Which three-row crossover would you pick?
Everyone wants to stretch his or her dollar as far as it will go. But in which direction should you stretch it? Toward brand snobbery with an Audi badge, or toward creature-comfort features and V-6 power with the Atlas? The loaded Atlas SEL V6 4Motion with VW’s premium package, pictured here and powered by a transverse-mounted 276-hp, 266-lb-ft “VR6,” is priced within $535 USD of the base Q7 2.0T—$49,415 USD versus $49,950 USD.
We haven’t tested an Atlas yet, but we weighed this one to learn that at 4,744 pounds (2,152 kg), the load each of its 276 horses is burdened with is only 1.9 pounds (0.86 kg) lighter than what the Q7s’ carry. The Atlas’ first gear is a noticeable 17.9 percent shorter, so it jumps off the line a tad quicker, but with 7 lb-ft less torque than the Q7, it never feels like it’s running away from the Audi. The Atlas V6’s 5,000-pound (2,268-kg_ towing capacity only surpasses the Q7 2.0T’s by 600 pounds (272 kg). (Fun fact: You can’t even buy an AWD Atlas with VW’s 235-hp, 258-lb-ft 2.0-liter turbo I-4.)
Big advantage, VW. The lower, longer, more svelte Q7 is also narrower than the boxy, roomy Atlas. Hence each row of seating feels roomier in the VW—especially the third row, where my 5-foot-10-inch frame felt comfortable enough to endure a road trip (not so in the knees-up, toad-in-a-hole Audi third row). VW also provides third-row A/C vents and easy tilt/slide second-row seats that greatly ease entry/egress. The Q7 backrest folds flat, then a second handle dumps the whole works forward. Little kids won’t be able to do this. Both vehicles’ middle-row seats slide fore and aft and recline, but the Audi’s are split 40/20/40, the VW’s 60/40.
|Audi Q7||Volkswagen Atlas|
|Shoulder room (in)||59.5||58.5||49.4||61.5||60.8||54.9|
Here again, boxy trumps swoopy in every seat-folding scenario. There is a deeper well for hiding things beneath the Q7’s rear floor panel, but the VW has space to store the roller-blind cargo cover beneath its floor (when so equipped).
|Cargo behind:||Audi Q7||VW Atlas|
|Front (cu ft)||71.6||96.8|
|Middle (cu ft)||37.5||55.5|
|Third (cu ft)||14.8||20.6|
Duh. Audi by a Bavarian kilometer. There’s much more soft-touch material throughout this cabin contrasting with hard pebble-grain plastic in the VW. The natural walnut inlays are a $350 USD stand-alone spiff on the Audi; we’re not sure what that brown stuff is supposed to look like on the VW dash and doors.
Call this one a push. The Audi’s retracts into the dash when the ignition switches off, and it’s not intended as a touchscreen, so it never looks fingerprinted. But the black-screen VW touch panel with tablet icons also looks dressy and is easy to work. We like the proximity sensors that light up larger touch icons as your hand approaches the Atlas’ screen.
Ignore Audi’s 1,440-by-540-pixel 12.3-inch virtual cockpit; that’s part of a $2,000 USD Vision package on our tester. At the base price you get needle gauges and a smaller 7.0-inch 800-by-480-pixel display. The top-shelf Atlas does get VW’s “Digital Cockpit” of the same big size and pixel count. Sadly, Audi has an exclusive deal to use Google Earth maps.
Volkswagen projects a go-anywhere vibe with its rotary Driving Mode Selection switch, offering on-road, snow, and custom off-road modes, which tailor control of the engine, transmission, steering, and adaptive cruise control, as well as traction-assistance systems such hill-descent assist and hill-start assist. Audi’s Drive Select system offers a single “off-road” mode. Neither comes with anything as aggressive as tow hooks or skidplates, but at least the Audi provides recovery-hook mounts front and rear.
Volkswagen’s moves through a gate with perceptible stops for P, R, N, and D/S, with a side position for rowing up or down the gears manually. Audi features an occasionally irksome electronic shifter with a push-button for park that’s not particularly intuitive to find and actuate. Rock the shifter forward for reverse, aft for drive or Sport mode, or to the side for +/- shifting. (Steering wheel paddles are also provided for this on the Audi.)
Most MT editors have few if any children, and our trailering needs are modest to nonexistent. Hence it’s easy for us to gravitate toward the sybaritic pleasures of the richly appointed, slightly better-handling Audi. Throw a few teens or tweens into the brood with attendant carpooling duties, and the car-decision Ouija board indicator swooshes quickly toward the roomier, more wash-n-wear VW.