Skip to main content

CDN Road Tested: 2021 VW Atlas SEL Premium

Written By | Jan 22, 2021

SEATTLE — Thanks to an updated grill and front-end, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL looks better than ever. The look helps the Atlas not only appear more modern but a much more better-looking vehicle overall. It still has the same great storage capacity and for the most part is unchanged inside.


Our Atlas SEL Premium was powered by a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 engine. You’ll have 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque on tap. Power delivery comes by way of an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.. The transmission does an admirable job of holding gears while up in the power band and quickly down-shifting when needed. The main drawback of the V6 is its paltry fuel economy which is rated at 16 around town and up to 22 on the highway or 18 combined. When you consider the new Land Rover Defender also has a V6 with a lot more power and gets the same fuel economy, it makes VWs efforts here seem to fall short.

VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system makes short work of driving through adverse weather conditions. Its latest iteration of 4Motion uses an electronic clutch on the rear axle that allows the rear wheels to rotate while delivering power to everyday driving. This helps save on fuel economy. It continually monitors wheel spin and will send up to 50% power to the back wheels as needed.

What else is new?

Outside of the front-end facelift and an updated VW logo, you’ll find headlights that are better integrated, an extra 2.4 inches of vehicle length – due to its slightly larger bumpers. In addition, you’ll now find a wireless charging pad, a new steering wheel and an update to the controls.


Looking inside, you won’t find much inspiration here. It’s rather on the bland side, compared to competitive vehicles — with a great deal of hard plastic surfaces and a trim that doesn’t stand out too well. If it’s a snazzy-looking interior you’re after, check out the latest from Hyundai, Mazda and KIA.

digital cockpit gauge cluster

At the center of the dash is VW’s infotainment system with a 8-inch touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Fender-powered audio system’s sound quality is good but not great. We were really hoping for a more authoritative low-end frequency response, along with more defined mids and highs.

The driver gauges on this Atlas SEL model are based on a 10-inch screen that gives you some customization as to what you want to see. VW calls it their “digital cockpit gauge cluster”.

Driver aids include: blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane keep assist, and parking alerts.

Both the driver’s and front passenger’s seats are very comfortable, great for longer road trips. There are plenty of adjustments available and have nice lumbar support. If you’re in the second row, things are rather comfy as well, and there’s plenty of leg-room.

One of the great things about the Atlas, however, is its large cargo capacity. There’s up to 96.8 cubic feet available with all the seats folded down. This makes it have one of the largest cargo capacities in any midsize SUV.

On the road:

Perhaps the main reason many drivers love Volkswagen vehicles is the way they drive. That “German feel” – this Atlas has that. With a nicely weighted feel to the steering wheel and not a lot of body roll, along with good acceleration – you’ll want to drive it. There’s something kind of analog feeling about the way VWs feel while driving. Of course this matters most to folks who actually like to drive.

Our take away from spending a week with our test vehicle is that we wish VW would have spent more attention on making the interior feel more modern and squeezed better fuel economy out of it. But for many customers, those two issues don’t need to be a deal breaker. If you’re looking for a midsize SUV that has class-leading cargo room and still has that great road-feel to it while driving, then you should seriously book a test-drive with the Atlas SEL Premium.



Duane Pemberton

Duane Pemberton is a lifestyle writer and CDNs Auto Editor. Pemberton loves anything that helps bring people together which is why he writes about food, wine, cars, and travel.