2022 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4WD vs. 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Limited vs. 2022 Volkswagen Atlas SEL 4Motion: “Bargain” three-row SUV competition.
This week: 2022 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL 4Motion
Price: 4Motion starts at $40,195
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “voluminous people-and-storage space, handling traits inspire confidence, one of the better values in its class,” but not that the “cabin design is the opposite of snazzy, uneven roads expose choppy ride, defines unexciting to drive.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Bring everyone along for the ride.”
Reality: Still roomy and seems like more fun than before.
Catching up: Before we were delightfully interrupted by news that the Philly Auto Show is back — through March 13, yay! — we were comparing the Atlas and two competitors.
What’s new: The Atlas received a refresh for the 21.5 model. The 2022 model gets tech upgrades beyond that.
Up to speed: The Atlas really is almost a grown-up version of a Golf or even a GTI. The 276 horses in the 3.6-liter V-6 provide plenty of power to the SUV. The Atlas makes it to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, according to a Car and Driver test of a 2018, far slower than the SUV felt.
Lesser Atlases are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo, which makes a still-respectable 235 horsepower.
Shifty: The 8-speed transmission has a shift mode, and it makes rolling through the gears on your own possible — and fun. No paddle shifters here, but the gearshift has great feel and is in a good spot.
On the road: For a large SUV, the Atlas takes to the road fairly well. No, it’s not more fun than a GTI, but it does allow for easy maneuvers and nice, smooth handling when the turns get tight. This is a vast improvement over the 2018 model, which I said “felt big and bulky.”
We covered quite a bit of ground — north to the Poconos, plus trips to King of Prussia and Delaware — and the vehicle proved a worthy companion on highways, mostly smooth but with the occasional bump reminding you that you were in a Volkswagen.
Driver’s Seat: The Atlas seats were not as stiff as the Q5′s and certainly nicer than a GTI’s, but the seat was definitely firm. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat didn’t have a problem with it, so your mileage may vary, but my kidneys were aching.
The Atlas does ride high, a bonus for people who like the road commander feel.
Gauges lacked an analog-style speedometer or tachometer that I could find. Beyond that, the dashboard trim and console are pretty and surprisingly luxurious.
Friends and stuff: The Atlas made its name since its 2018 intro as a comfortable place to put the family, and that hasn’t changed. The middle row slides forward and back, and a comfortable position there still allows for some comfort in the third row, as well — ample headroom, decent legroom, and OK foot room. The third-row seat sits a little low and the bottom is short, though.
The second and third rows make a very nice flat cargo space when folded, a convenient touch. The rugs on those seat backs must be part cashmere and are almost impossible to vacuum, an inconvenient touch. (Sturgis Neighbor 1.0 confirms cleaning the Atlas rugs in his 21.5 is time consuming.)
The Atlas certainly wins among the three on cargo space, as well: 96.8 cubic feet behind the front row, with 55.5 behind the middle row, and 20.6 beyond the way, way back.
Towing is limited to just 2,000 pounds, so the Atlas is not in the same genre as its rivals in this category.
Play some tunes: The stereo system offered pretty clear playback of my favorite songs, about an A-. Buttons allow for quick choices outside the touchscreen, and the screen itself was fairly easy to navigate.
One problem was a fairly frequent level of shutdowns. I could count on the system to lose signal with Bluetooth at least once a day. Of course, if I’d invest in the USB-C cable for my iPhone, I might not have this problem. And the system also malfunctioned with Sturgis Kid 4.0′s Android, so it wasn’t just a phone issue. Or an Old Man issue. The system malfunction was about as frequent as the old Sync system from Ford, which is not a good benchmark.
Keeping warm and cool: Dials control temperature and blower speed while a row of buttons operates blower source and seat heaters. Easy setup to use while on the go.
Fuel economy: I averaged just about 20 mpg in a fast-but-not-crazy week of driving.
Where it’s built: Chattanooga, Tenn.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Atlas reliability to be a 3 out of 5.
In the end: The Atlas would be my pick of the three. People who need towing capability should be fine with the Pathfinder. The Jeep, while the most rugged, was also the most trouble prone in testing and expensive. And the fuel economy almost disqualifies it, unless the features are what you really need.