Our Volkswagen Atlas SE and the Turning Mystery – Long-Term Update 4 Review

Nothing frustrates me more on a daily basis than our long-term Volkswagen Atlas’ turning circle. I realize it sounds like a minor data point, but you’d be shocked by how much it affects the driving experience. Whether it be executing a U-turn in the middle of an intersection or just trying to park in a crowded parking lot, our Atlas needs a monumental amount of room to get facing in the opposite direction—46.35 feet of room, to be precise, and if that seems like an oddly specific number, it’s because I asked our testing genius Kim Reynolds to throw his GPS testing gear on and verify my opinion that it is really bad. (The official number from Volkswagen is 38.1 feet.)

Read more about our long-term 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SE:

  • Arrival
  • Update 1: Tire Killer!
  • Update 2: Design and Packaging
  • 6 Three-Row SUVs With Less Cargo Space Than the Volkswagen Atlas
  • Update 3: Mileage and Range

So what brought on this desire for scientific analysis of the problem? Driving a different Atlas. I recently had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion, and to my surprise, the turning circle was significantly better—5.49 feet better when we strapped on the test gear, giving it a turning circle of 40.86 feet.

Driving the two Atlases back to back, the difference was clear. But why would an all-wheel-drive version of the same car (with 20-inch wheels, 2 inches larger than our long-termer) out-turn my daily driver? I decided to go straight to the source and posed the question to the Volkswagen USA PR representative. “I had Engineering in Chattanooga look at three cars, and there was no more than 3 inches of difference, which was down to 18- versus 20-inch wheels and tires,” the rep said. They then implied that it might be something wrong with the Atlas and that we should bring it in to be serviced. So I did. Twice. Our long-term Atlas has been in for service twice since we tested the two Atlases, and on both occasions, I asked the service department to look into the turning circle problem, even suggesting that they drive another Atlas on the lot as a comparison. Both times the answer was that they could not find anything wrong and that the vehicle was functioning properly.

My next course of action will be to bring our long-termer into a different dealership and pose the same question to a different service department. We’ll see if they come up with a different answer and address the issue. Until then, I’ll continue to curse every time I have to make a frantic, multipoint U-turn in a busy intersection.

Not only did the Atlas SEL 4Motion have a better turning circle than our SE long-termer (pictured), it actually drove nicer and felt more buttoned down on rough roads.

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