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2022 Ford Explorer vs Volkswagen Atlas

2022 Ford Explorer vs Volkswagen Atlas

2022 Explorer vs Atlas - How Do They Stack Up? Which is Better?

Browsing around for a new SUV to add to your garage and accommodate your growing family? Sure, picking out a sedan is a whole lot easier thanks to how small that segment has become. But an SUV? Man, times sure have changed, and SUVs absolutely dominate the auto market in 2022. Everyone who wants one can find one, even if they already own one and are looking for a second vehicle. And, if you've added a child or two to your family since your last vehicle purchase, going up to an SUV might be just the route you need to take.

But SUVs are expensive and highly competitive with one another. That's why you will hear their manufacturers talking about all these fancy-schmancy new gadgets they're adding to their vehicles to get them to sell. Years ago, word-of-mouth and a brief test-drive might've felt like enough to sell you on a new vehicle, but in today's world, you need to do a lot of research to know exactly what to expect from an SUV like the 2022 Ford Explorer or 2022 Volkswagen (VW, as we will refer to it from here on out) Atlas.

The Explorer is one of Ford's most versatile autos, as it slides in between the mid-size five-seating Ford Edge and the much larger Ford Expedition. The Explorer offers three rows of seats to accommodate growing families or the friends your kids ask you to haul around on a regular basis. You can take your pick from any of the engines in the line-up and receive ample get-up-and-go power. Also, its rear-wheel drive (RWD) configuration lends to enhanced max towing and hauling capabilities. With enough room in the cargo area to fit a bunch of camping gear or all your kids' sports items, you can make good use of a vehicle like this. Too bad the Explorer struggles with exterior noise and the quality of its interior materials. Also, it gets downright expensive as you go up in trims and add on optional packages.

The Atlas is another mid-size third-row crossover SUV to consider, presenting its buyers with a user-oriented interior layout and plenty of space for occupants who are seated in any of its rows. The suspension strikes a good balance between comfort and sharp handling capabilities, making it rather pleasant as a daily driver. What holds it back, though, is tepid acceleration from the power generated by the base or V6 engines. They also do not yield quite so strong of fuel economies as their competitors.

So, how exactly do the 2022 Ford Explorer and 2022 VW Atlas stack up against one another? Does one present you with a better overall deal? It is time to find out.

The Powertrain

A good powertrain can make your driving experience a joyful one, but a crummy one sure does make for a lousy go of things. The 2022 Ford Explorer offers a series of powertrains that are all capable performers. You can start off with the base turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque and gets paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive (AWD) is an option. Upgrading to the mid-level ST trim level gets you a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that is good for 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. A sport suspension gets tacked onto that. There is an even more high-powered turbo V6 available on the King Ranch, and there are two hybrid models: the Limited Hybrid and Platinum Hybrid models.

Acceleration and handling are well balanced on the Explorer, offering plenty of road grip and a light, spritely nature that helps it round through curves a lot more easily than other vehicles its size. The turbo 4-cylinder is able to outpace a lot of its competitors, and the turbo V6 is insanely powerful. The 10-speed transmission does a lot of the leg work, sending uninterrupted power flowing to the rear or all four wheels of this big vehicle. The only time it might feel a bit indecisive about the gears is when you are stuck in slow-moving city traffic. It is, however, a delight on the open road.

It is also not terrible on fuel. The EPA estimates have it at 24 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving on the RWD-equipped turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. That's going to be about 1-2 mpg better than anything else in this segment. However, real world tests put it slightly lower at about 21-22 mpg combined, thereby putting it more in line with its competitors. It certainly isn't lingering at the bottom of the oil barrel, that's for sure.

Now, about the 2022 VW Atlas. You get two powertrain options to choose from. On the base SE, SE with Technology, and SEL trim levels, there is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates a power output of 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard while AWD is an option on any of them. If you want something more powerful, a 3.6-liter V6 engine is equipped on the SE with Technology and all of the SEL iterations. This engine makes 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It is worth noting that the V6 models come with a 5,000-pound max towing capacity.

The V6 delivers decent acceleration but quickly runs out of steam once you reach highway speeds. This engine needs about 8.5 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph, but the base 4-cylinder only requires about 8.1 seconds, which is quite stupefying, really. You'd think it would be the other way around, but the 4-cyl is a bit snappier on the uptake. Despite its hulking size, the Atlas is able to maneuver well through tight parking lots and along narrow urban streets. It remains composed and doesn't exhibit much in the way of body roll.

While it doesn't stack up to lead rivals in terms of fuel economy, the Atlas does an okay job. The 4-cyl is obviously less thirsty than the V6, which is EPA rated for 22 mpg in combined driving when you have AWD equipped. Real-world tests put the number at about 23.5 mpg, which shows these estimates to be accurate enough. It does make out a bit better than the Explorer.

Drivability

What makes a vehicle a delight or a dud to drive? Drivability is a term we use to assess that, taking into consideration factors like comfort level, interior design and quality of build, functionality of the included technology, and the utility of its design - especially when it comes to cargo space (and more especially in this segment). When combined together, these factors can help you - the buyer - determine whether to purchase or pass on a particular vehicle. Sounds easy, right? Well, perhaps not so much in this highly competitive segment.

The 2022 Ford Explorer has a lot to offer to the right buyer. What makes it drivable, though? The front seats are comfy and well sculpted, but you might not want the optional ones that have the massage function built in. The massager feels like it is being rammed into your back while not in use, which makes the seats less comfortable than they are otherwise. Some road imperfections are felt more in this SUV than they are in others, and seat comfort diminishes as you move toward the back two rows. The climate control system requires you to make more manual adjustments than it realistically should, and engine and wind noise become quite obvious at highway speeds.

The Explorer's interior isn't a total loss by any means. There is a good amount of outward visibility from where you plop down in the driver's seat, and the seat itself offers enough adjustability. The big side mirrors and glass window panes help quite a bit. However, knee and leg space in the middle room is limited, and the third row is too cramped for adults to comfortably sit. The power-folding function for the third row is handy, sure, but you will have to accommodate passengers with it by going into the hatch to use it.

Technology is also something of a mixed bag on the Explorer. You get a standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with the accompanying Sync 3 system. Smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard as well. A Bang & Olufsen premium audio system and integrated navigation system come on some of the higher trim levels and give the Explorer a more tech-y, premium vibe. The available 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen looks nice on paper, but its slim profile isn't all that compatible with smartphone app integration and the rear-view camera display.

When the third row of seats is left in place, cargo space sits at a tighter amount of space than what you get in some of its rivals. Folding both rear rows down does help with creating usable space. It can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is quite average, but the trailer tow package gives you a lot of useful features: a receiver hitch, four- and seven-pin wiring, the ability to add on an electric trailer brake controller, enhanced blind spot monitoring with trailer coverage, and a tow-haul transmission mode.

The 2022 VW Atlas has its pros and cons, of course. The Atlas' front seats could do with a smidge more adjustability and more padding in the bottom seat cushions. The back two rows recline, and the second one slides, allowing for more comfort in the rear rows. The ride quality feels planted and refrains from becoming floaty. Road noise can be heard (although it isn't terrible), and wind noise becomes noticeable at higher speeds due to the massive side mirrors. Heating and cooling from the climate control system is superb in all three rows.

The second row feels nice and wide, and the front seats offer up an abundance of space for heads and knees. The third row can even accommodate adults who are 6 feet tall without them feeling too cramped. The optional digital gauge cluster has a minor learning curve but proves to be one worth enduring since it will feel functional enough after you get used to it. The infotainment touchscreen is distracting since it requires you to look away from the road.

That being said, the infotainment features themselves work well and feel abundant enough. The available 12-speaker sound system delivers superb sound quality, and the voice controls at least understand basic commands.

Storage is a highlight on the Atlas with 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row that can be maxed out to 96.8 cubic feet when you fold both back rows down. You also get an extra dose of versatility from the manually folding flat seats and optional hands-free liftgate. You might just find yourself wishing as much effort had been put into crafting more sizable and numerous small item storage areas.

Safety

Safety is something all buyers take seriously, and automakers like Ford and VW know this. Ford outfits the Explorer with trailer sway control, forward collision mitigation, lane keep assist, and a blind spot monitoring system with a rear cross-traffic alert as standard features. The ST-Line adds on evasive steering assist, a lane keep system, a surround-view camera set-up, and adaptive cruise control. The King Ranch receives rear automatic braking, and an automated parking system comes on the line-topping Platinum trim level.

VW adorns the Atlas with quite a bit as well, although they could do with a few more standard features on the lower trims. Forward collision warning and blind spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert are standard. You will have to upgrade to get front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control on the SE with Technology. The SEL adds adaptive headlights, a lane keeping system, and blind-spot intervention. On the SEL Premium R-Line, you also get a surround-view parking system and an automated parking system.

Which Has the Best Value?

Value is not exactly lacking on either vehicle, but perhaps one vehicle offers more bang for your buck than the other. The 2022 Ford Explorer has a lot of hard plastics inside of its cabin, even on the pricy higher trim levels. The designs look 'meh' on the whole, and there are some noticeable gaps between the panels. Even top-tier trims on the Explorer's rivals can match the price you pay for the mid-tier XLT on this line-up. Warranty coverage isn't all that great either, and with real-world tests not holding up the high EPA estimates, value is all-around average on the Explorer.

Now, the 2022 VW Atlas has some value to it despite the lack of driver aids on the lower trims. It is also a touch pricier than some of its competitors. VW's warranty coverage is industry average, but you get a decent fuel economy from either engine and an abundance of usable space. The build quality comes off as being pristine and durable, and there aren't a ton of hard plastics galore.

Which is Better?

Pound for pound, you will get more value from the 2022 VW Atlas. That isn't to say that the Explorer is unworthy of your consideration, but it lacks some of the refinement we see in the Atlas. The Atlas is more well-mannered in terms of ride quality and technology, although the driver aids aren't quite so numerous on the base trim. Still, with its fuel economy being a few mpg better, we would expect buyers to lean more toward the Atlas than the Explorer now that fuel prices are sky-high.

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2021 Ford Explorer VS Volkswagen Atlas
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