2022 Volkswagen Atlas vs. 2022 Toyota Highlander: Which Three-Row SUV Goes Best Off-Road?

Are you looking for a three-row SUV that you can take on your wilderness adventures? Do you want a vehicle that has the chops to handle the rigors of off-road use, while offering the utility to make the most of your excursions? Two noteworthy choices in the three-row SUV segment are the 2022 Volkswagen Atlas and the 2022 Toyota Highlander. See how they stack up for off-road capabilities. 

VW Atlas and Toyota Highlander: all-wheel drive comparison

Dark blue 2022 Volkswagen Atlas with the sunset in the background
2022 Volkswagen Atlas | Volkswagen

Buyers of the 2022 VW Atlas can get the SUV equipped with either a front-wheel drive system or an all-wheel drive system. Undoubtedly off-road enthusiasts will opt for Atlas models with the all-wheel drive system, but it will cost extra money. The all-wheel drive system for the Atlas features an active control system, with selectable settings for different driving conditions, such as snow and off-road, as well as the ability to customize according to individual needs.

One of the most important factors to consider when heading off-road is the traction that a vehicle provides with its all-wheel drive systems. Buyers of the 2022 Toyota Highlander have three different options. For the gasoline-powered models, you can get the basic all-wheel drive system — and for even greater capabilities, an all-wheel drive with a torque vectoring system. The Highlander Hybrid model comes equipped with an electronic on-demand all-wheel drive system, which maximizes efficiency by activating the all-wheel drive only when it’s needed.

Engine specs comparison between the VW Atlas and Toyota Highlander

Silver 2022 Toyota Highlander parked by a marsh
2022 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

Another important consideration for off-road use is the power that the engine provides. The Atlas offers two engine choices. The base-level 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.6-liter V6 engine churns out 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque.

For the Highlander, the gasoline-powered model features a 3.6-liter V6 engine, which doles out 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The Highlander Hybrid combines a 2.5-liter engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 186 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque.

Additional off-road considerations for the Atlas and Highlander

When heading off-road, another important thing is to ensure that a vehicle has enough ground clearance to give you the confidence to drive over bumpy surfaces and debris. The Atlas and Highlander are evenly matched, with both models providing a ground clearance of 8.0 inches. You will probably want to load up your SUV with your gear and food when heading off the beaten path. The Atlas offers up to 96.8 cu-ft of cargo space, while the Highlander has a maximum cargo capacity of 84.3 cu-ft. 

While the VW Atlas and Toyota Highlander are fairly evenly matched for off-road capabilities, overall, the Atlas has a slight edge, but only if going with a trim that has an all-wheel drive system. It’s great that it offers settings for different driving conditions, as well as the ability to customize. The Atlas also has the advantage for cargo space, with the ability to store more items.

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