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
Award: The 4Motion starts at $40,195
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “voluminous people and storage space, confidence-inspiring handling characteristics, one of the better values in its class,” but not that the “cabin design is the antithesis of snarky, bumpy roads that reveal choppy handling, define unexciting to drive.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Bring everyone along for the ride.”
Reality: Still roomy and seems more fun than before.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia Auto Show opens March 5, “fueled and loaded”
Catch up: Before we were delightfully interrupted by the news that the Philly Auto Show is back — through March 13th, yay! — We compared Atlas and two competitors.
What is new: The Atlas received a refresh for the 21.5 model. The 2022 model gets tech upgrades on top of that.
Up to speed: The Atlas is really almost a grown-up version of a Golf or even a GTI. The 276 horses in the 3.6-liter V-6 give plenty of power to the SUV. The Atlas hits 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, according to a 2018 Car and Driver test, much slower than the SUV felt.
Lesser Atlases are powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, which still makes a respectable 235 horsepower.
Sneaky: The 8-speed gearbox has a shift mode, and it makes it possible to roll through the gears on your own – and fun. No paddle shifters here, but the shifter has good feel and is in a good location.
» READ MORE: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L: A three-row Jeep without the Grand Wagoneer cost
On the road: For a large SUV, the Atlas handles the road quite well. No, it’s no more fun than a GTI, but it allows for easy maneuvers and nice, nimble handling when the turns get tight. This is a huge improvement over the 2018 model, which I said “felt big and bulky.”
We covered a lot of ground — north to the Poconos, plus trips to King of Prussia and Delaware — and the vehicle proved a worthy highway companion, mostly smooth but with the occasional bump that reminded you you were in a Volkswagen.
Driver’s seat: The Atlas seats weren’t as stiff as the Q5’s and certainly nicer than a GTI’s, but the seat was definitely firm. Lovely Mrs Passenger Seat had no problem with it, so your mileage may vary, but my kidneys were aching.
Atlas drives high, a bonus for people who like the feel of the guide.
Gauges lacked an analog speedometer or tachometer that I could find. Beyond that, the dashboard and console are beautiful and surprisingly luxurious.
Friends and stuff: Atlas made its name since its introduction in 2018 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 provides some comfort even in the third row – plenty of headroom, decent legroom and OK footroom. The third row seat sits a little low and the bottom is short, however.
The second and third rows provide a very nice flat cargo area when folded, a comfortable touch. The carpets on the backrests must be part cashmere and are almost impossible to vacuum, an uncomfortable touch. (Sturgis Neighbor 1.0 confirms that cleaning the Atlas mats in his 21.5 is time-consuming.)
The Atlas certainly wins among the three on cargo space, too: 96.8 cubic feet behind the front row, with 55.5 behind the center row and 20.6 beyond the road, way back.
Towing is limited to just 2,000 pounds, so the Atlas is not in the same genre as its competitors in this category.
» READ MORE: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder: Mostly on the track vs. two rivals
Play some songs: The stereo system offered fairly clear playback of my favorite songs, about an A-. Buttons allow for quick selections off 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 losing the Bluetooth signal at least once a day. Of course, if I were to 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 problem. Or an old man question. The system failure was about as frequent as the old Sync system from Ford, which is not a good benchmark.
Keeping warm and cool: Knobs control temperature and fan speed, while a row of buttons control the fan source and seat heater. Easy setup to use on the go.
Fuel Economy: I averaged about 20 mpg over a fast-but-not-crazy week of driving.
Where it is built: Chattanooga, Tenn.
How it is built: Consumer Reports predicts Atlas reliability at 3 out of 5.
In the end: Atlas would be my choice of the three. People who need towing capacity should be fine with the Pathfinder. The Jeep, while the most rugged, was also the most cumbersome in testing and expensive. And the fuel economy almost disqualifies it, unless the features are what you really need.
Still, none of these make me rethink my kinship with the Kia Telluride or Toyota Highlander, still two of my favorite three-row companions.