even the upscale joints serve comfort food these days.
[Images Â© 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC, Volkswagen]