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The Volkswagen Atlas is primed for a family hauler as a midsize, three-row SUV. But does its spec sheet translate to real-world usability and as a good choice for family duties? I recently spent a week behind the wheel of the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line, the top-spec model, to review its best and worst family attributes.

The Atlas gets some notable changes for 2024, including a single available engine. All models are now equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 269 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. The interior has also been updated with more quality-feel materials and additional standard equipment, including a 12-inch touchscreen, a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats.  

The Good: The Atlas delivers loads of cargo and passenger space

Interior view of the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas
2024 Volkswagen Atlas | Volkswagen

The Atlas remains one of the most cargo and passenger friendly midsize SUVs available. The Atlas’ 20.6 cubic feet of storage space behind its third row is among the most offered in the segment behind the Chevrolet Traverse and Kia Telluride. However, its 55.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 96.6 are significantly more than the Kia and on-par with the Traverse. To boot, there are spacious bottle holders and cubbies scattered throughout the cabin.

The Atlas’ sizable cabin also delivers ample passenger space. Its third row is usable for older kids and adults, which can’t be said for many of its rivals.

A second-row bench is standard (with a middle armrest and cupholders), and captain’s chairs are available. My tester had the bench, and a single lever pull slides the middle seats forward and slightly collapses them for ease of entering the back row. Even this portly adult didn’t have a problem squeezing in to the gap left between the doorframe and middle seats. There is no option for electrically collapsable seats, however.

The range of the midrow seat’s sliders made installing a car seat a stress-free act.

The Bad: Touch-sensitive controls

Hauling a brood of kids, particularly those fighting in the backseat, is distracting enough while driving. Having to take your eyes off the road to change the radio station of adjust the climate settings only exacerbates the issue. And that is what drivers must do with the Atlas’ new touch-sensitive controls. Traditional buttons and knobs are gone entirely. VW is far from the only automaker putting an overemphasis on touchscreen/touch-sensitive controls, but the automaker’s are particularly difficult to use. Turning up the audio volume resulted in a sonic boom of noise. Or several attempts to turn the volume down are fruitless. Coupled with an infotainment system that’s not particularly intuitive to begin with, and making simple adjustments becomes an exercise in patience. Of course, it requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, too.   

There’s are “smart” touchscreen controls, like those for the climate system. For instance, you can press a button that says your feet are cold, and the VW will crank up the heat in the footwells. Still, this feature seems like engineering to fix a problem that wouldn’t exist with more traditional controls.

VW might argue many features are controllable through voice controls, but good luck when the Atlas is full of yelling kids.

The Good: A helping of standard features, top safety rating, a mostly comfy ride

2024 Volkswagen Atlas interior
2024 Volkswagen Atlas | Volkswagen

The 2024 Atlas’ base MSRP of $39,420 is higher than some notable players in its segment. However, the Atlas’ updated standard features certainly help its value proposition.

All models feature a suite of active driver aids. The include forward collision warning with automatic braking, a lane-keep system, blind-spot monitoring with steering intervention, rear cross-traffic warning and adaptive cruise control.

Also standard is synthetic leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated/ventilated front seats and keyless entry/ignition. The 12-inch touchscreen is notably larger than the 8-inch unit it replaces, and there are USB ports in all three rows. A wireless charging pad and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are standard.

A V6 engine is no longer available, but the Atlas’ max towing capacity remains 5,000 pounds with the smaller four-cylinder. It’s an average figure in the midsize SUV pack but is enough to haul a boat for family’s day out on the lake.

The four-cylinder is responsive to throttle inputs and delivers adequate acceleration. It’s also more efficient than the outgoing V6, delivering 20-23 mpg based on selecting front or all-wheel drive.

Ride quality is mostly comfortable, and the cabin mutes most outside noise.

Notably, the 2024 Atlas earns an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, the highest designation from the organization for overall safety.

The Bad: It’s tough to stand out in the segment, and the Atlas doesn’t

A red 2024 Volkswagen Atlas parked
2024 Volkswagen Atlas | Volkswagen

The VW Atlas is a good midsize SUV for families for buyers with pragmaticism at the top of their priority list. And the Atlas is agreeable in most ways — average is better than poor, after all.

But there are plenty of more appealing overall options in the midsize three-row SUV class. The Telluride and Hyundai Palisade wow with their bang-for-the-buck. The Toyota Grand Highlander is impressive in its competency in every vital metric. The Mazda CX-90’s performance is impressive. The Jeep Grand Cherokee L has a truck-like towing capacity and legitimate off-road prowess.

By comparison, the Atlas’ mundane bodywork aligns with its overall dullness.

The 2024 Atlas is family friendly overall, but even parents can appreciate some automotive excitement it just doesn’t deliver.