Over the years, Volkswagen has come to be associated with tradition and continuity, so it is a surprise to see them introduce an all-new model into the market. The Volkswagen Atlas has arrived in 2018 as a replacement for the beleaguered Touareg mid-size crossover SUV which, despite the popularity of its Porsche and Audi versions, never caught on in the United States.
With the lessons of the Touareg in mind, the Atlas was designed from ground up for American consumers. It offers buyers three spacious rows of seats, plenty of cargo space, and a surprisingly responsive and controlled drive for a car of its size.
The debut version of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas comes in a large selection of varieties, though some are only available by special order. There are six trim levels, two engine choices, and either front-wheel drive or Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Compare the 2018 Atlas S vs Launch Edition Trims. What is the difference?
The base Atlas S is available in all of the configurations: front-wheel and all-wheel drive, and either a four-cylinder engine or a V-6, though the four-cylinder models are all front-wheel drive only.
Its starting equipment is decent, considering that it is slightly more expensive than many competitors’ starting models. It comes with dual-zone climate control and LED headlights, as well as a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support on top of the expected basics like Bluetooth, a rearview camera, and power locks and windows. Aside from the choice of engine and drive mode, the S does not offer any options beyond accessories like bike racks or hood deflectors.
The Launch Edition is a special version of the Atlas S, designed to promote the launch of the new model. It is only available with the V-6 engine, but it includes some nice equipment beyond the standard S features. It adds a panoramic moonroof and satellite radio, as well as a more advanced version of the Volkswagen app suite. Aside from those, it has the same features and equipment as the regular Atlas S.
Compare the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas S vs SE Trim Levels. What is the difference?
For another $1,500 over the Launch Edition, or $3,000 over the S, the Atlas SE adds several useful features that are likely to make it a popular choice. The SE comes with more USB ports and a larger 8-inch infotainment system, though the functionality remains mostly the same. It also adds leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat.
The SE also includes push-button start, an eight-speaker sound system, and rear cross traffic alerts with blind spot monitors. The headlights and the windshield wipers are both automatic on this model, but it does not include the moonroof from the Launch Edition. The SE is also the first trim to offer optional packages. Any model of the SE can be equipped with second-row captain’s chairs, while the V-6 models can also add a towing package.The SE is a big jump in terms of comfort and safety features for the Atlas, and it is clearly aimed as the mass-market model. Easily worth the price of the upgrade, the only negatives with this model are the lack of the moonroof or further active safety upgrades, which usually are available on other mid-size SUVs around this price point.
Compare the Atlas SE vs SE with Technology Package Trim Levels. What is the difference?
The SE with Technology Package is the trim level that addresses some of the shortcomings of the otherwise successful SE trim level. The Technology Package in question adds a number of safety options: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. It also adds 3-zone automatic climate control, a power liftgate, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
In addition to the captain’s chairs and the two package available on the regular SE, the SE with Technology Package can also be equipped with the R-Line Appearance Package, which adds 20-inch alloy wheels and gives the Atlas special R-Line bumpers, grille, side skirts, and badges. Like the tow package, it is also limited to the V-6 models.Together with the SE, this is likely to be among the most popular Atlas trim levels. Active safety features are increasingly becoming must-haves for many new car buyers, so the fact that this trim level adds them is a sign of its coming popularity. It is a fairly expensive upgrade at around $2,000, but the added features make it fairly worth it.
Compare the Atlas SE with Technology Package vs SEL Trims. What is the difference?
The high-end trim package for the Atlas, the SEL aims for the premium segment, though it does not quite match up to the luxury vehicles in its price range. The SEL adds a panoramic moonroof, previously seen on the Launch Edition, as well as a power passenger seat, driver seat memory, adaptive cruise control, and parking assist for both the front and rear bumpers.
It also includes the tow hitch package by default. Second-row captain’s chairs and the R-Line Appearance package are both available on the SEL as well, as are optional 20-inch black Mejorada wheels.For what it adds, the upgrade to the Atlas SEL is fairly expensive. It still has the leatherette interior of the SE, and the rest of the features offered are fairly low-key. It can be a good choice for those who must have a moonroof in their next car, but beyond that it does not seem worth the added cost over the SE with Technology Package, especially when the moonroof is also available on the much cheaper Launch Edition.
Compare the 2018 Atlas SEL vs SEL Premium Trims. What is the difference?
The highest trim level of the Atlas, the SEL Premium comes close the the $50,000 mark that clearly sets it up as a luxury mid-size vehicle, in contrast to its lower trim levels. It comes sufficiently equipped, doning leather upholstery and adding ventilation for the front seats and heating for the rear ones, as well as the steering wheel. Automatic high beam control and LED taillights are standard, as is a navigation system and a 360-degree camera. A Fender sound system with 12 speakers provides the audio accompaniment.
The SEL Premium also hosts Volkswagen’s new hit feature: a Digital Cockpit instrument cluster that is displayed on a 12.3-inch thin-film transistor screen that can be customized to each driver’s individual preference. Second-row captain’s chairs and the black 20-inch wheels are an option on the SEL Premium the same way as on the SEL. The SEL Premium is only available with a V-6 engine and all-wheel drive.
The SEL Premium suffers from a similar problem that the regular SEL does: it adds too few new features over the base models to justify its high price point. This is especially apparent on the SEL Premium, as it does not significantly improve the rest of the Atlas interior trim aside from the leather seats, which serves to point out many of its mass-market underpinnings that seem out of place in an ostensibly luxury vehicle.
Which Trim Level to Choose?
It remains to be seen if the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas fares better on the American market than its predecessor, but it does offer several enticing trim levels that can offer excellent value to family buyers looking for a three-row SUV.
The S model is fairly modest, but delivers where it counts - in the spacious seats and good driving dynamics. The Launch Edition throws in a moonroof, while the SE adds more comfort amenities and, with the technology package, active safety equipment.
From there, the SEL and the SEL Premium offer added luxury and comfort features, but match them up with very steep price increases that are likely to not make sense for most buyers in this particular price range.
• Why buy a 2018 Volkswagen Atlas? w/ pros vs cons