2022 Volkswagen Atlas: what beyond roominess puts it on the map?

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

By Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2022 Volkswagen Atlas different?

Nothing significant as Volkswagen’s largest-ever vehicle takes a breather between a model-year 2021 refresh and bigger changes expected for model-year 2024.

The 2022 Atlas could get some new colors. VW might shuffle a feature or two among models. But it’ll largely return as the midsize crossover SUV that debuted for model-year 2018 with one of the segment’s roomiest cabins. It’ll be back with seating for up to seven the choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a V-6, and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Should I wait for the 2022 Volkswagen Atlas or buy a 2021?

2021 Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

Buy a ’21. The ’22 won’t change enough to wait for, although it is likely to cost more. The model-year ’21 updates will sustain the Atlas to its expected model-year 2024 revamp, which will reportedly include an all-new interior.

The ’22 will carry over front and rear styling revised to mirror that of the Atlas Sport Cross, the slightly shorter, five-seat version of the Atlas launched for model-year 2019. The ’21 updates also paired the four-cylinder engine with AWD for the first time, lowering Atlas’s AWD entry point $1,300. And semi-autonomous driving capability was added, allowing partial hands-free driving.

The 2022 lineup will reprise a broad roster of specifically outfitted grades, with only a few stand-alone options. Four-cylinder Atlases should repeat five trim levels: S, SE, SE with Technology, SEL, and SEL Premium. V-6 models should again match that lineup – but without an entry-level S model and with sportier-trimmed R Line editions of the other grades. AWD should again be standard on SEL four-cylinder models and on all SEL Premiums and a $1,900 option otherwise.       

Will 2022 Volkswagen Atlas styling be different?

2021 Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

No. It’ll echo the original’s sober styling inside and out, a look the ’21 refresh did little to enliven. Still, Atlas’s clean lines reflect the German automaker’s understated approach. And the cabin is free of falderal that could compromise ergonomics. Nonetheless, reports that the 2024 Atlas will upgrade with classier interior materials and flashier infotainment tech suggest VW recognizes it must up its game against newer competitors, such as the impressive Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride.

Every ’22 Atlas will return with full LED headlamps, including LED highbeams. SEL- and SEL Premium-based models get enhanced-lumen, steering-linked headlights that turn up to 15 degrees to illuminate corners. R-Line trims will again stand out with a unique front bumper and air intakes, side skirts, and a glossy black rear diffusor.

Otherwise, trim-level differentiators should again run mostly to wheel size and design. Look for the S and SE to return with 18-inch alloys, SE with Technology and above with 20s, and SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line with 21s.

2021 Atlas third-row seat

The ’22 Atlas will continue among the largest midsize crossovers – and it gained 2.4 inches of length with the ’21 refresh. At 16.7 feet stem to stern, it’s long enough to strain some residential garages. That translates into generous passenger room and one of few third-row seats in the segment that comfortably accommodates adults – providing second-row occupants consent to slide their seats forward a bit and as long as tall third-rowers don’t mind sitting close to the floor, knees up.

Expect a 60/40 split/folding three-passenger second-row bench to again be standard. All but the S and SE models should remain eligible for a pair of second-row captain’s chairs, reducing seating capacity to six. For 2021, this was a $695 option. With either configuration, second-row seats are heavy and the release mechanism that tips them to provide third-row access is too cumbersome for use by small children.

The expected model-year-’24 revamp won’t alter Atlas’s interior dimensions but could well elevate cabin décor beyond the current model’s purposeful but prosaic look and feel.

2021 Atlas SEL Premium

The 2022 Atlas dashboard will again favor order over ostentation, its only wow factor the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit system standard on SEL models and above. This has a 10-inch thin-film-transistor (TFT) instrument cluster customizable to 21 viewing options, from basic gauges to vehicle and infotainment data and full-screen mapping on models with imbedded navigation. For ’22, imbedded navigation should again be standard starting with the SEL grade.

Volkswagen Digital Cockpit display

The ’24 updates could introduce a trendy tablet-like central infotainment touchscreen. Until then, Atlas’s display will be integrated with the dashboard. The ’22 S models will return with a 6.5-inch diameter screen, the other grades an 8-incher that seems unassuming against expansive landscape-oriented tablets on top rivals.

Both displays utilize a capacitive-touch sensor (as in smartphone and tablet technology) enabling swiping and pinch-zooming. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will again be standard. Every ’21 Atlas will return with two USB-C ports in the center console. On SE and above, they’re illuminated and accompanied by an additional charge-only port and two charge-only ports in the rear. SEs and above also will return with VW’s latest modular infotainment matrix (MIB3) infotainment system with wireless charging, wireless app connection, and multi-phone pairing that can switch between compatible devices.

Look for ’22 SE and SEL trims to again substitute leatherette for cloth upholstery and include a 10-way power driver’s seat. SEL models should return with driver’s-seat memory and an eight-way power passenger seat. All but the S model will again come with heated front seats.

2021 Atlas SEL Premium

SEL Premium grades, including the R-Line variant, should again be the only ’22 Atlas models with leather upholstery, heated-and-ventilated front seats, and heated second-row seats. The leather has contrasting stitching and is available with dual-tone panels. R-Line models get specific logos and accents, including stainless steel pedal caps. Ambient lighting is standard starting with the SEL grades.

Interior materials feel solid enough, padding is strategically applied to touch points, and controls move smoothly without exhibiting much character. Overall, the ’22 Atlas will continue an ambience refreshingly subdued to some, regressively somber to others.

All can agree that plenty of bins and pockets around the cabin and a huge rear compartment make carrying space a selling point. At 20.6 cubic feet behind the third row, 55.5 behind the second, and 96.8 with both folded, cargo volume should remain second in class only to the Chevrolet Traverse, the sole competitor longer than the Atlas. Look for a power tailgate to remain standard on all but the ’22 Atlas S, while the SE with Technology and higher trims again come with hands-free operation.

Any 2022 Volkswagen Atlas mechanical changes?

2021 Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

No. The entry-level engine will again be a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The returning six-cylinder option will remain a 3.6-liter with 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Both will again link to an eight-speed automatic transmission controlled solely by a center-console lever; steering-wheel paddle shifters aren’t available.  

Neither engine propels this hefty crossover with much gusto. The turbo four feels lazy away from a stop but thereafter makes a decent account of itself, summoning torque enough for adequate around-town throttle response and acceptable freeway merging and passing. Power delivery is more linear with the V-6 but like the turbo four the engine frequently feels as if it’s laboring against Atlas’s bulk. V-6 models add about 200 pounds and demand liberal use of the gas pedal to accelerate with any verve.

Both engines are available with VW’s 4Motion AWD. It continuously varies torque between the front and rear wheels, up to 50 percent to the rear. Under low load or when coasting, the rear wheels are decoupled to help to save fuel. A console rotary knob accesses On-road, Snow, Off-road, and Custom Off-road modes. Within the On-road setting, Normal, Sport, Comfort, and Individual modes customize powertrain response and steering effort. Off-road also activates Hill Descent Control on steep gradients to keep speed below 19 mph.

2021 Atlas 4Motion drive-mode controller

At 8 inches on all models, ground clearance is a shade above class average. But Atlas isn’t designed for serious off-roading. On road, its bulk is underscored by languid steering response and noticeable body lean in turns, with noseplow evident as cornering speeds increase. 4Motion adds brake-based vectoring, but sharp reactions in quick changes of direction are not in the repertoire.

Atlas does feel vault solid. Beyond doors closing with a reassuring “thunk,” that helps it fend off most pavement imperfections before impacts reach the cabin – at least with the 18-inch wheels and tires and, most of the time, with the 20s. It’s a strong argument that the ‘21s on SEL R-Line and SEL Premium R-Line degrade the ride sufficiently to outweigh any benefits to style or grip in turns.    

Will 2022 Volkswagen Atlas fuel economy improve?

2021 Atlas SEL

With no changes to powertrains, expect 2022 Atlas EPA ratings to repeat those for the ’21 model. That would keep Atlases with the four-cylinder engine among the top rated in the three-seating-row competitive set – and maintain V-6 versions below average for rivals of similar power.

Look for 2022 Atlases with the four-cylinder engine to return at 21/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and at 20/24,22 mpg with AWD. V-6 versions should repeat at 17/23/19 with front-drive and at 16/22/19 with AWD.

Incidentally, VW tunes the V-6 for regular-octane gas but notes that the turbo four-cylinder won’t make its full rated horsepower and torque without using more expensive premium-octane fuel.

Will there be new 2022 Volkswagen Atlas features?

2021 Atlas wireless charger

Probably not, after VW fleshed-out Atlas’s feature set with mid-model-year-2021 updates that included semi-autonomous driving and the MIB3 software.

VW calls the autonomous-driving aid Travel Assist. It should return as standard on all but the S model. It works up to 95 mph to automatically help steer, accelerate, and slow the Atlas in response to lane markings and other traffic. It operates only while the driver maintains contact with the steering wheel. The system can also detect a safe lane change and execute it with activation of the turn signal.

Every ’22 Atlas will return with autonomous emergency breaking designed to stop it automatically to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. This system works below 18 mph. Also remaining standard across the board will be blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection with autonomous rear braking. SEL models and above should also return with lane-maintaining automatic steering correction.

We’d suggest VW expand availability of adaptive cruise control; top rivals include this useful feature as standard across their lineups. On the ’21 Atlas, it was standard starting at the SE with Technology Package grade. It maintains a set distance from traffic ahead, even bringing the crossover to a stop in bumper-to-bumper crawls. Automatic headlamps and rain- sensing windshield wipers should again be standard across the board, with SE models and above adding dynamic guidelines to the standard rearview camera and SEL Premium and Premium R-Line getting a 360-degree overhead view.

In addition to features already addressed, 2022 Atlas models with imbedded navigation should again be eligible for VW’s Car-Net mobile app that allows remote smartphone control of door locking and monitoring of fuel level and window status. Owners with an Alexa-enabled device can send remote commands, such as “Alexa, ask Car-Net to honk my horn.” It can send off-street parking availability to the nav screen. And it can notify owners when the crossover has traveled outside a preset virtual boundary, is driven after a preset curfew, or driven more than 0.2 miles from a valet drop-off. Car-Net Hotspot allows four connected devices to access the internet simultaneously.

2021 Atlas second-row captain’s chairs

Expect the limited list of options to again include the aforementioned second-row captain’s chairs, plus, for V-6 models, a $550 towing package that increases the trailer-pulling limit to 5,000 pounds, from 2,000. A panoramic moonroof with an opening front panel and a power sunshade should return as standard on SEL and SEL Premium models and as a $1,200 option for SE with Technology models.

Among other features of note, all models except the S should return with tri-zone automatic climate control; SEL and above with a heated steering wheel, and SEL Premiums with a Fender-branded audio upgrade. 

Will 2022 Volkswagen Atlas prices be different?

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium R-Line

They’ll almost certainly increase; figure several hundred dollars. But the ’22 Atlas should remain price-competitive with direct rivals equipped similarly.

For reference, here are 2022 Atlas base-price estimates, including VW’s destination fee, which was $1,195 for model-year 2021. And since the majority of midsize crossovers are purchased with AWD, these estimates are for 4Motion Atlas models. Deduct $1,900 for front-drive on models where AWD isn’t expected to remain standard: the four-cylinder SEL and all SEL Premium grades, including the R-Line.

For 2022 Atlas models equipped with the four-cylinder engine and AWD, an estimated base-price range is $35,000-$48,750. Within that, look for the popular SE with Technology to start around $40,350.

For ’22 Atlases equipped with the V-6 and AWD, an estimated base-price range is $42,000 for the entry-level SE with Technology package to $52,300 for the SEL Premium R-Line.   

When does the 2022 Volkswagen Atlas come out?

2021 Atlas SEL

Expect a 2022 Volkswagen Atlas release date in the third quarter of 2021.

Best 2022 Volkswagen Atlas competitors

Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Sorento and Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]