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Like its namesake, the Volkswagen Atlas can carry the world on its shoulders—figuratively speaking. Two adults fit comfortably in the third row with room for luggage behind them. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard; 12-speaker Fender audio is optional. The base model comes with a 235-hp turbo four, front-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available if you choose the 276-hp V-6. Optional safety tech includes automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.
Targeting the heart of the three-row, mid-size-crossover market, the Tennessee-built Atlas is available with either a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four or a 276-hp naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and route torque to the front wheels; all-wheel drive is optional only with the six.
Credit the Atlas 2.0T’s peppy performance to its comparatively low mass, which, at 4268 pounds, was 460 pounds lighter than the all-wheel-drive Atlas V-6. Additional accelerative assistance comes courtesy of the Atlas 2.0T’s wealth of low-end torque. With 258 lb-ft available from 1600 rpm, the 2.0T offers similar punch to the optional V-6, which produces 266 lb-ft at 2750 rpm. This Atlas 2.0T’s passing times were similar to those of the all-wheel-drive V-6 model. The four-cylinder needed 4.1 seconds to accelerate from 30 to 50 mph and 4.9 to get from 50 to 70 mph, whereas the AWD V-6 performed those tasks in 3.9 and 5.2 seconds. In other words, the story has a much happier ending this time than when Ford tried stuffing a 2.0T in its portly Explorer, where buyers were forced to pay extra to opt for its terminal lagginess.
With less weight to haul around and two fewer cylinders to feed, the Atlas 2.0T was notably thriftier than its V-6 stablemate at the pump. The 2.0T’s EPA estimates of 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway better the V-6’s 18/25 mpg city/highway ratings (17/23 with all-wheel drive). In our hands, the Atlas 2.0T returned 23 mpg over nearly 2000 miles of driving, while the V-6 managed only 19 mpg. It also sipped fuel at a rate of 27 mpg on our 75-mph real-world highway fuel-economy test, as opposed to 24 mpg for the AWD V-6.