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2021 Honda Pilot vs. 2021 Volkswagen Atlas: Which Is Better?

Both the Honda Pilot and the Volkswagen Atlas offer tons of space, plenty of power, and amenities for all your passengers. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Honda Pilot shares its underpinnings with the Honda Passport and the Honda Ridgeline.
  • The Volkswagen Atlas an American-built German SUV with space for seven passengers.

2021 Honda Pilot

2021 Honda Pilot Front Left Side in BlueBase Price: $33,360 / Read our 2021 Honda Pilot Review

What we like: Spacious interior with a usable third row; standard V6 engine; strong resale value.

What we would change: Add an off-road-themed variant; add a sport-themed version.

Overview: The Honda Pilot is a well-rounded, family-friendly 3-row SUVs, one with several strengths and few weaknesses. The sole powertrain is a 3.5-liter V6 making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque paired with a 9-speed automatic. The top two trims come standard with AWD, which is a $2,000 option elsewhere. With all-wheel drive, this powertrain returns 22 mpg combined; the estimate is 23 mpg with front-wheel-drive. This V6 is adequately powerful and tows up to 5,000 pounds (with AWD). The Pilot is comfortable and polished on the road but not particularly sporty, although the AWD system includes torque vectoring across the rear axle to enhance agility. A third-row seat with seatbelts for three is standard, while in the middle row, there’s a 3-passenger bench or captain’s chairs, depending on trim level. Maximum cargo space is 82.1–83.9 cubic feet, and there’s 16.5 cubic feet behind the third row.

What’s new for 2021: All Pilots now use a 9-speed automatic transmission, replacing the 6-speed unit previously found in sub-Touring trim levels, resulting in a slight fuel-economy increase for those models. Elsewhere, the EX-L w/Navi and Rear Seat Entertainment is dropped, while a new SE trim (with less equipment) is added. The base LX adds dual-zone climate control.

Features and technology: The 2021 Honda Pilot is sold in LX, EX, EX-L, SE, Touring, Elite, and Black Edition trim levels. Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control are standard on all trims. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are included on all but the base LX. Besides those two safety features, the EX also brings a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Leather seating is the big add-on with the EX-L, including a power liftgate, second-row sunshades, and an acoustic windshield. The SE adds wireless smartphone charging, 20-inch wheels, and the CabinTalk in-car PA system. The Touring is the first trim where captain’s chairs can be had, along with navigation, a rear-seat entertainment system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, upgraded audio, and heating for the second-row seats. The top two trims include all-wheel drive, ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

What does the future hold: The Pilot is mechanically related to the two-row Passport SUV and the Ridgeline pickup, the latter of which got new, more rugged front-end styling for 2021 that could migrate to the Pilot and Passport as well. See 2021 Honda Pilot models for sale near you.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Front Right Side in RedBase Price: $31,545 / Read our 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Review

What we like: Plenty of interior space; updated looks; option of FWD or AWD; built in Tennessee.

What we would change: Make it more fuel-efficient.

Overview: The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas is a large, midsize SUV with three rows of seats and seating for as many as seven passengers. It has tons of interior space and comes in AWD and FWD versions. You can also choose either a 235-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine or a naturally aspirated V6. Be warned; you will spend on gas with either variant.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, the VW has refreshed the Atlas with new front and rear styling that adds almost three inches to its overall length. Under the skin, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is now available for the first time in AWD models. The Atlas’ top trim levels — the SEL Premium, for example — can now be ordered with the 4-cylinder, which isn’t quite as powerful as the V6 but offers better fuel economy. Moreover, VW’s driver-assistance features have been refined, and the latest in-car telematics system provides improved response. Onboard Wi-Fi is available on all 2021 VW Atlas models, while a larger 8-inch touchscreen is standard on all but the base model.

Features and technology: The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas comes in three trims, the S, SE, and SEL. The base model S gets the 4-cylinder engine as standard and comes with cruise control and a safety suite with automatic emergency braking. Step up to the SE, and you get optional access to the V6 engine and the SE with Technology model, which adds adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The SEL comes in a couple of variants, including the SEL R-Line. That version gets 12-inch wheels and R-line body trim. At the SEL trim, you get access to VW’s stellar digital cockpit feature that shows up in some of Volkswagen’s sister brands (Audi). At the Atlas SE level, you can add the captain’s chairs for the back seat, as well. All versions get optional AWD. The Atlas has a tow rating (when equipped with the tow package) of 5,000 pounds. Otherwise, it tows only 2,000 pounds.

What does the future hold: As SUVs boom, the Atlas will likely continue to stick around and get refreshes. See 2021 Volkswagen Atlas models for sale near you

Pilot vs. Atlas: Strengths comparison

Honda Pilot Benefits: Seats up to eight; adult-sized third row; lower-priced top trims; enviable reliability record.

Volkswagen Atlas Benefits: Variety of engines and tons of interior space.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas vs. 2021 Honda Pilot: Which is better?

The Honda Pilot has long been a top choice in this class for good reason. It offers tons of reliability and a solid resale. The Atlas, on the other hand, offers a good variety of engines and features. In this comparison, we’d opt for the Pilot for its pricing and ample interior space for both passengers and cargo.  Find 2021 Honda Pilot models for sale or Find a 2021 Volkswagen Atlas for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Honda Pilot 2021 Volkswagen Atlas
Engine 3.5-liter V6 2.0-liter turbo I4
Horsepower 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm 235 hp @ 4,500 rpm
Torque 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm 258 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission 9-spd automatic 8-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 23 mpg (20 city/27 hwy) 22 mpg (21 city/24 hwy)
Also Available AWD 3.6-liter V6; AWD
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 8 7
Wheelbase 111.0 inches 117.3 inches
Overall Length 196.5 inches 198.3 inches
Width 78.6 inches 78.3 inches
Height 70.6 inches 70.0 inches
Turning Diameter 39.4 feet 38.1 feet
Headroom, Front 40.1 inches 41.3 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 40.2 inches 40.4 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 38.9 inches 38.3 inches
Legroom, Front 40.9 inches 41.5 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 38.4 inches 37. 6 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 31.9 inches 33.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 62.0 inches 61.5 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 62.0 inches 60.8 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 57.6 inches 54.9 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 152.9 cubic feet 174.3 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 83.9 cubic feet 96.8 cubic feet

Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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