Literary critic Susan Sontag wrote the primer on Camp. She says Camp is relishing in style for style’s sake, deliberately artificial, too much to be real.
VW’s Basecamp treatment (dealer-installed) lets you decide whether you’ll cross the line from camp to Sontag’s Camp, akin to turning Barbie’s Ken into GI’s Joe. The fee for going Basecamp varies—about $4,500 as tested. Less for just the Basecamp bumper bits.
Air Design USA dresses the bumper inserts and body cladding with the now cliché mountain/mesa cliche graphics. VW supplies a new grille flanked by new-smaller IQ.Light (LED matrix) headlamps. Fake exhaust outlets embellish the rear.
For shoes, try: Fifteen 52’s 17-inch special alloy wheels. Clad with Continental tires, the Atlas nails everyday driving ease. There’s better dry-road road sense then you’d expect.
Basecamp is all show, no meaningful mechanical upgrades. VW recommends a trailer kit, though. Go full Basecamp and you get special fender badges. As such, the Atlas doesn’t seem as outrageous or corny as Disco-era Camp: opera windows, hood ornaments and padded vinyl roofs.
The 2021 Atlas’ forte is its voluminous interior. All seven perches in VW’s chariot are adult-sized, although the well-stuffed aft folding chairs are slab-like. The middle-split row kneels for third-row access. VW snubs the driver—no overhead grab handle.
From the driver’s throne, notice VW’s newly minted steering wheel, fresh logo and fancy switchgear. Lots of buttons are gerrymandered into the hub or spokes. While some are awkwardly shaped, their elevations help you manipulate them by feel. For toasty hands, click the steering wheel’s heat button.
In SEL trim, you get VW’s Digital Cockpit and other items poached from VW’s passenger cars. These look out of scale. But you can configure gauges to suit.
While video Cockpit is chic, the dashboard and door panel inserts are plastic-icky—unacceptable when the MSRP with Basecamp finery tops $50K. At night, LED ambient lighting, strung from the dashboard into the doors, adds interest. And VW’s contrasting stitching on seats and door panels lighten the noirish interior.
A knob lets you customize the 4Motion driveline. Plus, you adjust the ID Drive’s level of intervention—a now mostly standard driver-assist pack. On a dry highways, the Atlas has nicely weighted steering and some road sense. Expect modest wind rush, good ride damping but some suspension pounding. Body roll is obvious. The Atlas’ size makes tight maneuvers difficult. Parking aids, in contrast, are helpful.
In the go department, the 3.6-liter V-6 narrow-angle mill mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission is adequate. It hums pleasantly and eked out 17 mpg during wintry weather. A start/stop feature reduces idling.
Loading via the easy-open liftgate requires a stretch beyond the bumper. All aft seats fold flat for generous luggage space. Should you want to stow and go in a brawny poser, head to your VW dealer for an Atlas. The parts department has Basecamp accessories.