Trucks & SUVs

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Has Concerning Reliability Ratings

If you’re thinking about buying a new 2020 Volkswagen Atlas and you’ve been reading up on reviews and reliability, your head is probably spinning from all the information.

The Atlas has gotten fairly glowing reviews from the car geeks at Edmunds, Cars.com, and the like. Even Consumer Reports gives the Atlas high marks overall, but then appears to excoriate it in terms of reliability. So what gives? Volkswagen built their reputation on building “people cars”–steady, reliable, affordable vehicles.

The Atlas conundrum is unusual in the chasm between reviews and reliability ratings, but it is a good example of how vehicles new to the market suffer on the reliability front when there is no comparative history. Any new car has a few bugs, and the manufacturer usually needs a few years to turn those bugs into features. The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas has a few tweaks from the introductory 2018 version, but it’s only their third birthday so the data just isn’t there yet.

Reliability and safety

Consumer Reports road test for the VW Atlas was pretty strong — it scored an 84/100. The transmission, which had been one of the earlier problem spots, aced the quiz with a 5/5.

The SUV handles well for a three-row ride — 4/5 for everyday, routine driving and an average 3/5 for emergency handling. For an SUV with 5,000 lbs in towing capacity, the Atlas brakes at a smooth 4/5.

National Highway Safety Test Administration (NHSTA) gave the Atlas 5/5 stars on the majority of their tests; the only areas where the car didn’t get five stars were driver’s side frontal crash and rollover, which both got four. 

The big-ticket trouble spots on the Volkswagen Atlas got ‘Better/Best’ ratings from the CR reliability tests — the engine and transmission, for both major and minor issues; and the braking system.

Same thing for the drive, electrical and climate systems. Esthetically speaking, the body style and paint, which have nothing to do with reliability but everything to do with curb appeal, got a Better/Best rating. 

On the downside, the headlights provide just average visibility, and the fuel system gets the same gentleman’s C, and the power equipment and interior electronics are the pits. 

Lack of history and data hurts the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas

So why on earth is the overall CR predicted reliability an eye-popping 1/5? 

In short, there’s no data yet to really assess the reliability of the Volkswagen Atlas. The initial trouble spots have an outsize influence over the overall ratings since there isn’t enough information from buyers yet to really gauge whether the Atlas is going to just stop in the middle of the road. But given the drive train, braking, and transmission ratings, probably not. 

How the Atlas compares to competitors

The Volkswagen Atlas is up against some pretty stiff competition in the midsize SUV category, with what passes for a mid-price range these days — between $31,000-$45,000. Automotive icons like Subaru, Honda, and Jeep have strong midsize options, and relative newcomers like Kia and Hyundai are beating all the competition.

In the Consumer Reports overview of the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas, the SUV scored an embarrassing 61/100, and came in at number 19 out of 23 SUVs tested.

Kia’s new Telluride whomped all the others, scoring an impressive 92/100. Next in line is the new Hyundai Palisade, with a rating of 87. Mazda’s CX-9 is a somewhat surprising third, just behind the Palisade with an 86. Rounding out the top five are the Toyota Highlander and the Subaru Ascent.

What’s interesting about the reliability and test ratings is that the VW Atlas actually scored as good or better in most categories than these top five competitors.