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Toyota Highlander vs Volkswagen Atlas

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Which SUV Should You Buy?

For those looking to take on those greater Twin Cities winters, a capable SUV is almost seen as a necessity. Heavy snowfall and tricky road conditions demand a vehicle that can carry you and your family dependably and safely. Those narrowing their search down will find two close competing SUVs, the Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas.

Both provide a slew of features with the ability to traverse the treacherous terrain, but which one is the better buy overall?


Toyota Highlander Jelly Bean

Toyota Highlander

The Highlander is yet another long-time member of the Toyota lineup. First introduced in 2000, the SUV is now in its fourth generation. The new Toyota Highlander’s design presents a very commanding presence, signifying its ability to get through most obstacles at ease.

When compared, the Highlander carries a more compact stature than the Atlas, while still providing an ample amount of interior space. This benefit allows for an easier time driving the Highlander in tighter situations both on and off-road. Additionally, the Highlander can seat up to eight occupants, outdoing the Atlas which can only fit up to seven.

Highlander Performance

Toyota Highlander Jelly Bean

There is only one engine offered for the Toyota Highlander, but it’s very capable and powerful. The 3.5L V6 offers 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The Highlander is offered in both an AWD and FWD configuration, allowing for versatility in customer desires. For the outdoorsman, towing capacity has been prioritized by Toyota with the Highlander being able to handle anything up to 5,000 pounds.

Despite the large and powerful engine, Highlander still offers industry-leading gas mileage in its segment. Those opting for the FWD version will see 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Choosing the AWD version will take it down slightly to 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. For those looking for gas savings, a hybrid version is also available, bringing an astonishing 36/35 mpg for the FWD and 35/35 mpg for the AWD model. The hybrid version of the Highlander does however trade in the fuel economy for towing capacity as its maximum is 3,500 pounds.

The Toyota Highlander builds on a proven foundation and offers great design, utility, and efficiency.

Volkswagen Atlas

First introduced in 2017, the Atlas is one of Volkswagen’s newest model additions. It brings a boxier silhouette than the Highlander with an overall more conservative design.

While the Atlas does offer slightly more space due to its larger size, the trade-offs include its poorer fuel efficiency and possibly worse driving experience. Both the Atlas and the Highlander come with eight inches of ground clearance, allowing them both to tackle winter weather.



As opposed to the Highlander, the VW Atlas has two engine options. The first is a smaller 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The second is a larger 3.6L V6 making 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, just shy of the Highlander’s specifications. Both engines are offered with either AWD or FWD. While the 3.6L V6 matches the towing capacity of the Highlander of 5,000 pounds, the 2.0L Turbo can only muster 2,000 pounds of towing capacity.

Gas mileage is also worse than the Highlander, even with the smaller and less powerful turbo engine option. The mpg (city/highway) for each configuration is displayed below:

  • 2.0L (FWD): 21/24
  • 2.0L (AWD): 20/24
  • 3.6L (FWD): 17/23
  • 3.6L (AWD): 16/22

For those hoping for a better option, Volkswagen does not offer a hybrid version of the Atlas.

Which SUV is more affordable?

When looking at the price comparison between the Atlas and Highlander, a few considerations need to be accounted for. While the base VW Atlas comes in at a few thousand cheaper than the base Toyota Highlander, it offers fewer features. For instance, the Highlander offers a larger center screen as standard, more safety features, and Amazon Alexa in addition to Android Auto and Apple Carplay.

But perhaps the most important consideration is the engine differences. While the base Toyota Highlander L is offered with a powerful 3.5 V6 engine, the lower trims on the VW Atlas only come available with their 2.0L turbo. If engine power and towing capacity is an important factor for you, then the Highlander is by far the better deal.

Toyota Highlander Trim MSRP Volkswagen Atlas MSRP
L $35,085 S $31,555
LE $37,285 SE $34,905
XLE $40,085 SEL $42,325
XSE $41,680 SEL R-Line $44,025
Limited $44,040 SEL Premium $47,225
Platinum $47,240 SEL Premium R-Line $50,725

Highlander vs Atlas: Technology & Safety

Both the Toyota Highlander and VW Atlas come with a center display capable of handling most of the car’s features. The Highlander boasts a larger 8-inch screen as standard compared to the 6.5-inch screen found in the Atlas. Both have standard connectivity features such as Bluetooth, Apple Carplay, and Android Auto. The Toyota Highlander however also adds Amazon Alexa and a Wi-Fi hotspot to its list of connectivity options.

Both SUVs come with the standard array of safety and driver assistance features, but the Highlander fits a few more into their Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ suite. Some of the safety and convenience features found within the Highlander include:

Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection: Using radar and camera the Toyota will look for any pedestrians and bicyclists. The system will give visual and audible alerts if a collision may happen and will intervene and brake automatically if needed.

Dynamic Cruise Control: The system allows for the use of cruise control and will dynamically change the set speed in order to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead.

Lane Departure Alert: The system will keep track of any lane markings and provide alerts to the driver if it senses the car veering out of its lane. If alerts are not enough, it will apply a gentle steering action to bring the vehicle back into line.


Learn More About Toyota Safety

Is the Highlander or Atlas More Reliable?

Reliability between the Toyota Highlander vs Volkswagen Atlas could be that final deciding factor. One of the greatest feelings of pride within the Toyota brand has been its reliability and dependability. Looking at both reliability rankings from Consumer Report’s and JD Power, you will see Toyota consistently near the top. The same cannot be said for Volkswagen, which finds itself towards the bottom of both lists.

Additionally, Volkswagen has a shorter warranty period. Currently, the Atlas only has a 4yr/50,000 mile limited and powertrain warranty. This contrasts with Toyota’s 3yr/36,000-mile limited warranty and 5yr/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, giving you more peace of mind.

Both are also offered with 2 years of complimentary maintenance (20,000 miles for Volkswagen, 25,000 miles for Toyota).


Test Drive The Toyota Highlander

If you still aren’t settled on the Toyota vs Volkswagen debate, just check them out for yourself. Whenever you are ready to take the next step, stop by Walser Toyota where our experienced sales staff will help you make an informed decision.

Walser Toyota 44.856975, -93.335348.