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Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

When it was first introduced back in 2018, the Atlas represented the largest vehicle that Volkswagen had ever sold in the United States. Now, this mid-size, three-row SUV is even larger, thanks to a facelift that adds more than two inches of overall length.

With a new look inspired by the sleeker, two-row Atlas Cross Sport, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas adds a little more style to better compete with the growing number of rivals which include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Hyundai Palisade. I recently had the chance to sample the refreshed Atlas, so read on to see how it stacks up!

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Exterior

Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

It's only been three years since the Atlas was first launched, but VW is wasting no time in keeping its biggest crossover fresh and relevant. The biggest change you'll notice on the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas is a cleaner front end, which ditches the original's stacked headlights. Instead, the face is similar to the front clip of the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport, which showcases more of the corporate VW design language.

The back of this big Vdub has also been updated with restyled taillights, along with some chrome accent trim which - in my opinion - makes it look less like a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Bottom line, in a crowded segment of three-row, mid-sized crossovers and SUVs, the boxy design of the Atlas has more of an old-school SUV vibe than its competitors. With standard features like the hands-free liftgate and two-tone 20-inch alloy wheels, the mid-range SE w/ Technology spiced things up even more.

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Interior

Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas may have gotten larger on the outside, but it definitely wasn't short on interior space to begin with. In standard form, the three-row Atlas seats up to seven passengers with adult-sized room available in the third row, and the SE w/ Technology and higher trims add extra room for second-row occupants with available captain's chairs. There's plenty of headroom and legroom no matter where you're seated, and the boxy design also accommodates plenty of cargo space, with 20.6 cubic feet available behind the third row and 96.8 cubic feet with the rear two rows folded flat. Showing that the Atlas is ready for any family adventure, there are five USB ports and - brace yourselves - 17 cup holders!

Only minor changes were made to the interior of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas, with the most obvious being the redesigned steering wheel, which highlights the redesigned Volkswagen logo. Aside from that, the rest of the cabin reflects the interior design language we've come to expect from VW in recent years. That means it's a modern, straightforward, and functional layout fitted with plenty of advanced technology. All trim levels come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen display and wireless smartphone charging, and the SE w/ Technology, which I tested, added three-zone automatic climate control, rear door window shades, and leatherette seating surfaces.

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2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Performance

Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

The biggest addition to the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas is that buyers can now get VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system paired with the base 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder. Previously, this AWD system was only offered on the optional V-6 engine. My tester was a front-drive model with the base four-cylinder that's rated at 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. On flat Florida roads, this engine delivers adequate power to motivate the 4,248-pound crossover in most driving conditions. But the engine feels somewhat underpowered when attempting passing or merging maneuvers, and its EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 21 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway are lower than similarly specced competitors.

That said, there the Atlas really shines is in its overall driving dynamic. Despite its boxy, old-school SUV appearance, the 2021 VW Atlas has a surprisingly smooth ride, whether it's being driven on pavement or dirt roads, and the cabin is very quiet at highway speeds. Add to that a steering system that makes the mid-size crossover surprisingly maneuverable, and the Atlas becomes one of the top road-tripping vehicles in its segment. Opting for the base engine does drop the Atlas' towing capacity down to 2,000 pounds (versus up to 5,000 pounds with the optional V-6), but unless you need the maximum towing capability, this engine is the most efficient and value-oriented way to equip this crossover.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Safety

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Sport both have Five-Star overall crash ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All Atlas trim levels come standard with full LED exterior lighting, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert, while the SE w/ Technology trim adds Adaptive Cruise Control and Parking Sensors.

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Exterior view of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Overall

Even with all of the options available for three-row, mid-size crossovers, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas stands out with its big size, roomy interior, and bountiful list of standard equipment. Volkswagen may have been late to this segment, but the Atlas proves to be a strong competitor. Factor in all of the upgrades made for the 2021 model year, the three-row Atlas now represents even more value, while carrying over the same starting price of $31,545*. The mid-range Atlas SE w/ Technology trim level used for this review had an as-tested price of $38,360*.

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Jeffrey N. Ross | May 04, 2021


2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE Specs

Layout

4-door, 7-passenger, FWD

Engine/Transmission

Turbocharged 2.0L I4, 235 hp, 258 lb-ft
Eight-speed automatic

Mileage

21/24 mpg (city/hwy)

NHTSA Safety Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★


AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★


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*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.