Test Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium SUV

Daniel Byrne / Courtesy Volkswagen

A big and rugged SUV well-suited for a drive up Maine's wind-swept coastline.

I’m driving up a wind-swept Cadillac Mountain off the coast of Maine in a new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV and while it might appear that I have brought the wrong automotive brand on this journey, fans of Greek mythology will recall that Atlas bore the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, so my mountaintop destination is entirely apt. Cadillac Mountain, located on Mount Desert Island, is the highest point (1,530 feet) along the North Atlantic seaboard.

After a 3.5-mile drive up a twisty road that the 276-horsepower, V-6 German engine in the Atlas handles easily, I’m at the summit where the earth meets the sky and there are wonderful panoramic views all around. Cadillac Mountain is named after the 17th-century French explorer famous in these parts, but the mythological Atlas would undoubtedly appreciate the island views. Likewise, this terrain suits an Atlas SUV that’s big, rugged, and a pleasure to look at with its Titan black exterior. (Atlas, of course, was one of the Titans.)

Andrew Trahan / Courtesy Volkswagen

The Atlas is the biggest SUV Volkswagen has ever built and it fits seven passengers across three rows of seating. And for an SUV that’s considered mid-sized, the interior feels cavernous. The heated leather seats are comfortable but there is nothing else that’s especially fancy—the emphasis here is on a clean and functional interior design. What is slick are four driver modes that can be individually customized and a Fender-designed audio system that jazzes up my Maine drive. Moving into Sport mode made navigating the curves of this summit road an easy task.

The Atlas also is tech-savvy but in an unobtrusive fashion. Just about every conceivable safety feature, including forward collision warning and blind spot monitoring, is available. It will even help with parking. And should a novice driver get behind the wheel, the Family Guardian mode turns the car into an informer that will report excessive speeding or forays beyond a proscribed zone. The Atlas also connects to an app that that monitors the vehicle’s status from afar. An 8-inch touch screen display handles navigation and entertainment options.

Daniel Byrne / Courtesy Volkswagen

From the top of Cadillac Mountain, I can see the town of Bar Harbor with a couple of cruise ships at anchor. There is a haddock dish down there with my name on it. Time to reverse course. As driven: $49,415; vw.com.