First Drive: 2024 Volkswagen Atlas

Introduced in 2017, the Volkswagen Atlas, the first contemporary product conceived and produced for the North American Market, has gone from experiment to the best-selling model in the U.S. Now, the mid-size SUV gets a robust makeover that fine-tunes several key attributes.

2024 Volkswagen Atlas

“With Atlas, the overwhelming majority of [interest in it is due to] the dimensions of the car, the interior volume, the third row and the cargo space. So, the size of the vehicle is really what resonates most with these customers, closely followed by exterior styling. They like the bold, upright styling of the vehicle,” says Patrick Danielson, VW Canada director of product planning, in a briefing shortly before journalists embarked on a media drive through Upstate New York.

“These are the strengths of the vehicle, and of course we’ve just refined this formula with the update for this year,” he says, adding driving dynamics in the form of handling and ride quality have also been improved.

2024 Volkswagen Atlas

Starting on the outside, the aforementioned vertical design elements are further enhanced via a wider and deeper four-bar grille replacing the former three-slat unit. The LED headlamps, featuring standard adaptive lighting, take on a stubbier look. The newly-introduced Peak Edition — which is essentially a rugged appearance package adding things like silver underbody cladding, blacked-out trim and unique badging — and above receive a cool illuminated logo and light bar running across the nose and the tailgate. The roof spoiler is larger as well.

2024 Volkswagen Atlas

Having ridden in the outgoing version of the Volkswagen Atlas to and from the venue during the event, the many changes to the cabin really stood out. Much more of the surfaces inside are covered in soft-touch materials, and instead of an inset infotainment screen the 12-inch display is floating atop a fresh centre stack where the majority of physical controls have been deleted. The system is intuitive enough for the most part, however the rotary volume and tuning knobs are sorely missed as tapping and/or sliding a finger to adjust settings is simply not as convenient.

All but the base grade receives 30-colour ambient lighting and a backlit dashboard. Other tech highlights include a wireless charging pad, several USB-C ports providing 45-watt output (except the innovatively-placed rear-view mirror input intended to accommodate dashcams or GoPros) and a 10.25-inch fully digital and configurable Volkswagen Digital Cockpit Pro instrument cluster.

2024 Volkswagen Atlas

The interior is as spacious and practical as ever. For illustration purposes, VW installed three child seats all in the second row, and it was still possible to access the back from either side thanks to a nifty tilt and slide function — the only caveat is the middle bench is quite heavy and requires some arm strength to fold forward.

Gone is the popular VR6 previously propelling the crossover, replaced by a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder mill found under the hood of all Atlas’ sending a healthy 269 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque to both axles courtesy of 4MOTION all-wheel drive. Maximum towing capacity remains at 5,000 pounds.

2024 Volkswagen Atlas

The eight-speed transmission feels a touch laggy when accelerating hard from a complete stop, but switching over to Sport mode using the button between the central air vents, which alters the shift points, seemed to remedy the issue. Or maybe it just felt quicker due to the artificial engine sound piped in through the optional 10-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo (Highline and above).

Sitting on fully independent suspension (strut front/multi-link rear) the SUV had no real problems tackling the windy roads on our prescribed route in the Catskill Mountains region given the larger footprint. Don’t expect GTI-level handling though, obviously. The dampers soaked up bumpy sections easily, and overall the ride was quiet and comfortable.

Offered alongside the regular Atlas is the 2024 Atlas Cross Sport, a vehicle that for all intents and purposes is virtually the same except there’s a sloping roof, one less row of seats and exclusive design differentiators such as a gloss black grille and a more aggressive diffuser on the tail end housing square quad exhaust tips.

The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas starts at MSRP $49,995 CAD (Comfortline) and tops out at $59,995 (Execline) and will be arriving in dealerships soon.

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