CHICAGO — When it arrives in dealerships in late spring, Volkswagen's freshened 2021 Atlas three-row crossover will boast sharper exterior styling, but the biggest changes will come in an upgraded infotainment system that picks up some fancy tricks.
The 2021 Atlas is the first product to benefit from Volkswagen's new, shorter product cycle that the German brand will employ to keep its U.S. vehicles fresh. The refresh is a full year ahead of the brand's previous product cadence and comes amid continued strong sales for the 3-year-old Atlas.
The freshened crossover, which Volkswagen debuted Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, features an edgier front facade and updated LED lighting front and rear on all trim levels.
The Atlas will be available with a choice of two engines — a 276-hp V-6 or a 235-hp turbocharged inline-four — mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional with either powertrain. The previous version limited the inline-four to lower trim levels and did not offer awd with the smaller displacement engine.
Inside, the three-row crossover's Car-Net infotainment system features many upgrades, including new app-based functionality — such as the ability to use the vehicle as a safe place to receive and store delivered packages.
The infotainment system allows remote access to the vehicle via smartphone, enabling users to turn the engine on or off, lock or unlock the doors, honk the horn and flash the lights. The app also shows the vehicle's location when parked and can provide remote information on fuel level, odometer reading and whether the doors and windows are open or closed.
The Car-Net system will allow consumers to contract directly with their mobile carrier to add 4G LTE service to their vehicle through their data plan, much as they might add another smartphone line. Doing so enables the vehicle to serve as a mobile hot spot, and it eventually will allow streaming entertainment into the vehicle. Volkswagen has an initial agreement through Verizon Wireless to enable the feature, but it is working with other carriers to broaden service in the U.S.
Volkswagen also will enable customers to enroll in a driving-monitor program to potentially save money on insurance. The DriveView feature, similar to programs operated by many insurance carriers that use dongles attached to a vehicle's OBD-II port, passively tracks hard braking, excess speed, night driving and other risk factors to create an overall driving score that is visible within the mobile app. That score can be used to secure potentially lower insurance rates through the app. Customers must actively choose to participate in the monitoring, and driving score information is not transmitted from those who don't opt in.
In terms of added safety, the 2021 Atlas will feature new driver-assistance features, including Traffic Jam Assist, which uses lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control to aid drivers during low-speed, heavy-traffic situations.
Volkswagen will also offer an optional $99-per-year feature it calls Safe & Secure, which provides emergency roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location, anti-theft alerts, automatic crash notifications and live information assistance through a call center.