The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line Is The VW For Americans

The timing of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line’s arrival was just about picture perfect. Temperatures were getting cold and the forecast was for nearly a foot of snow. First snowfall of the season! Our household was comprised of three kids (aged 14 yrs, 7 yrs, and 19 months), my wife and myself. My sister, also with her 4 year old daughter, lives in the same neighborhood. Count that. Seven kids.

Whenever we go out, it’s always a two-vehicle affair. More than once, we thought about replacing our 2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited for something capable of hauling the entire family. We just haven’t found what we were looking for, at the price we could stomach.

2021 VW Atlas SE R Line at night
2021 VW Atlas SE R Line at night

It was dark, near 6 PM, and I was in a rush to get my 7 yr old daughter to swim class at 6:20. The vehicle had just arrived. I handed over the keys to the 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0, and acquired the key to the still-running 2021 Volkswagen Atlas.

I opened the passenger rear door and rushed to install the child seats. I installed the forward facing child seat in the center position in the center row. The metal LATCH bars weren’t easy to locate in the dark, but once found, the seat was clipped in quickly. The second seat, a booster, was installed to the right, just behind the passenger seat.

After mounting the child seats, I thought, “Oh no, how is anyone going to get into the 3rd row?”

Luckily, Volkswagen had me covered. The middle row pivots forward in a way that allows the child seat to stay installed. Access to the 3rd row was cake. Nice!

First Drive

With all of the kids strapped in, we were set to go. No time for the driver’s seat analysis. It was dark and we had somewhere to be. If you read my last review, you’ll know I’m a believer that the driver’s seat is a strong indicator of the driving experience to come.

I opened the driver’s door and pulled myself in, gripping the steering wheel. But wait, that was unexpected. I felt the perforation of the steering wheel. It was hard and cold. To me, it felt similar to what I would expect a plastic steering wheel to feel like. This surely wasn’t soft or supple. I was momentarily confused. And it was dark inside. I reached up to turn on the overhead lights. Bright white LEDs illuminated the front cabin. I stared at the steering wheel. It passes the eye test. Stitching, dark grey, multi-piece, perforation. Sure looked like leather, to me.

That was the first sign of how Volkswagen has seemingly Americanized the 2021 Atlas.

R badging

Interior lights off. With the keys still in my pocket, I looked back over my shoulder. Well, this sure is roomy!

I looked around for the engine start button. It wasn’t in the typical location to the right of the steering wheel on the dash. Nope. The small silver button was located just below and to the left of the automatic transmission gear selector. That’s a pretty good spot, I thought. Right in the vicinity of where my hand would naturally lay upon entering the vehicle.


The engine cranked and instantly fired up the VR6 powerplant. A low, muffled, semi-roar, bellowed through the cabin. Sounded powerful enough. With the foot on the brake, I pulled the gear selector to D and off we went.

On to the highway and up to speed. With my right foot down, the VR6 had a great little growl that I could see mistaken for a mild 8 cylinder. Fuel economy, from the early read out on the gauge cluster, also would be mistaken for a larger displacement. 13 MPG? Ooof. No doubt that would increase with more miles, especially highway, but still — oof!

Cruising now at 75 MPH. The cabin was very quiet. Next to no road noise and the ride was buttery smooth. The steering was effortless. Now this drives shockingly well, I thought!

All of the interior lighting was white. Very clean and clear however I would have liked to have seen a different color option. Personal opinion, white at night fatigues my eyes quicker than say, orange or even red. Still, it looked good.

Meanwhile, the kids were looking around and checking out our ride for the week, the best they could in the dark. Our nephew, 14 and 5’10”, had taken the 3rd row, and noted how much leg room he had, and how the headrests were more comfortable than that of the 2016 Toyota Highlander and the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica. Comfort compliments already, VW.

I asked our 7 year old daughter what she thought. She said she had sufficient room and felt totally comfortable, even when sitting next to the forward facing child seat, positioned in the middle of the middle row.

Parking the large Atlas was a breeze thanks to the rear view camera. Image quality and resolution wasn’t as high as I had experienced in the BMW, I mean Toyota GR Supra. The screen in the Atlas SE was an 8-inch setup and everything was well, okay. It was fine.

Snow driving mode
Snow Mode via the drive mode dial

There was a knob near the gear selector for various drive modes. Snow, Normal, Off Road and a Custom Option. Neat. Though probably a bit gimmicky.

Before driving back home, I connected my phone. Another easy task. Again, it was fine. Crank up the stereo. It sounded fine. Buttons around the edges of the display were clearly legible in the dark and easy to push. It wasn’t the largest screen and didn’t have built-in GPS so navigation would have to be connected through your Apple or Android device. That wasn’t so outside of the norm. Note, navigation is available with the higher SEL trim.

Another feature I liked was the wireless charger cubby area is tilted at a rearward angle. This keeps your device planted on the rubber surface and prevents sliding around. Nice.

2021 VW Atlas SE R-Line on snowy backroad
2021 VW Atlas SE R-Line

The Recipe for an American SUV

If the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R Line was a 2021 phone, it would be the Google Pixel 4a 5G. Everything worked great, however, when you look close it was clear that dollars were saved on materials and components. However, Volkswagen did their homework. Touch materials and features didn’t get everyday use were typically the target of cost savings.

That’s essentially the story of the interior of the 2021 Atlas SE R-Line. It’s all we really need to be comfortable and little of what we don’t.

The dashboard has a stitched look, however it is no such thing. It’s molded and foam injected But how often do you touch the dash? Right, rarely if ever.

The front door cards are clean and unmistakably VW, however give them a tap and feel they are made of a hard plastic. The pull handle on the door cards, the window switches, all hard plastic. That went for all of the doors and all of the interior panels from front to the last row and the tail gate.

And oddity noticed: Tip the window switches and electric motors produce a noise louder than expected. Our 2016 Toyota RAV4’s window motors are far more silent. Just a Volkswagen thing?

In the real world, does any of that matter when your primary concern is hauling your family and friends? No. And the truth is, that’s what the top selling American models have been doing for decades. This time, it’s Volkswagen. Unless you’re looking for a higher class vehicle, this shouldn’t make any difference.

Everything That Matters

What I like about the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas is everything that truly makes a difference in everyday use.

The steering wheel isn’t quite as supple as what I’d find in the other European, but it’s nicer than cold, hard plastic.

Storing things is a cinch. The cubby on top of the dash in the center is great for the largest of cell phones or aviator glasses. The wireless phone charger in front of the gear selector is angled downward, so devices don’t slide around or fall out. The center console is massive as well. Plenty of room for the stuff you regularly take with you for a drive.

Even if its just me or me and six kids, it’s easy to get them all in and out of the Atlas quickly and easily. The 3rd row seats, albeit only about to seat two, are comfortable. The headrests flip up, the seats recline to the right angle. So, even adults should be comfortable.

And so what if the interior door panels and coverings are a hard plastic? I’ve got a full load of sticky fingered kids with candy bars and juice boxes. So yeah, I’ll take hard surfaces that easily wipe clean.

The ride quality is great. The large diameter wheels and tires contribute to that. Steering is effortless. The VR6 engine is plenty powerful.

With the 3rd row up, storage space is around 23 cubic feet. Fold the 3rd down and it’s more like 53. Fold the middle row down and now you’ve got 94 cubic feet. It’s a cavern in here!

Child LATCH seat in 2021 Atlas SE R-Line
LATCH seat mounted in center

Did I mention we could occupy all 7 seats of this vehicle with 6 foot tall people and they’d all be comfortable? It’s roomy!

Outside, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE in R-Line spec looked chiseled. It wasn’t soft like the redesigned Highlander. It had an American vibe. It looks big. There were huge wheel arches and large 20″ wheels with meaty 255/50 tires. There was nothing weak about it’s appearance, other than the fake exhaust tips.

It must be Volkswagen’s reason to this rhyme. Maybe that’s one factor why Ford and Chevy have had success in the market for so long.

Road manners are fantastic. Steering is light. The transmission has been updated to hold gears better and make the most of the VR6 engine’s 266 pound feet of torque and peak 276 horsepower. Under power, the engine and exhaust note seems to summon the old VW R32. Sprints to 60 MPH are in the mid 7-second range. Even fully loaded, not once did I feel the Atlas was under powered with the VR6 V6 engine.

With the all wheel drive 4MOTION system, I had registered an average of 16.3 MPG after a full week and a tank of gas. In full transparency, 70% of that was around town. It’s about on par with Volkswagen’s sticker.

Destined for America

Everything about the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line seems to tick off the an item for the next great SUV in America. It’s muscular and chiseled. It has just enough technology to do everything that a new car should. It has plenty of room for 7, while being a foot shorter than the Chevrolet Tahoe. It’s an SUV that does more with less. Its quiet on the highways, yet be ready for off-road adventure and inclement weather. It rides smooth at all times. Its simply easy to get in and out and carry on life’s daily activities. While the sticker may read $42k and change, there are dealers that will be selling the 2021 Atlas in the well appointed SE trim level at under $40,000 USD.


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The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line is nothing short of a great value. It will appeal most to current VW owners and those who appreciate minimalistic design.
The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line is nothing short of a great value. It will appeal most to current VW owners and those who appreciate minimalistic design.
Total Score
Very good

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