Tonight’s reveal of the Volkswagen Atlas caps more than four years of work by engineers, designers and planners who set out to design a kind of vehicle Volkswagen has never built before – an SUV sized for the modern American family. With seven seats, a choice of two engines and a suite of available technology from a reconfigurable display to an active lane departure warning system the Atlas arrives as the boldest new Volkswagen SUV yet. We asked several of those involved with making the Atlas a reality to describe what makes it unique behind the Volkswagen badge:
Question: What was the goal of building the Atlas?
Answer: Elmar Licharz, responsible manager for the Mid- and Fullsize Product Line at Volkswagen passenger cars: We had several goals with this car. We wanted to combine Volkswagen’s specific strengths with the American market needs, and build a vehicle for an active family that needs space, with seven seats. It’s built in the U.S., for the U.S., and it’s specifically tailored for this market.
Q: This segment has many competitors. What does the Atlas bring that’s different?
Licharz: Inside the car, the seven-seat midsize SUV provides roominess which is among the best in class. We have a full-fledged group of available driver assistance features. People who drive Volkswagen vehicles really want a car that’s fun to drive, from the feedback you get from the road to the sounds the doors make when you close them. The Atlas feels like a premium car, but at a price not seen in this segment from premium players. You get a very good deal, and we will be able to win a lot of customers from the competition, because we can deliver the same musts, like speed and horsepower, which we can combine with specific strengths at Volkswagen.
Q: Many third-row seats in SUV are for kids only. What about the Atlas?
A: James Burch, Volkswagen of America Product Manager for Atlas and Touareg: It’s a true seven-seater with a real third row, not one just for children, which we’re proud of. I’m 6-foot-7 and I fit comfortably in that seat; I would have no problem sitting back there for a drive across town. The second-row seat can slide forward and backward, and it’s easy to use a latch on the back of the second seat row so the seat tilts forward a bit to get to the third row. And if you have a child’s car seat in the second row, you don’t have to take it out to reach the third row
Q: How did Volkswagen approach designing its first American-built SUV?
A: Klaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Design: We want to create a sustainable design that stands the test of time. We want to be very precise, very logical and holistic. We want to create an outstanding character that’s bold in the market, so you immediately recognize that’s a new midsize SUV from Volkswagen.
The SUV, it’s a hallmark of freedom in a certain way. You can go almost anywhere, you can just get your family and your belongings and go. It’s a machine that delivers freedom.
Q: How does the Atlas differ from the Cross Blue concept?
A: Bischoff: There’s quite a difference from Cross Blue. The Cross Blue was our first attempt but it was too compact, too tight, it didn’t have enough self-confidence from our point of view. We came up with designs that were much more bold and substantial, that show a lot more self-confidence. The body grew in size, and developed into a tougher statement.
Q: Why was the size so important?
A: Bischoff: For us this was an essential part of the design, to create something that fits to American roads. We looked deep into how Americans are living with their midsize SUVs, and we wanted to get this thing right. Size does matter, especially for families.
The critical part is to get the proportions right, the body mass index needs to be athletic. The right amount of engine compartment to cabin to main body volume to wheels — all those ratios need to be precise. Once that’s done, we went on to define a few essential lines. We want to give the car the feeling that it’s milled from a single block of metal. If you want to create that expression, you need to give precision, and of course the precision needs to go all over the whole body. We do character lines to show the customer this is going over the whole car and they match.
Q: How does the Atlas stand on driver assistance features?
A: Burch: That’s something we’re very proud of in this vehicle. The Atlas will offer available blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, post-collision braking, lane assist with active steering functionality, along with adaptive cruise control.
Q: What is the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit?
A: Licharz: If you look at a normal instrument panel, there’s information on speed or fuel level in an old-fashioned style. The available Volkswagen Digital Cockpit in the Atlas allows the customer to enjoy different views on how he or she wants to see the information. You can have the screen be a big display of driver speed, or you can put it aside to view the map. It gives you a wide range of options, and it simply looks modern and new.
Q: How well do you think the Atlas will be received?
A: Burch: VW typically has been known as a builder of compact vehicles, but that’s changing starting with the Atlas. We want to keep loyal customers in the brand, and we see the Atlas as the answer to accommodate our customers’ growing families and changing lifestyles.