Road. Atlas. The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium

You've probably seen the headlines---the entire West Coast was under a blanket of thick, choking smoke the first two and a half weeks of September. Not just ugly, not just a little smelly---hazardous to your health stuff. Plus, here in the Sacramento Metro area, the daytime highs were in the 105-111 degree range.

Enough. For Labor Day weekend (Friday through Tuesday, in our case) my wife and I decided to take a socially-distanced, COVID-responsible trip the hell outta town---to Monterey. Yes, they had smoke too, but less thick and less hazardous, thanks to the Pacific Ocean. And 75-81 degrees beats the daylights out of 105-111.

Folsom to Monterey (courtesy Google Maps)

That entailed a hotel that not only sanitizes its rooms, but allows the rooms to stay vacant for 72 hours before a new guest checks in, physically-distanced outdoor dining or take-out and mask wearing on public streets. Check, check, check and check.

By chance, we had the perfect vehicle already in the driveway---the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium. It's been refreshed for 2021, with new front and rear fascias that add almost three inches in length to the vehicle.

With its 18.6-gallon fuel tank, we'd get to Monterey with a quarter-tank to spare, and fill up just once (holding the gas pump nozzle with antibacterial wipes) for driving around Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur and then top off the same way before the trip home.

Under the hood is a 3.6-liter, 24-valve dual overhead cam V6 engine with direct fuel injection. It makes 276 horsepower, which gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic and VW's 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. EPA fuel economy average is 16 miles per gallon city and 22 highway. That highway number seems right on the money from our 643 miles of mostly highway driving.

The Atlas is comfortable, composed, smooth and has more than adequate power. Road trips are absolutely its strong suit.

The base price of the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium is $48,995. The window sticker is at the bottom of this review so you can see the full list, but among the standard features for that price are 20-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof, three-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation, VW's Digital Cockpit and a Fender premium audio system with center speaker and subwoofer.

The only extra-cost option on our tester was the second-row captain's chairs package, for $695. So, with $1,020 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium is $50,710.

The Atlas has always impressed us in a quiet way. It's by no means the flashiest SUV on the market. But there's a quiet, dignified competence to it. And its road manners are impeccable. If you can love a vehicle after a 600-plus-mile spur-of-the-moment roundtrip, you've got a keeper. The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium is just that good.

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