Volkswagen Atlas

Last year we purchased a new car to replace my eight year old Subaru Outback. We wanted something with more interior room and similar capabilities as the Outback. We wanted to wait for the Ascent, but we couldn’t even see a preview model and 80% of the Ascent’s were already sold before they were available. Below are my thoughts on the Atlas so far.

The Bad

The infotainment system seems to lock up sometimes, and about 20% of the time, there is no audio from my iPhone. When the system locks up, the App function just shows a black screen. The good news is, I discovered I could hold down the power button for about tend seconds and the entire system restarts. That’s a little nicer than having to stop and start the car. When I plug my iPhone in, I can tell there is a problem because the system reports a speaker with an X on it when I try to change the volume. Re-seating the cable to the iPhone fixes it. I’ve tried replacing the cable, and I’ve even changed phones.

Anytime Park Pilot is invoked, it will interrupt CarPlay and “lose its place” for lack of a better term. If you have music playing and GPS is set, it seems to work. But if GPS is waiting for input, Park Pilot seems to reset it. I had a chance to drive a Kia Soul while on a business trip, and it seemed to not suffer from this problem.

Seat position controls and memory for multiple drivers. I don’t even know how to explain the complexity of this system. My wife’s Acura has this feature, and it is very simple and easy to work with. But the Atlas makes you do a key dance to get seats in the right position depending on what key last locked and is now unlocking the car. The Acura just has two buttons, one for each saved setting, that you can press if you used the wrong key, or you are both in the car. The Atlas saves the seat position for the user when the door is locked by their key. And it resets settings to the user based on the key that unlocks the car. So, if my wife has the car set to her settings, and forgets to lock the car, then I have to unlock it with my key to get to my settings. But if I don’t use her key to lock it, it will over-write my settings with hers when I use my key to lock it. So I end up having to get her key, lock it, then unlock it with my key, and it’s back to my settings. It’s a bad system and whoever designed it should feel bad.

Adaptive cruise control has some trouble knowing when a car has moved out of your lane. I’ve never owned a car with adaptive cruise control, so this might be a very common problem that isn’t specific to the Atlas. I know that there really is just one radar sensor up front and it’s not aware of the car it’s monitoring in relation to lanes and other things, so it’s understandable. I just wish it were better. Perhaps other systems are more capable. At a minimum, it would be nice to be able to have a normal cruise control in addition to adaptive cruise control.

Gas tank is too small. I wish it had a larger tank. I knew this when we purchased it. It’s not a deal breaker, but the range till empty in the dashboard is the real kicker. It will say you have 240 miles left, for example. If you reset the trip odometer at that point, it becomes obvious that you really only have 120 miles left. The range till empty gauge appears to have a built in 2x multiplier. Kind of depressing and underhanded.

The gear indicator in the driver display. This is a minor issue, but I think it revealed to me how bad the general user interface is in the Atlas. If I switch to economy mode while driving, the gear indicator will switch from “D” to “E”. Very nice and a good way to know if you are in economy mode. It also can switch to “S” for sport. But if the car starts up cold, and you are in economy, what does that indicator show? “D”. Of course, it never shows what mode you are in unless you switch while the car is running.

Hard to tell if your headlights are on or off in auto mode. This is another bad user interface design that seems to be the hallmark of Volkswagen design. When using the auto setting on the headlights, there is no dash indicator that lights are on or off. There is a high beam indicator, but if it’s raining and you wonder if the lights are actually on, your guess is as good as mine. It actually might be better if you can see the outside of my car.

Remote range is poor. My wife and I decided that with our young child, having remote start would be nice so that on really hot days and very cold days, the car could be cooled off or warmed up before we get in. But we have a garage. And if you are, for example, parked in a giant parking lot on a hot day, you won’t be able to get the car to start until you are about 30 feet away (assuming you have good line of sight to the car). As you can imagine, it makes this feature pretty worthless. Even Volkswagen’s Car-Net app won’t let you remote start the car.

Third row seats are virtually unusable for tall people. With the head-rests down, they dig into your upper back. With them up, they are passable but make me feel like my head is being pushed forward. The third row may not be the most comfortable seat for a larger passenger, but I expected something that was not uncomfortable for a twenty minute ride.

Daylight savings time is a toggle and not automatic. I guess I should be happy I don’t have to hold down a button to change the hour manually. The car has a SIM chip in it for Car-Net to work. So I know it knows the location, time and date. So there’s no reason for this to be a thing to think about.

SD Card media assumes Windows style file formats. When you are traveling to Canada, for example, you don’t want to use up precious bandwidth on your phone streaming music. The local SD card with music on it is a great way to have a backup of local music to listen to on a trip. Unless you own a Mac, or use Linux. Then you have to just through hoops to make sure all your mp3 playlist files are properly formatted to a Windows format.

The good.

Automatic windshield wipers. These work pretty well. I like not having to generally even think about windshield wipers and these allow me to do just that.

Lane assist works well most of the time, even in rain. Lane assist isn’t really all that great, and I assume that’s the case in most cars. When I can’t see the lane indicators is really when I need it, and based on how it works, it can’t see the lane either. But, otherwise, it’s pretty smart and not annoying.

Front seats are pretty comfortable for long trips.

Lots of USB ports. There’s no shortage of places to plug devices in.

Second row seats are easy to use and move. Third row access is good. Getting in and out is easy. There’s lots of good legroom all around. And headroom is good even in the third row.

Looks good. Some people say the Atlas looks like a Ford Explorer, but I think it looks better than that. I do like the look and the profile of the Atlas. It looks stout without being a giant box. I’m often surprised at how small it looks given the interior room.

I towed a 3850 lb camper with brakes and it did ok. I actually suspect the trailer weighed a bit more, but it did a good job. There were a few hills and the VR6 engine did well. I think that over 4000 lbs, I wouldn’t want to tow something across the country. But, something around 3500 lbs might be fine.

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