Old Volkswagens are known as excellent camping vehicles. Westfalias! Type 2s! Fear not, for Volkswagen finally made another big VW worth camping in, at least for one or two: the new Atlas. I slept in it over the 24 Hours of Lemons weekend at Buttonwillow. And it actually ruled.
[Full disclosure: Volkswagen wanted us to drive the Atlas so much that they left one with a full tank of gas in Los Angeles for us to tow a Volkswagen race car home with. Because, well: yo dawg, I heard you like Volkswagens.]
The Atlas falls into that sweet spot of “tow vehicles for people who hate tow vehicles.” It tows just enough to be happy with an open trailer and a relatively light race car: 5,000 lbs. If you don’t want to feel that trailer much at all behind you, you should probably just get a Silverado or a like pickup.
But if most of the tow vehicle’s life will be spent driving around town, you’d be much happier putting up with a slower tow over mountain passes for a couple days a year in order to have something that’s easier to park and maneuver for a good 80 percent of its life.
There’s an added benefit to getting something with a big, covered storage area: you can sleep in it. Not in the bed, not on top of it, but inside, semi-sheltered from the elements. It’s like having a built-in metal tent in case, for example, the person with the tent arrives later.
Best of all, it costs way less to just pay the track a small camping fee (if they even have one) than it does to get a hotel room when. After all, hotels know—they always know—there’s a big track weekend eating up all the rooms nearby and often jack up prices accordingly.
After arriving really late and extra jet lagged Friday night to Buttonwillow Raceway, I popped down the third row of seats and curled up in the back with a sleeping bag. I didn’t want to leave the car on, either, for both safety concerns as well as the fact that the Atlas lights up like a Christmas tree when it’s on by default, and I came in well after most of the paddock was asleep.
I left the mesh rear sunscreens up but opened the rear windows to get some air flowing through the car. I’m sure you could tarp it over or use the flip-up rear hatch if it’s wet out, but fortunately, it was nice and clear both nights.
Opening the truck for air unfortunately lets Buttonwillow’s myriad flies through, but it has the nice benefit of not letting you die in your sleep. Shining my phone’s flashlight at the side of the Atlas’ beige interior kept the flies distracted enough with a bright spot away from me as I tinkered with my phone before nodding off.
I had to fit the inflatable sleeping pad in diagonally and fold it up a little at the top to fit, but given that I had forgotten to buy a pillow and was using a pile of stuffed animals I’d brought for the occasion of a Lemons race to support my head, I appreciated the extra padding.
To be honest, I left the second row up because I was too tired to look for the switch to fold those seats flat. The third row easily folds down by pulling the handle on top of each seat. The space technically works for one small-ish person (I’m 5'4"), but it was cramped. I slept curled up on my side and couldn’t stretch my legs out, but it worked in a pinch.
The next day, I bought a pillow, some Off! for the flies, and folded down the middle row, which folds flat using the handles to the side of each half of the bench. To allow easy access to the third row, the handles on top of the row move the seats forward and fold them over partially. But they do fold flat ridiculously easy.
This was outdoor sleeping heaven. I was now laying forward enough to where I could enjoy the stars through the panoramic sunroof, which were bright enough at Buttonwillow to sometimes peek through the tinted glass. The rear windows were also above my face, too, which was great for taking advantage of the breeze of yet another clear fall night. I could lay my entire sleeping pad, bag and pillow lengthwise in the back comfortably with ample room to spare.
There’s enough space that I’m sure you could figure out how to fill all three rows with children back there if you so desired. But if you would rather spend cash on race cars than condoms and/or rugrats, you can certainly just sleep well in the back of an Atlas. Another person probably would’ve fit easily in the other side, but I didn’t try it.
Placing an alarm in either configuration was easy, too, given the insane number of little cubbyholes in the Atlas’ sides. My phone rattled and echoed against a plastic bin next to my head when it was time to wake up. It worked perfectly. I put the keys in the same bin, making getting up and out of the car in the morning easy.
I woke up Saturday morning almost too comfortable to move. There was a slight nip in the air and I was all bundled up and cozy in my sleeping bag. I stretched out and kept procrastinating the act of wearing real pants. But it worked! Not only can you sleep in a Volkswagen, you can sleep absurdly well back there.
Best of all, there was no need to drive in to the track, or even move the truck. I was already there. When you’re trying to keep an older Volkswagen running in a race for hours at a time, that extra half-hour of sleep that would otherwise be spent driving is greatly appreciated.