Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Battle of the Midsize, Three-Row Suvs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Battle of the Midsize, Three-Row Suvs

Article excerpt

2018 Volkswagen Atlas V-6 SEL Premium with 4Motion versus 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid V-6 AWD: Battle of the midsize, three-row SUVs.

* Price: $50,275 for the Atlas as tested (but it starts at $30,750), versus $37,479 for the Highlander (starting at $31,030).

* Marketer's pitch: Volkswagen tells buyers, "Life's as big as you make it," while Toyota says, "Let's explore every possibility."

* Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend says the Highlander offers "lots of cargo space, efficient hybrid variant" and is "capable in mild off-road situations," but also the "interior has a lot of cheap plastics, SE model doesn't really improve handling, eight-speed automatic always wants to be in the highest gear."

About the Atlas, Car and Driver says you'll like "gobs of space inside, refined powertrain, plush ride" but not that it's "thirsty and not a sprinter, some cheap interior plastics, cartoonish front end."

* Reality: One is bigger than I thought, and the other is smaller, but they're the same size.

* To the test: It's been a long time since I've written head-to-head columns, as they can be fairly complicated for Mr. Driver's Seat's lone functioning brain cell.

But I could hardly avoid the opportunity with the Atlas and the Highlander, as they were parked in front of Chez Sturgis for the exact same week.

And it was serendipity - I never expected they'd be so close in size. Advertising and media reports had pegged the Atlas as the first three-row SUV for full-size adults, so I was expecting something larger than a Highlander, but seeing them in a row made me realize just what had befallen me.

This week we'll get to know them and dig around inside, while next week we take them out for a weeklong spin.

* What they are: The Toyota Highlander is a gray mare in Toyota's stable, a 20-something-year-old name that - like most American vehicles, and most of us Americans - has grown bulkier over the years.

The Atlas is a fresh face for 2018, Volkswagen's attempt to get serious about selling vehicles to an audience that values elbow room. …

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