Space matters, especially if you are too busy to plan out a vacation properly. When I'm in a hurry, I tend to stuff and go, hoping all of my sleeping bags, backpacks, and laptops don't take up too much space. (For me, a vacation usually involves a campfire and a tent.) In a recent test of the 2018 VW Atlas, I was surprised to find out how much I could stuff in the back--not to mention bringing people along on a normal day trip in comfort.

The Atlas, at a $30,750 base price, is pretty affordable, too--compared to other large models with plenty of cargo space like the 2018 Buick Enclave at $39,995. In fact, only the  2018 Chevy Traverse (with a $29,930 base price) matches the price and size.

VW just launched this family transporter, and it was my first time behind the wheel.

I was impressed.

For starters, all of the seats in the back fold down perfectly flat. There's 96.8 cubic feet of space; the Chevy Traverse has 98.2 cubic feet, but they are pretty comparable. (The much more expansive  2018 Lincoln Navigator I tested a while ago has 103.3 cubic feet of space, but costs $72,055.) I was living large for a few days in the Atlas, throwing bikes in the back of the vehicle, stuffing in my camping gear, and not worrying at all about having cramped quarters for my wife and I. When we went to the Mall of America on one trip, we packed in five other humans and still had space for a few backpacks in the rear compartment. The Atlas drives bit like a cross between a Subaru Legacy Outback and a Buick Enclave, since you benefit from the lower profile but still have the added space.

The Atlas has a few extra perks, too. The lift-gate will rise automatically when you kick your foot under the rear hatch, sensing the movement. This helps when you have your arms full of groceries or a toddler. Speaking of which, I also noticed VW says three car-seats will fit nicely in the second row; you can't say that about many crossovers. The Atlas has 17 cup-holders for everyone to stash a coffee or pop; it's a distinctly American bonus.

Honestly, I focused on the cargo. On one trip, I stashed two bikes in the back and never had any trouble getting them to fit once the seats were down. I'd say I prefer some of the automated seating functions of an Infiniti and some Volvo models, where you push buttons in the back to raise and lower the seats quickly, but I loved being able to load all of my camping gear. If you pick this vehicle, you'll find it is wide enough for bikes but not tall enough for things like a dresser. In a few cases, I used the lever to adjust or lower seats and it caught a little, but it was probably just because I was in a hurry and not patient enough to pull the lever all the way.

Handling on the road, fully loaded with bikes and gear, proved nimble--which is true of most VW vehicles. They drive with more precision. The steering wheel translated to more direct control on the road, and on an icy back-road by a lake, it never seemed like the Atlas would veer off course. There's even a dial, similar to what I tested in the Lincoln Navigator, for traction control--one setting worked really well for slushy, snowy weather.

Overall, it's the size that matters. In the end, the Chevy Traverse costs a little less and has a little more room, but the Altas has a sportier feel with more precision. I like both vehicles, but the Atlas offers a better driving experience, if a little less space.

Published on: Feb 15, 2018
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