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What are the Generations of the VW Atlas?
The Atlas is still in its first generation, although it did have a facelift a couple of years ago in preparation for the 2021 model year.
First Generation (2018 -2020)
The Atlas made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Nov. 2016, as the Atlas after dealers rejected the name Teramont (which is its name outside of the US). It was designed to be VW's largest SUV offering and offered a spacious interior with third-row seating.
The Atlas featured two engines - the 2.0 four-cylinder producing 235 hp or the 3.6L V6, which increased the horsepower to 276 hp. The horsepower was less than other moderately sized SUVs and left the towing capacity at only 5,000 lbs, significantly less than competitors like the Durango or the BMW X5.
Safety and Reliability
The Atlas was labeled a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and garnered average reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. There are numerous recalls issued for the vehicle. The most significant recall was a wiring issue that affected the deployment of airbags. JD Power ranked the Atlas 3.0 out of 5.0 and 25th out of 27 tested mid-sized SUVs.
While most reviewers were impressed with the personal space inside the VW and the ease of access in and out of the back row, their praise was less than stellar for anything else. Plastic controls made it appear that VW was scrimping to cut costs. The aesthetics were just not as appealing as the Atlas competitors. Even with 17 individual cupholders (as far as I am concerned, a car cannot have too many cupholders), the interior seemed to turn off buyers who were used to getting more comfort for their hard-earned money. Many potential Atlas owners were lured away by upstarts Kia and Hyundai with the Telluride and Pallaside models.
VW also decided to bring out one of the most aggressive warranties in the automotive world when in 2018, it unveiled a six-year - 72,000-mile comprehensive warranty. This particular warranty covered everything but normal wear and tear and created a lot of positive buzz for the company. However, faced with increasing costs, and supply chain issues, VW scaled the warranty back in 2020.
Generation 1 Facelift (2021 - present)
The Atlas underwent a design change for the 2021 model year. The changes were cosmetic, with a new front end, wheels, and steering wheel. Other than a few tweaks to the exterior, everything on the inside of the SUV remained untouched. The company hyped an all-new Atlas, and consumers felt cheated. Due to the competitive nature of the SUV market and a worldwide pandemic drastically affecting auto sales, the “new” Atlas failed to impress anyone.
The four-cylinder and 3.6L V6 were left virtually unchanged, creating mpg and performance issues.
Safety and Reliability
The Atlas succeeded in garnering an average reliability rating and again was named a Top Safety Pick. To their credit, VW has achieved this distinction with the Atlas every year it has been made.
The interior of the Atlas continued to demonstrate a lack of concern for the comfort of the consumer. Plastic knobs and cheap interiors surrounded drivers, and while the 2023 model has been upgraded with a new infotainment display, not much else has been altered.
In 2020, the company had supply chain issues and could not sustain the number of vehicles brought in for repair. To shore up cash reserves, VW decided to offer a four-year/50,000-mile warranty, which matched luxury models like BMW and Lexus.
Where is the Atlas Made?
Many car companies have assembly plants inside the United States, and VW is one of them. Their Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant is responsible for putting the pieces of the car together, and they employ 4,000 workers. However, while the assembly happens within the borders of the United States, the engine is made in Hungary, and the eight-speed transmission comes from Japan.
VW was no stranger to the supply chain issues in 2021 when the plant in Chattanooga had to shut down for an inability to get microchips and wiring harnesses. While the plant is up and running now, VW cut over 500 jobs at the end of June.
What is the Future of the Atlas?
Unfortunately, consumers do not seem to be on board with Atlas. Sales for 2022 have decreased by 52%, and it seems that the death toll of the Atlas is beginning to chime. It is hard to understand why VW didn’t either just completely redesign the Atlas in 2020 when it decided a facelift was a good idea. In hindsight, it might have been better for them to discontinue the model altogether, as they have announced they are doing with sedans like the Arteon.
The struggles of the Atlas as of late may be due to timing. VW has already announced that it hopes to introduce 25 new electric models by 2030. With the introduction of the ID4, which is the Atlas Cross Sport electrified, the storm clouds seem to be brewing. And because VW already makes a large SUV, the ID6 is currently only offered in China). It is only a matter of time before the Atlas goes away to wherever good German-engineered cars go when they die, and nobody buys them anymore.
Unless the design folks come out with a completely revamped generation of the VW Atlas, it seems unlikely that the Atlas has much of a bright future. With the tremendous pressure car companies are receiving to electrify their fleets, the gas-guzzling engines of the Atlas seem destined for the scrapyard.
Because VW also makes the ID6, it is probably only a matter of time before that vehicle or a representation of the ID6 is offered domestically.
About The Author
Matt is a VW Master Technician since 2009 after proceeding through the ranks as a Team Leader and Shop Foreman. He has developed software to increase car dealership efficiency, managed 10+ techs, and instructed students at multiple high-performance driving events since 2011. He is also the lead mechanic, engineer, and driver for Blue Goose Racing.Read More About Matt Meurer