The freshened up 2024 Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport represent striking winds of change at the brand of the “People’s Car”. With fresh styling, a more premium interior and a new engine under the hood, it seeks to become more of a premium choice – again.
In 2015 when the TDI scandal broke, Volkswagen took a gut punch of epic proportions. In the following years they were slapped with billions of dollars of fines around the globe. Adding insult to injury, their cash cow “clean diesel” TDI engines were no longer on the market to bolster their CAFE standards and bottom line.
Subsequently their products began to suffer greatly. Massive cost cutting moves across the company cheapened the cars which suddenly began seeing cheap hard plastic interiors, gaudy fake exhaust pipe styling gimmicks, and generally less of that premium German feel people had come to know Volkswagen for.
The engines and powertrains took a hit as well. Suddenly the silky smooth and refined gasoline engines got replaced by downsized nasty rough and unpleasant “Buddack Cycle” engines to boost their fuel economy numbers. Transmissions tuned to force better fuel economy were jerky, rough and unrefined.
Volkswagens in short order had stopped being fun to drive and basically had come to have the least desirable driving characteristics in the business. It was a gut punch to not only the company but to consumers who had always seen the brand as a serious German driver’s car.
Luckily, someone at Volkswagen has been paying attention to the tea leaves because the improvements we’ve been seeing in the last few new test vehicles have been showing a promising improvement in many of these areas.
The 2024 Atlas Cross Sport SEL we just tested got some mild styling updates at the front and rear that give a more premium appeal. It still have a subliminally suggested set of fake exhausts, but they seem less of a blatant lie than some of the others we’ve seen in the past few years.
Its cabin gets a complete makeover with premium soft trim materials with sewn stitching that spans the dash, door panels front and rear, and the center console. Basically everywhere you can touch the hard cheap plastic is gone. Across the dash and doors also is a nicely upgraded trim with LED back lighting that’s very similar to that we’ve seen in Mercedes-Benz models of late. Nice.
New technology is packed in as well with a digital cockpit instrument cluster now standard. A larger infotainment UX center screen sits in the center that replaces a number of hard controls for climate control, drive mode and other things.
It’s improved in some ways and has a lot of feature content. Unfortunately it’s still cumbersome in the moving from one topic to another like going from fan settings to changing a radio station. Still takes 2-3 menu layer changes. Kia and Hyundai, even GM have mastered this much better.
Under the hood the old VR6 is gone now replaced by the Evo4 EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine and an 8-speed automatic. Its 269 horsepower is slightly less than the old VR6 but the 273 pound-feet of torque is a big improvement.
In driving, it’s playful and fun unlike the Buddack Cycle dreary machines we’ve seen in the recent past. It revs freely, sounds good and is a very willing participant in the romp and stomp back road reindeer games. Nice. It’s thirsty though with our week long mpg average coming in at only 17. We blame constant AC use and a heavy foot.
In all, the changes made represent a huge improvement to the Atlas that seem to answer most our criticisms of the past model. It’s nicer inside and out and fun to drive again. Add in an enhanced and fresh look and it’s a winner for us, making our “Id Buy It” list.