New VW Atlas is loaded with features, nicknames

John Gilbert

The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport SEL Premium R-Line is perfect for filling with your daily bread. Photo by John Gilbert.

The new 2024 Volkswagen Atlas is loaded up with just about everything Volkswagen could think of, including nicknames.

I recently test-drove a new one for a week, and it was, officially, an Atlas Cross Sport SEL Premium R-Line sedan. Or maybe it’s really a compact SUV,  we can’t be sure.  

But it is a vast departure from my private connection with Volkswagens. First off, the Atlas long-name lists at $52,795. That’s luxury-car range, and while the Atlas is pretty well loaded with luxury features, it is enough to cause an old-time VW buyer to be startled, as well as to expect all those new-fangled features to work flawlessly.  

Way back when I was in high school, I had the interest and the pushiness to advise my mom on purchasing a new car. My dad had died, and the 1955 Chevy was showing its age in that front-engine/rear-drive era. So when the legendary John Erickson opened a Volkswagen dealership on third street, I encouraged my mom that a new 1960 Volkswagen Beetle was the perfect solution to our transportation needs.  

She bought one, and, because I had just recently gotten my driver’s license, I pretty much drove her everywhere, and she was more than generous in allowing me the freedom to take it off with my buddies on Friday and Saturday nights. We had some great times with that car, because it had everything. Rear engine and rear drive gave it excellent traction in snow, and while the heaters in “Bugs” of that time were notoriously misnamed, this one had a gas heater under the dashboard that roared to life sounding a lot like jet engines I came to admire later in fighter planes soaring overhead.  

Our VW also had a slide-back sunroof that was fantastic in the summertime, and I still recall friends like Bernie Tanski standing up in the back seat, as though his upper body  protruding through the sunroof was the perfect position to keep watch, much like the conning tower of a submarine, so he could alert me several blocks before we would arrive at our destination — usually the London Inn drive-in  

You may have noticed that Volkswagens have changed a bit from those early Beetles, or Bugs. They went to the front-wheel-drive Rabbit, which became the Golf, and its four-door derivative was the Jetta, and they continued to sell in amazing quantities as the first truly successful foreign imports. There also was the Microbus, one of the world’s original minivans.  

Nowadays, Volkswagen is still very German, but along with Wolfsburg, Germany, the company builds factories all over the world, including the U.S. It has tried larger sedans, such as the Passat, even luxury cars, and jumped into the SUV kingdom with vehicles such as the Tiguan, which had now evolved into an elongated version of a solid midsize SUV.  

One of the beautiful things about all those early VWs is that they retained their simplicity of operation. Going away from the flat-opposed 4-cylinder engines of the old Beetles, the company built solid in-line 4s and fantastic Diesels to power its cars, but its basic Golf 4-cyinder engine and all tis derivatives remains one of the world’s greatest engines for durability and performance.  

This new Atlas had the luxury features of the SEL upgrade, and it started out with the familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts and quick-reacting power sent through all four wheels of the 4Motion all-wheel-drive setup, and an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, governed by shift-paddles on the steering wheel. By basically changing nothing except for technical updates as they come along, VW has been able to perfect the engine and its power delivery.   Otherwise, the most notable thing about the Atlas is that it is, in a word, HUGE!

For those who are used to the compact excellence of the Golf and Jetta, and the memory of the splendid sporty Scirocco, you will be astounded at the largeness of the Atlas. Climb in and sit in the bucket seat, swathed in luxurious leather.  

There is a 12-inch touchscreen and all the connectivity of modern auto technology, and a potent Harman Kardon premium audio with a subwoofer, plus these really trick LED lighting outlines over the grilled and in red, full-width across the rear. With three rows of seating, you could put seven occupants inside with minimal complaints, and with no need for an accompanying teenager to stand up with binoculars looking at the world from the sunroof.  

But there are some things that make me realize not all changes are for the best. First off, while riding along towering over normal-sized compacts in traffic, you find that the quick-response handling isn’t always as quick as you anticipate, although you can get used to it.  Maybe it’s the 21-inch wheels holding the all-season tires in place. The technology of lane-assist alerts is a good thing. The advancement of the high-tech audio system is less of a good thing, whenever you try to change stations and find that you’d be better off bringing along a teenager to fiddle with the controls.  

That 1960 Beetle of my acquaintance had a Blaupunkt radio that you had to turn on, adjust manually, but it seemed you could get clear, sharp sound of broadcasts from St. Louis, and maybe Rangoon, if you wanted. Simple, but easy and effective.  

The biggest nuisance is trying to hook up your cell phone into the car’s audio. I climbed in and easily and efficiently got my phone hooked up, but when my wife, Joan, tried to do it, she met only with total frustration. Because I did it so easily, I volunteered to go out and set her’s up, too. It wouldn’t connect. And when it finally did, it surprised both of us because we had tried for about a dozen times, and had no indication No. 13 would be the charm. And then it knocked my phone off.  

For $52,795, maybe we can drop back a few years-worth of technology so everything is simple, and simply works.