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Price

Comparing MSRPs is a logical starting point for most car shoppers. Here, the Atlas SE’s starting price of $37,995 is lower than the equivalent base models of the Acadia and Highlander. In particular, the base Atlas is almost $1,300 less expensive than the base Highlander LE. The Explorer is cheaper, but a review of standard equipment (detailed below) explains why this Ford doesn’t offer great value.

Warranty

Savvy car buyers know there’s more to the ownership experience than driving away from the dealership behind the wheel of something new and shiny; thinking longer-term is crucial. Volkswagen recognizes this by including a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty (this generous coverage is similar to what the luxury brands offer). In contrast, comprehensive protection for the Explorer, Acadia, and Highlander only lasts for three years or 36,000 miles.

Standard Features

As part of the 2024 Atlas refresh, VW expanded the vehicle’s list of standard equipment to include more upscale features, even on the entry-level SE trim. Unlike the Explorer, Acadia, and Highlander, the least expensive Atlas comes with perforated leatherette upholstery (VW calls it V-Tex), giving it a premium feel compared to the cloth fabric in the others.

But Volkswagen didn’t stop there. Heated front seats are standard across the Atlas range, while Explorer and Highlander buyers have to step up to a more expensive trim to get this comforting feature. Ventilated front seats are also standard on every 2024 Atlas – but again, this equipment can only be found on pricier editions of the Explorer, Acadia, and Highlander.
The base Explorer is particularly lacking next to the base Atlas. Ford skipped conveniences such as push-button start and adaptive cruise control to keep its price down, while those amenities are part of the equipment roster for every 2024 Atlas.

Dimensions

Consumers buy three-row crossovers for space and versatility, but not all of these family haulers offer the same comfort and functionality. The Atlas, with 20.6 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row, outdoes the 18.2 cubic feet in the Explorer and the 16.0 cubic feet in the Highlander. With both back rows folded, the Atlas gets more impressive with 96.8 cubic feet of space, compared to 87.8 cubic feet in the Explorer and 84.3 cubic feet in the Highlander. The Highlander’s tighter quarters become more evident relating to passenger comfort, since the Atlas has more front and rear head space and greater shoulder room in the front and back rows.

Powertrain/Drivetrain

All of these crossovers have turbocharged four-cylinder engines, which is mostly standard across the industry as automakers have sought to improve fuel efficiency while maintaining power. So, this isn’t a point of difference for Atlas, but the drivetrain contrasts are more significant. Like the Acadia and Highlander, the Atlas has standard front-wheel drive. However, the Explorer starts with rear-wheel drive, a drawback in snow-prone climates. At the same time, upgrading the Atlas to all-wheel drive costs $1,900, versus $2,000 for the Explorer and $2,300 for the Acadia. The AWD add-on for the Highlander is $1,600, but its higher MSRP offsets any savings.

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