Tested: 2024 VW Atlas Takes Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

UPDATE 8/16/23: This review has been updated with test results for an all-wheel-drive SEL Premium R-Line model.

When it first arrived for the 2018 model year, the VW Atlas easily met expectations for what buyers in the three-row SUV segment were looking for. It was a big box with lots of room inside and enough family-friendly features to keep both kids and parents satisfied. But the arrival of the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade just a few years later reset the bar, helping those same families realize they could get far nicer interiors and even more features for around the same money. For 2024, VW is giving the Atlas yet another refresh—it already had one for 2021—and this latest update is clearly focused on upping the SUV’s interior game to play catch-up with the Koreans.

HIGHS: Improved powertrain, more standard features, loads of space inside.

The interior changes are effective on a first-impression basis. The materials are far nicer than before, with fewer hard plastics and more stitched leather bits and soft-touch materials on the dashboard. VW also added quilted leather upholstery on upper trim levels, and there are multiple trim options available such as wood, brushed metal, and carbon-fiber-look materials that add some much-needed texture to the door panels. And the Atlas remains one of the roomiest three-row SUVs you can buy, with a generously sized second row available with either a three-person bench or captain’s chairs and a two-place third row that’s habitable for adults.

Unfortunately, the cabin redux also means that Volkswagen’s frustrating touch-sensitive controls and overly complex infotainment system have made their way into the Atlas. This makes the driver interface far less intuitive and removes many of the physical controls—such as the previous model’s tactile HVAC knobs and buttons—in favor of menus buried deep within the touchscreen. Even the sunroof is controlled by a touch slider, and while Volkswagen touts its expanded voice commands and gesture controls, we didn’t find those to be satisfactory alternatives. The screens themselves are big—a 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 12.0-inch central touchscreen are standard—but we’re not fans of this approach. As in other models such as the GTI and Golf R, VW’s software is simply not user-friendly.

The other significant change for the 2024 Atlas is a revised turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that’s now the only engine choice. The old 3.6-liter VR6 is gone, and this new engine is more powerful than the outgoing base turbo four thanks to a larger turbocharger and revised tuning. Its 269 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque are adequate if not class-leading, and it retains a 5000-pound towing capacity and offers improved EPA-estimated fuel economy of between 20 mpg and 23 mpg combined, depending on trim level and whether you choose front- or 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The new engine offers a useful improvement in acceleration compared with the old VR6, as we measured a 60-mph time of 7.3 seconds in our all-wheel-drive 2024 test car. That’s a half-second quicker than a 98-pound-heavier 2018 Atlas VR6 AWD and is competitive with many other three-row SUVs. We also achieved 25 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, matching the EPA rating and marking a 1-mpg improvement over the VR6 model’s result. VW also seems to have improved throttle response, and the eight-speed automatic transmission downshifts promptly to help the new powertrain feel peppier than before.

LOWS: Annoying touch controls, big-box styling, poorly organized infotainment.

Not much has changed with the SUV’s chassis—one aspect of the Atlas that didn’t need much improvement anyway. This VW rides well even on 21-inch wheels, with good body control and enough compliance to soak up bumpier sections of road with minimal harshness. The steering is vague, and you feel the Atlas’s heft if you push it in corners, but it’s about as comfortable and poised as you’d want a family bus to be. A skidpad result of 0.84 g is a solid amount of grip for a three-row ute, and our test car’s 170-foot stopping distance from 70 mph is slightly better than previous Atlas models we’ve tested. As long as you’re not expecting the GTI of three-row SUVs, the tuning is entirely appropriate for this type of vehicle.

For a starting price of just under $40,000, the base 2024 Atlas SE offers a more generous set of standard features than before. Ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are now included in the base trim, as are all driver-assistance systems. There’s also a new Peak Edition off-road trim with all-terrain tires and extra cladding, as is becoming de rigueur for any SUV in this segment. New headlights and taillights modernize the exterior appearance somewhat, but it’s still a slab-sided, boxy thing without much design flair. That’s fine for the base trim levels, but at the price points of the Atlas’s higher trims—like our loaded, $54,895 SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion test car—we would expect more pizzazz.

VERDICT: Changes to the Atlas help in some areas, hurt in others.

VW’s consistent upgrades to the Atlas over its model run have kept it competitive enough within the crowded three-row SUV segment, but it’s still not a standout. While its new interior is significantly nicer than before, VW’s insistence on touch-sensitive controls means the cabin now places form over function. The generous amount of space for cargo and people remains the Atlas’s top selling point, but overall the 2024 update doesn’t do much to change this big VW’s status as a midpack player among family SUVs.

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2024 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion

Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 6-passenger, 4-door wagon


Base/As Tested: $53,805/$54,895

Options: second-row captain’s chairs, $695; Aurora Red Metallic paint, $395


turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 121 in3, 1984 cm3

Power: 269 hp @ 5500 rpm

Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm


8-speed automatic


Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink

Brakes, F/R: 13.2-in vented disc/12.2-in vented disc

Tires: Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S

265/45R-21 104T M+S Enliten


Wheelbase: 117.3 in

Length: 200.7in

Width: 78.3 in

Height: 70.4 in

Passenger Volume, F/M/R: 61/53/39 ft3

Cargo Volume, Behind F/M/R: 97/56/21 ft3

Curb Weight: 4630 lb


60 mph: 7.3 sec

1/4-Mile: 15.4 sec @ 92 mph

100 mph: 17.7 sec

Results above omit1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.

Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec

Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 3.9 sec

Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 4.9 sec

Top Speed (gov ltd): 117 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 170 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.84 g


Observed: 21 mpg

75-mph Highway Driving: 25 mpg

75-mph Highway Range: 460 mi


Combined/City/Highway: 21/19/25 mpg


Headshot of Joey Capparella

Senior Editor

Despite being raised on a steady diet of base-model Hondas and Toyotas—or perhaps because of it—Joey Capparella nonetheless cultivated an obsession for the automotive industry throughout his childhood in Nashville, Tennessee. He found a way to write about cars for the school newspaper during his college years at Rice University, which eventually led him to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for his first professional auto-writing gig at Automobile Magazine. He has been part of the Car and Driver team since 2016 and now lives in New York City.  

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