VW signaled its intentions towards making a large SUV to cater the U.S. market almost four years ago in Detroit with the CrossBlue concept. Fast forward to present day, the production version billed “Atlas” is receiving its public debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, following a launch event organized last month on the Santa Monica Pier.
In the second episode part of a web series explaining the Atlas’ origins, VW is talking about how the SUV’s design came to life based on how Americans live with their cars nowadays. According to Klaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Design, in the initial phase the vehicle was too European and small, so they had to go back to the drawing board and make it larger to better tailor U.S. tastes. Bischoff goes on to specify that “size does matter, especially for families,” and they wanted to better accentuate the SUV’s big footprint by making it look wide and imposing without overdoing it since that would have made it too aggressive and unsuitable for the targeted crowd.
The same theme was carried over on the inside where the Atlas' cabin is family-friendly, with uncomplicated switchgear and a functional layout with a high-tech look granted by the all-digital instrument cluster. Capable of hosting up to seven people, the spacious interior offers comfortable seating even for those on the rearmost seats, with VW saying those are providing the same level of comfort as the second-row seats. In addition, accessing the third-row seats will be a breeze, even if car seats will be installed in the second row.
In terms of power, buyers will get to pick between either a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 238 horsepower (177 kilowatts) or a naturally-aspirated 3.6-liter VR6 with 280 hp (208 kW). Both are coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which in the case of the turbo engine sends power to the front wheels whereas the V6-equipped model has a 4Motion all-wheel drive setup.
Launching next spring, the Atlas will ride on the largest iteration of the company’s very flexible MQB platform and will be assembled alongside the Passat at the Chattanooga, Tennessee plant following an investment of $900 million.
Gallery: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
The designers behind the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, the new seven-passenger sport utility vehicle on display at Automobility LA, say the two-year process of crafting the boldest vehicle ever sold by the brand in America was driven by a well-researched look at how Americans live with their vehicles today.
“I think we developed something that takes us apart from the breed,” says Klaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Design. “We looked deep into how Americans are living with their midsize SUVs, and we wanted to get the Atlas right.”
While the Atlas grew from the CrossBlue concept first displayed in 2013, it’s much larger and more substantial in appearance than the concept. “Size does matter, especially for families,” says Bischoff. “The first designs we showed were literally too small, too compact, designed too much out of a European perspective. We had to get used to the vehicle size that’s more appropriate for America. The roads are wider, the cities are bigger, and we grew into that.”
As interior designer Tomasz Bachorski said, the Volkswagen design philosophy of “simplicity and precision” drove the team at every stage of the design, from the grille and standard LED headlights to the stitching in the seats. As one example, the designers integrated the LED Daytime Running Lights into the grille with a generous amount of chrome and detail for a robust look.
“The facial expression of a car defines its character. We wanted to give the car a wide appearance, and an earnest look,” says Bischoff. “It should look substantial, without looking too aggressive.”
Exterior designer Oliver Stefani says the character lines that flow from the nose to the tail of the Atlas were drawn to highlight the precision of the car’s bodywork without creating an overly complicated surface, nor an appearance that would spoil quickly on the road.” We have a few lines on the car, but every line has a purpose; there’s always the idea to guide the eye around the car,” says Stefani. “The car has to grow into time; it should not go out of fashion in two or three years. Whenever you look at a Volkswagen from the past, it’s still modern on the road.”
Bachorski adds that the same ethos mandated the interior design choices, from the clean switchgear to flowing and high-quality surfaces on the dashboard and instrument panel. That perspective didn’t just apply to the hardware of the vehicle, but also the software interfaces, such as the available Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. “Everything’s well balanced with no complicated corners and no clutter,” says Bachorski. “This was really important to us to make this really simple, because our lives outside the car are complicated enough.”
The functionality of the seven-seat layout was paramount in the Atlas’ development, with third-row seats that do not suffer in comfort compared to the second-row location, and an easy-access system to the third row that is usable even if car seats are installed in the second row. Color and Trim designer Johanna Hoch notes that the Atlas draws some of its inspiration from high-end furniture, to create a welcoming atmosphere that still meets the demands of a modern family. “We are giving a soul to the car through the materials and the colors,” Hoch said. “The first language is touch, and it’s very important to make small details, like paint or frames, very high quality.”