A bout thirty minutes beyond the San Antonio airport the Texan landscape opens into rolling hills dotted with the occasional strip mall and, somewhat surprisingly, a nearly completed Ferrari dealership. But I’m not seeing 488s on the open road, and I’m definitely not seeing California T’s (mention my home turf and most native Texans will launch robotically into a list of their state’s superior attributes). Instead, San Antonio is a land of big-boned SUVs, a place where bigger is still better in the family-hauler segment, and the only thing more beloved than a seven seater with leather is a full-sized pick-up truck. So my presence here reveals intent— this is exactly the kind of place that the new VW Teramont (the artist formerly known as Atlas) is meant to tackle. Why Teramont? Well, because it starts with a T like all the other VW SUVs, of course. But then why is it called Atlas in the US? Because America is insane... ’nuff said.
The Teramont/Atlas is part of VW’s mounting campaign for global domination. Yes, the TDI fiasco has been, er, a bit of a setback for our sole inhabitable planet, but Wolfsburg finished licking its wounds long ago and returned licking its collective chops at the juicy sirloin of North American market share. The Touareg, it seems, just wasn’t going to cut it. Too round, too European, looked too much like it had free healthcare. Which isn’t to say the Teramont is simply a Detroit knock-off — that wouldn’t reflect the complete picture either. Instead, the profile of this US-designed-and-built VW looks a good bit like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Honda Pilot, and the GMC Acadia and… probably some other popular SUV. You might wonder: has some highly employable car designer been switching jobs every fortnight? No, instead manufacturers are paying a lot of attention to focus groups, while keeping a keen eye on what sells. The result isn’t exactly groupthink per se, but the mid-sized (large in any sane country) SUV segment has become rather tightly grouped in price, appearance and overall quality. This is a good thing, as consumers have many viable choices and the Teramont adds to the equation.
The Teramont is, like so many of its competitors, a kind of proxy for home and hearth. These are vehicles for big families and/or big posses. Inside, the cabin feels quite open and VW has made good use of ergonomic solutions to the challenges inherent to getting in and out of such a beast. Third-row access is afforded by a clever folding seat solution that still manages to function with child seats installed in the second row. Yes, something like the Expedition is even more spacious, but like the Teramont itself, not intended for every market. So consider yourself lucky that the Teramont is bringing its big-boned comfort your way, it’s a capable SUV with VW’s signature design aesthetic, albeit in the more muted tones that define this car and its US-made sibling; the Passat.
Much like the Passat the Teramont feels just premium enough— it’s not fancy and, where the top trim Touareg might have nipped at cousin Audi’s heels, the Teramont leaves the gap between itself and luxury levels of refinement a tad wider. Which is not to say that this car isn’t available with bells and whistles— the SEL trim edition comes decked out with loads of driver-assist features. Step up to the V6, AWD SEL Premium and you get leather, a melodious 12-speaker Fender audio system, cooled front seats and heated second-row seats (but who cares), 20in wheels, and VW’s Virtual Display… which works a lot like Audio Virtual Cockpit, only with a smaller view. The various displays are crisp and configurable, without being distracting.
There was a time when transportation and Silicon Valley were barely speaking, but that age is at its nadir. Cars become increasingly teched out each year and VW is the sort of brand that seems loathe to offer too few transistors (or LEDs, note the W shape illuminating the Teramont’s front end). The car offers a host of driver-assistance features, including Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC); Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist); Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert; Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist), which actively helps the driver steer the car back into its lane; and Parking Steering Assistant (Park Assist).
According to Wolfsburg (or maybe that should read Chattanooga?) Teramont is the only vehicle in its class to offer Automatic Post-Collision Braking, which wrests control of ABS to maximise stopping power when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, halting the car more efficiently than analog machines like you or I can. In theory this will help limit the likelihood of additional impacts in the case of an accident while minimising initial damage, but I’m not willing to test it for you.
The Teramont isn’t screamingly fast, but it isn’t too thirsty at the pump either, depending on what you’re used to. This V-dub is good for EPA combined fuel economy of 11.7 litres per 100km, while accommodating towing capacity of up to 2,267kg. Actually, those are the specs as tested with the 3.6-litre VR6 engine producing 276 horsepower — VW also offers a 2.0-litre turbocharged and direct-injection TSI four cylinder with 235 horsepower. Power is delivered to the wheels via an eight-speed transmission to help maximise engine efficiency and the VR6 iteration of the Teramont can be ordered either as front-wheel drive or with available 4Motion all-wheel drive. The power steering has a nice responsive feel, and the ride quality is quite smooth: The front-suspension struts isolate potholes well, and the rear multilink suspension is extremely forgiving. Out on the road the Teramont feels both poised and comfortable. Take on the winding climbs of the Hajars and this SUV will afford you respectably responsive handling and minimal body roll. The car isn’t going to replace the many super SUVs on tap in the GCC market, nor is it meant to, but it meets all the criteria for an enjoyable daily driver if your brain isn’t already completely torque addled.
But much like the sportier SUVs out there, the Teramont doesn’t care if you’re home for dinner on time (despite decent horsepower to get you there quick) or whether you’ve remembered to take out the trash — it’s not a nagging nanny in its interventions. The SUV feels game for whatever you throw at it, swinging through the winding roads beyond San Antonio like a heavyweight boxer with middleweight dexterity. It’s a fun SUV to inhabit, and one that holds up well against other offerings on this very robust segment.
Like many big SUVs, once you get going the Teramont probably feels faster than it is. Which only matters if you’re actually racing or just obsessed with specs. I mean, it isn’t exactly slow, handling the 0-100kph sprint in an estimated 8.0 seconds, which is OK; it’s just that it feels a tad faster, probably because, despite its weight, the car doesn’t feel heavy in the turns. Maybe it’s just me, and human perception is limited after all. Anecdotally, while I know that the Veyron is faster, the experience of launch control in a Carrera S is experientially so close that I’m not sure I’d be able to judge it accurately without proper testing. But confirmation bias is a powerful thing, so how you experience the Teramont, or the 911 for that matter, depends a lot on what you already think of each car. Not that the SUV has much in common with the Carrera S.
Measuring 5,037mm long, 1,989mm wide, and 1,770mm high, the Teramont is the largest VW on sale in the US. To get to that size, VW stretched its highly adaptable MQB platform to take the SUV to, er, mid-size territory. Anywhere else the seven seater would be a full-size SUV, but much like the Middle East, there are plenty of super-sized rides on the roads here in Texas. Still, as we wend our way back to the resort, I’m seeing a lot of more forgivingly sized family vehicles in the Lone Star state, rides like the Grand Cherokee, Acadia, and Highlander.
Throughout my brief tour of America’s most self-obsessed state, the Teramont felt balanced and responsive, offering the kind of planted, agile driving dynamics that were perfected in Europe, even if the rest of the world has caught up. And depending on how you feel about ESP, this might be despite the fact that Teramont’s stability control system, in a testament to VW’s faith in the relatively unobtrusive technology, is always on. I do wonder though, if a stability control defeat switch might be handy on ice? I suppose they’ve thought of that. The SUV mitigates body roll and grips the road nicely, evincing a nice blend of personality and practicality. No one is going to buy this ride based on performance alone, but then perhaps that’s the point of pushing the sportier upgrades towards Audi in those markets where Teramont is sold. The car has so much more going for it in its price point, and that’s what VW ostensibly wants you to notice. Put another way, Teramont owners might have their doors blown off by the occasional Cayenne — but they’ll have the comfort of a much more humane cash outlay and, for many buyers (me for one) that’s a critical consideration.
Not that I’d turn my nose up at a Cayenne — if anyone’s keen on lending me one I’ll gladly take delivery any time. Same goes for the Teramont.