2022 Toyota Highlander vs Volkswagen Atlas
While you shop around for a shiny new third-row SUV to replace your current (and potentially too-small) ride, you will find yourself immersed in a sea of big, hulking vehicles that are hot on the market right now. As far as segments go, this is one of the most competitive, since all of these large SUVs strive to top one another in terms of available space, power, and included technological features. The 2022 Toyota Highlander vs 2022 Volkswagen Atlas are two such rivals that will probably end up on your to-be-test-driven list.
The 2022 Toyota Highlander is one of those massive SUVs that has a third row that is so small it is meant strictly for kids. On top of that, you do not get much cargo space when you leave that row upright. Most third-row SUVs do better in these aspects.
That being said, the Highlander delivers a quiet, relaxed ride quality that is packed full of comfort. This SUV is easier to see out of than many vehicles its size, and the V6 engine expertly blends power delivery and fuel efficiency.
The 2022 Volkswagen Atlas is part of a first generation that emerged onto the scene in 2018. As of this year, the base S trim level is no longer available, but you still get plenty of trims to choose from: the SE, SE with Technology, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL R-Line Black, and SEL Premium R-Line.
The Atlas offers a spacious interior with ample space for occupants in all three rows. The cabin's design is user-oriented, and there is a good balance between everyday comfort and sharp handling capabilities. It's just too bad that even the optional V6 engine doesn't deliver a swift acceleration, and the base engine doesn't serve up a good fuel economy.
Which one of these two large SUVs is going to be the best people and cargo hauler? Does one offer a lot more value than the other? Which vehicle fits into your budget the most easily? Let's compare these two massive vehicles to find out so that you can make an informed decision.
A big, meaty powertrain can make owning a huge SUV an enjoyable experience. They have to be able to haul a lot of weight around without dragging too hard on the fuel economy. However, an under-powered powertrain can leave you feeling left in the dust by every other vehicle on the road.
The 2022 Toyota Highlander is powered by a sole 3.5-liter V6 engine that is able to generate 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission gets matched up to it and directs power to the front wheels. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is available as an option for any of the Highlander's trim levels. There's also a Highlander Hybrid if you would prefer to save even more money on fuel costs.
The V6 is not lackluster by any stretch of the imagination. This engine can get the Highlander from 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is a bit above average for this segment and places it in a tight race with the always-popular Kia Telluride. However, the Highlander feels a little quicker on the uptake.
It just isn't quite as fast as the Acadia, but that's where the Highlander's excellent fuel economy comes into play. The fourth-generation Highlander is more capable at rounding through turns than its predecessor. Body roll remains under control, and the optional torque-vectoring AWD system assists by applying engine power to individual rear wheels, gently enhancing the Highlander's handling balance.
Of course, it also has the added benefit of giving the vehicle more traction on slick road surfaces. Unfortunately, the Highlander still feels like a massive SUV. It lacks the lightness of some competitors, many of whom stop more quickly in a panic braking scenario. But, on the whole, you won't exert much effort in daily driving.
So, about that fuel economy. AWD-equipped Highlanders are EPA rated for 23 mpg combined and, on the FWD, 24 mpg combined. Given how tight the competition is, a 1-2 mpg difference is a big deal. Real-world tests put combined mpg on the AWD Highlander at 24.7 mpg. Shoppers, take note: the Highlander Hybrid is estimated to achieve 36 mpg combined.
The 2022 VW Atlas is held back by its powertrain options. There is a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The SE with Technology and all the SEL iterations are powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine that puts forth 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. FWD is standard on the four-cyl with AWD being an option. AWD is standard with the V6.
The higher-powered V6 engine serves up an okay acceleration right off the bat, but it runs out of steam when the Atlas gets up to speed for merging onto the highway, even with just one person in the vehicle. The V6 needs 8.5 seconds to trek from 0-60 mph, which is slower than most other mid-size third-row SUVs.
The 4-cylinder is actually able to make it there is a slightly faster 8.1 seconds. Other than that, the Atlas is enjoyable to drive around even with it being so big. The smooth brakes help, and the seamless transmission shifting make this a nice SUV to pilot every day.
With the four-cylinder engine with AWD, you get an EPA estimate of 22 mpg combined. Real-world tests put it closer to 23.5 mpg. This does lag behind some third-row V6-equipped contenders, including the Highlander.
Drivability is an all-encompassing term that we use to describe how well-rounded a vehicle works as a daily driver. How comfy are the seats to sit in for hours and hours? Is the ride quality cushy enough without coming off as too drifty? Are the materials used of high quality? Are the cabin's controls expertly laid out? Are the tech features user-oriented? How much cargo space is available, and how many small item storage areas can you utilize? These are some of the main factors we talk about when discussing a vehicle's drivability status.
The 2022 Toyota Highlander is easy to ride in for hours, with a ride quality that is delightfully cushy. Road imperfections of all sizes are quickly dispatched thanks to the well-tuned suspension, never feeling drifty at higher speeds. The front seats are sculpted for comfort, plus the available second-row captain's chairs are nearly as cozy. It's just the third-row seats that aren't comfy with their thin padding, narrow amount of space, and low seat cushion. Wind noise remains muted at higher rates of speed, and road noise is barely audible.
The first- and second-row seats provide ample space, but the third row is one of the most restrictive in the midsize three-row SUV segment. If you're planning to routinely fill up on passengers, you will be better served by either the Kia Telluride or VW Atlas. Once you've got your backside planted in the seat, you can quickly find your preferred driving position with a nice outward view.
In fact, outward visibility is a highlight on the Highlander with thin front roof pillars. The camera-based rearview mirror lets you to see out the back window even if you have fully stocked up your cargo area. Of course, the available surround-view camera system is effective since it can be rotated to give you a full glimpse around the Highlander.
For years on end, Toyota lingered behind its competitors in terms of available technology. However, this current Highlander generation tries to rectify that issue, although it falls just short in some ways. The optional 12.3-inch touchscreen is absolutely massive compared to the standard 8-inch display, and it responds rapidly to your inputs.
Downside? Surface reflections make the graphics strenuous to see while you are driving. The line-topping Highlander Platinum trim level is outfitted with five USB charging ports for the first and second rows, but you sadly will not find any in the third row.
Cargo space has some pros and cons involved. You only get 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row of seats - a touch small for this segment. Behind the second row, however, you get a better-than-average 48.4 cubes. The lift-over height is about average for this segment.
In-cabin storage spaces include some well-size pockets and cupholders. There are also two shelves built into the dashboard, and one of them has a clever phone cable keeper to reduce cord mess. But, since the wireless phone charger is located in the center armrest bin, you will need to flip it up to get to the charger.
Placing a bulky rear-facing car seat in the second row is simple due to the generous movements fore and aft from the second-row captain's chairs. There are no anchors in the third row, but those in the second row are easy to reach.
Now, the 2022 VW Atlas does well with comfort. Its front seats aren't high on adjustability, plus the bottom cushions feel are too long and flat - a boon for shorter folks. But both back rows can recline, and the second row slides fore and aft.
The Atlas' ride quality feels grounded, and the suspension deflects most bumps and road and road blemishes without feeling drifty. You will hear some road noise, and wind noise is generated by the large mirrors while cruising along at highway speeds. Still, it's livable, and the sound system can surely hide it. The vehicle's strong climate system has generous heating and cooling abilities.
Up front, you get an abundance of space, and the second row is wide enough to sit three adults all the way across. Even the third row fits adults who are 6 feet or under with remarkably minimal reduction in comfort. The Atlas's sliding second-row seat assists with providing good rear visibility and comfortability.
You will need time to familiarize yourself with the Atlas' optional digital gauge cluster, but once you do get used to it, its functions will become second-nature. You might even say it is quite clever. Unfortunately, with regard to the touchscreen infotainment system's interface, you are forced look at what you're touching, which can certainly become a distraction while driving.
Speaking of technology, the Atlas is home to a massive list of standard technology gadgetry. The infotainment system has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone capability built into it. The standard stereo system has reasonably decent quality, and you'd better believe that the top-of-the-line models' available 12-speaker sound system has superb sound quality. Voice controls have been improved over what you use to find on the Atlas, but these ones are still somewhat restricted to basic commands.
The Atlas holds precedence over the midsize SUV segment with its astounding 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. You will get a maximum capacity of 96.8 cubic feet when you fold the two back rows down. The manual-folding flat seats offer a lot of versatility, and the hands-free tailgate on the higher trims will definitely - ahem - come in handy. You will be able to make use of the storage spaces for your small items, but there are not any helpful cubby areas for thing like your sunglasses or sectioned-off compartments in the center armrest's bin. There is plenty of space in the second row for child safety seats, and even a rear-facing car seat can easily fit back there. The second row can also tilt and slide when you have a child safety seat installed.
Safety is certainly a big concern for almost every driver on the road. Auto manufacturers are aware of the demand for advanced safety features and designs. Both Toyota and Volkswagen know full well how to create functional driver aids and equip quite a few of them on their SUVs.
The 2022 Toyota Highlander comes with the Safety Connect emergency communication services. Also, it comes with the Safety Sense 2.5+ suite of advanced driver aids. These features include adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward collision mitigation, a lane keeping system, and a traffic sign reader. The LE trim adds a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. The Limited has front and rear parking sensors, and the Platinum gives you adaptive headlights and a head-up display.
Likewise, the 2022 VW Atlas comes with a standard forward collision mitigation feature and a blind-spot monitoring system with a rear cross-traffic alert. Upgrading to the SE With Technology adds adaptive cruise control and parking sensors for the front and rear. Blind-spot intervention, adaptive headlights, and a lane keeping system come on the SEL. The line-topping SEL Premium R-Line tacks on an automated parking system and surround-view camera system.
Which Has the Best Value?
As you set about cementing your decision on which vehicle to sink your earnings into, think about what brings the most to the table for you. Which vehicle has the most all-around value? Buyers need to do their research and hear about owners' experiences since taking a vehicle for a test-drive can only tell you so much.
The 2022 Toyota Highlander packs an extensive list of tech and safety features into one neat package. The V6 engine is a capable model, to be sure, but the interior materials are of just an average quality. Toyota's three years/36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper and five years/60,000 miles of powertrain coverage are industry average. On that note, though, Toyota provides the first two years of scheduled maintenance for free. Most other automakers give you only one year free, max.
2022 VW Atlas is a bit pricier than most rivals. It offsets the cost by equipping numerous features that are user-friendly and helpful. The lack of horsepower isn't so value-enhancing, nor are the plethora of hard plastics in the second and third rows. Volkswagen's warranty coverage isn't as great as it used to be. Kia and Hyundai blow VW out of the water, and many others do better with their powertrain coverage.
Which is Better?
The 2022 VW Atlas definitely does better when it comes to third-row and cargo space. If that's what you prioritize, then the Atlas is a good vehicle. But it isn't all that powerful. The 2022 Toyota Highlander's standard V6 is much more capable at hauling heavy loads around, but it suffers from a severely cramped third row and cargo area. So, this one is a toss-up and will depend on what you value most in a vehicle.