For decades, Volkswagen’s European-designed vehicles served the company well in the American market. But the onset of the SUV craze at the start of the century left the German automaker flat-footed. One of the answers to this challenge was the three-row Atlas. If you’re considering a used version, you’ll need to know the most reliable Volkswagen Atlas years.
Keep reading, as we explore the answer to this question. We’ll look primarily at engine and transmission dependability to determine which Atlas model years are worth buying, and which editions are best left in someone else’s driveway. In addition, we’ll also consider other areas (like electrical) that could prove troublesome.
The Atlas has only been available since 2018, so there aren’t many model years to choose from. But, if you want a quick look at what to buy, focus on the 2020, 2022, and 2023 model years. Keep reading, and you’ll learn why you’ll want to stay away from the 2018, 2019, and 2021 Volkswagen Atlas.
Model Year Overview: Most Reliable Volkswagen Atlas Years
Let’s check out each model year of the Volkswagen Atlas. We’ll explore published data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), carcomplaints.com, and Consumer Reports to determine the reliability of these VWs.
2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: Run away from this one
It’s never a good idea to buy the first year of an all-new vehicle; owners of these cars are vulnerable to gremlins and growing pains. And there’s no reason to think differently with the 2018 Atlas. We’ll be brutally honest; this model year is about as bad as it gets.
Its dubious record begins with being the most complained about Atlas model year, according to carcomplaints.com. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports gives the 2018 Atlas a 1 (out of 5) for reliability, the organization’s lowest rating.
FEEL SECURE IN THE CAR YOU CHOOSE
You don’t want to buy a car - you want to get the best deal on the car you’re looking for. The CoPilot app will notify you if there’s a similar vehicle in your area at a better price, so you’re always certain you got the best deal available.
If that’s not enough for you to look elsewhere, consider that this model year has more complaints on file with NHTSA than any other Atlas version. Many of these issues involve the engine or powertrain, which is never a good sign.
To make matters worse, the company issued a rare do-not-drive order and recall in 2018 for this model year. The problem centered on potential brake failure. And while repairs can correct the situation, a recall like this is a warning sign that this edition of the Atlas has its share of problems.
Before buying any used car, always use the NHTSA website to check a vehicle’s recall status.
2019 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: It still has problems
Often, first-year bugs of a new vehicle are eliminated by the second year, but we don’t see that being the case with the 2019 Atlas. It still gets a thumbs down (1 out of 5) for reliability from Consumer Reports. Owner reports submitted to carcomplaints.com dropped, but there are still worrisome issues involving the engine and drivetrain.
But what’s telling is the number of complaints submitted to NHTSA about the 2019 Atlas. It’s close to the amount generated for the 2018 model year. That hints that problems haven’t gone away.
To date, there are ten recalls for the 2019 Atlas. While less than the 16 issued for the 2018 edition, troubles like a leaking fuel tank and bad suspension coils are clear indicators of poor quality control.
2020 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: A definite buy
Whatever Volkswagen did to turn around the reliability issue with the Atlas occurred for the 2020 model year. It’s hard to believe this Atlas is the successor to the previous trouble-filled editions. Complaints are down significantly, including by an astounding 95% with NHTSA. The number of recalls is also way down (to four), and none of these issues involve critical components like the powertrain.
Clearly, 2020 is among the most reliable Volkswagen Atlas years.
THE VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS YEARS TO AVOID
We take a deep dive into the worst Volkswagen Atlas years to avoid, discuss their issues, and select the ones you can safely buy as used. Let’s get to it.
2021 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: Not the one
Just when it seems that Volkswagen had its Atlas problems ironed out comes the 2021 moel year. It has the unfortunate distinction of receiving another do-not-drive order and recall. This time, the problem involves the potential for a loss of steering. Again, this issue can be fixed, but it causes us to think twice about this edition.
A significant increase (up by 1430%) in owner reports filed with NHTSA is equally eye-opening. And while some of the complaints involve the engine, an even greater number center on the electrical system, which can be especially tricky to diagnose and repair.
On the other hand, Consumer Reports assigns a mid-tier 3 (out of 5) reliability rating for the 2021 Atlas. That’s not stellar, but it’s not a thumbs-down, either. But don’t be confused by these mixed messages. This vehicle has 16 recalls, including a do-not-drive order (for the steering, like the 2020 Atlas). That’s enough for us to recommend against buying the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas.
AI-ASSISTED CAR SHOPPING
Never miss out on the best car, never overpay, and never get taken advantage of. Download the CoPilot app to see the magic of AI-assisted car shopping.
2022 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: Worth checking out
The rollercoaster of the most reliable Volkswagen Atlas years rises to the positive with the 2022 edition. NHTSA-filed complaints are down significantly, and the reports are spread among several different areas, meaning there doesn’t appear to be a pattern of specific problems. And “only” six recalls for this Atlas is encouraging (compared to some previous years).
However, we’ll point out that one of the recalls involves a defective engine connecting rod, which is a potentially serious issue. Do your research to confirm that any 2020 Atlas under consideration is not subject to the recall or that the matter has been corrected (with a replacement engine).
2023 Volkswagen Atlas
Reliability Ruling: Another thumbs up
The 2023 Volkswagen Atlas is basically a copy and paste of its predecessor, the 2022 model year. There are few owner reports, and none identify any problematic patterns.
Recalls are modest, too. There are only three recalls to worry about, but one covers the bad connecting rod that plagued the 2022 model year. Again, ensure this issue doesn’t apply or has been resolved before buying a 2023 Atlas.
Get a Curated List of the Best Used Cars Near You
The CoPilot car shopping app is the easiest way to buy a car. Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll search the inventories of every dealership in your area to make you a personalized list of the best car listings in your area.
Only looking for newer models? CoPilot Compare is the search engine for nearly-new cars. Only see cars five years or newer with low mileage — CoPilot Compare is the best way to find off-lease, early trade-in, and CPO cars.
The best part? CoPilot is built using the same technology that dealerships use to buy and sell their inventories, so we have more info on each vehicle than competitors. CoPilot doesn’t work with dealerships, so there are no sponsored posts or other shady practices — just the most info on the best cars. Check out our About Us page to see how CoPilot works.