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Honda Pilot vs. VW Atlas 2023

1. Introduction

The car buying process has evolved through the past couple of years, as have the vehicles consumers are purchasing. Both the Honda Pilot and VW Atlas 2023 are two prime examples of the evolution witnessed in the automotive large SUV sector. Consumers have begun shifting away from a traditional minivan to the more rugged and robust luxury large SUV. I feel this vehicle purchase is not only a representation of growth within a family, but for many an extension of their personal image. Although many large SUVs have luxury or off-road intentions, Honda and VW have managed to maintain a vehicle that combines both luxury and family-friendly image. Another interesting point is that large SUVs do not follow the trend of the traditional concept that an increased size vehicle should have higher towing capacity. This is witnessed with the Honda Pilot having more towing capacity with both optional packages (front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive) compared to the VW Atlas 2023. Both vehicles feature 7 or 8 passenger seating capacity with three-person 2nd row seating and a 1-piece 3rd row. While the intended use of these vehicles may have been predicted to optimize 7 passenger seating capacity with all passengers being adults, the availability of the 2nd row captain's chairs on both these vehicles demonstrates the vehicles' appeal towards consumers with larger families reaching out to kids for their activities and or families with more than one child. Both these vehicles offer seating capacity for up to 8 people, however, the Honda Pilot does offer 8 passenger capacity as a standard, while the 2nd row is used as a walk-through to the 3rd row on the VW Atlas 2023. [1]

1.1. Overview of Honda Pilot

In terms of the engine, the Honda Pilot still uses the 3.5-liter V-6 and puts on a new six-speed automatic transmission that can boost the output. It has the same usual front-drive and automatic system of all-wheel-drive. It is expected to be more fuel-efficient than the previous one. Honda claims its new Pilot is the best-in-class fuel efficiency. The engine stop-and-start feature will become standard on this Pilot. This feature is good to save fuel by turning off the engine when the car stops and turning it on when the gas is pressed. This feature can be turned off by the driver manually. But this feature will make the air conditioning less effective since the engine is stopped. This Pilot still can't be called a tow car since it is only rated for a maximum 3500 pounds towing. Step by step, Honda is now focusing on making its crossover more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. [2][3]

This SUV is the smallest vehicle that has three rows of seats in the Honda lineup. Despite that, the Honda Pilot is one of the most popular products. It is a capable, versatile, and practical crossover that offers more attention to detail. It has a push-button gearbox, an available panoramic roof, and a host of active safety features. The lamps are now just a difference for each trim level. It has various wheels, ranging from 18 inches on lower models to 20 inches on the top-tier Elite version. Its tear drop design is more defined for the new Pilot. The new Pilot has increased road handling and reduced wind noise. It also uses an acoustic-laminated windshield and thin glass expansion.

1.2. Overview of VW Atlas 2023

The car is based on the MQB platform used by quite a few vehicles in the Volkswagen group, including the likes of the Golf and Passat. Similar to the 2021 Honda Pilot, this model is now powered by a 3.6L V6 which will generate around 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. All models are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission this time around, which replaces the outgoing 9-speed. The car has also received revised suspension settings to improve comfort and noise. All models will continue to be front-wheel drive; however, AWD models will be available and include VW's 4Motion system. This will provide torque vectoring between the front and rear axles, as well as between the left and right rear wheels. The system can also offer different modes, such as snow, to tailor the car's off-road capabilities.

The 2023 Volkswagen Atlas is a mid-size SUV with three rows of seating. Its size will make it the largest Volkswagen in the United States, slotting above the Touareg. Although it has much in common with the much loved and well-regarded 2018 model, the latest model has received a facelift and significant revision. This 2023 model has a more refined and sophisticated look. It has received visual as well as technological updates. Inside, the interior is slightly improved from the older model. For instance, the size of the touch screen is increased to 8 inches from 6.5, and the old-fashioned analog dials are replaced with a digital display in the center of the speedo.

2. Performance Comparison

Honda Pilot has a 3.5 liter naturally aspirated V6 in all but the base LX trim. It's a J-series engine that has been used across the Honda and Acura lineups for more than a decade. In the Pilot, it delivers 280 hp at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. Despite its age and the fact that it's a transverse-mounted V6 in a world that's rapidly moving to turbocharged inline-fours, this is still a fairly punchy powertrain thanks to those horsepower and torque numbers both being higher than average for the mainstream three-row crossover segment. As for the transmission, all Pilots except the Elite and Black Edition trims come with a 6-speed automatic. These top two trims come with a 9-speed automatic, which used to be much maligned for its shift quality and erratic behavior, but has been improved and updated in recent model years. It's not the most modern solution, but the 9-speed is a little better on fuel and works well enough that we don't consider it a major drawback for those trims. All trims also come standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive being an additional $2,000. The AWD system is Honda's i-VTM4 system with torque vectoring, although the lower two trims get a less advanced AWD system without torque vectoring.

2.1. Engine Specifications

In terms of what’s under the hood, the 2023 Honda Pilot has just one powertrain: a direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 engine with i-VTEC valvetrain system, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. As a paired unit, the powertrain has consistently earned top ratings and maintains a leadership position with commendable performance for a full range of easily usable torque spread, providing an exhilarating feel with responsive and smooth acceleration. High-tensile steel for the body and a new, more rigid subframe suspended by a front strut and rear multi-link arrangement provide the ideal platform for the potent V6 engine. Variable torque management through the available i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system offers more balanced and predictable dynamic handling along with the sure-footed traction of all-wheel drive in a broad range of conditions.
Speaking of AWD, the VW Atlas offering returns its familiar 4MOTION system, still paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic mode. This time though, the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine has been swapped out in favor of a 3.6-liter VR6 engine. The bigger six-pot offers increased power and torque over the last generation. The Atlas now outputs 276hp, an increase of 31hp, and 266 lb-ft compared to the previous 258 on regular fuel, but producing a lesser 258hp when using premium octane. An 18% improvement in fuel economy is also expected with a new start/stop system for the VR6, though more importantly, the increased efficiency and powerful torque curve carrying over from the past establishes a sound foundation for the Atlas to tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. This can be utilized for anything from boats and trailers to bike racks or an off-road vehicle, giving adventuring families an extra means to transport their gear. Alike the Honda, the available torque from the VR6 is distributed through the 4MOTION system, offering excellent traction in adverse weather conditions and light off-road use.

2.2. Acceleration and Top Speed

VW Atlas review is relatively quicker than the Pilot when it comes to accelerating and covering the quarter-mile. The Atlas completes the sprint in 7.1 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 90.8 mph. The Pilot requires 7.2 seconds to reach 60 mph and 15.6 seconds to cover the quarter mile at 91 mph. Slower acceleration can have its consequences on strut front suspension said in another Pilot vs Atlas comparison, tested version of the Atlas exhibited insufficient wheel control over undulating roads and an impact harshness where the suspension could not isolate the cabin from the road. The better Honda strut suspension design may have a slight edge in controlling wheel movements for better acceleration in real-world driving conditions. The Atlas and Pilot have matched top speeds at 114-115 mph. This was electronically limited on the Atlas as it was strong during high-speed testing runs on the test track and may have reached higher speeds if it were allowed to reach its governed speeds.

2.3. Fuel Efficiency

Honda Pilot is powered by a 3.5L V6 engine producing 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. From the EX-L trim upwards, the engine has the capability to run on 3 or 4 cylinders depending on the load put on the engine. This feature is supposed to offer a good compromise between power and fuel efficiency. Despite the V6 engine, the Pilot actually has a slightly better fuel economy than the Atlas. The FWD models have an estimated fuel economy of 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined. Adding AWD drops all economy numbers by 1 except the combined rating. The AWD models have an estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. On one tank of gas, the 2WD models can achieve approximately 426 miles on the highway and 368 miles combined, the AWD models can achieve approximately 409 miles highway and 354 miles combined. Fuel economy is achieved through an 8 or 9-speed automatic transmission depending on the trim.
The Honda Pilot is a regular recipient of the top safety pick award and still unknown safety ratings at the time this article is written for the Acura MDX, which is a good indicator for its safety reliability. Additional safety and drivability comes in the form of the Honda Sensing system on all models except the Elite. This safety package includes various driver aids with the more notable features being the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Other features include brake assist, hill start assist, and various traction systems. Finally, in emergency situations, the Pilot has a cap-less fuel system to prevent leakage in the event of a crash.

3. Features and Technology

In features and technology, the 2023 Honda Pilot vs 2023 Volkswagen Atlas comparison, the Honda Pilot's interior design and comfort features are compared to those of the Volkswagen Atlas. The Honda Pilot comes with an 8-way adjustable driver's seat and 4-way adjustable passenger seat. The Volkswagen Atlas only has 6-way adjustable seats. The Pilot's seats are covered in cloth in the lower trim levels, and in leather in the higher levels. The Atlas is similarly equipped, but it is important to note that the leather or leatherette seats come standard in all trim levels. The Pilot comes with climate control features that are slightly more advanced and easier to use than the ones found in the Atlas. The biggest difference in interior design between the two vehicles is the Pilot's third row seating arrangement. The third row seats of the Pilot can actually fit full-sized adults comfortably. This is a feat that is rare among midsize SUVs, and is made possible by using a slightly longer wheelbase than the Atlas (111.4 inches versus 117.3 inches). The Volkswagen's third row seats are somewhat cramped and are better suited for children. Because of these interior differences, the Pilot has more room for passengers than the Atlas. This is evident in the fact that the Pilot has an 8-passenger seating capacity, while the Atlas has a capacity of 7. In terms of comfort and interior dimensions, the Honda Pilot has a clear advantage over the Volkswagen Atlas.
The infotainment and connectivity features of the 2023 Honda Pilot are compared to those of the 2023 Volkswagen Atlas. The Pilot comes standard with an 8-inch LCD screen and a 7-speaker audio system. The higher trim levels come with a 10.2-inch screen and a 590-watt 10-speaker audio system. Regardless of trim level, all Pilots come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. These features allow for seamless smartphone connectivity with the vehicle's infotainment system. The Volkswagen Atlas has a similar feature set, including the standard 8-inch screen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. All Atlas trims come equipped with an 8-speaker audio system. The main area where the Atlas sets itself apart is with optional infotainment and connectivity features. These features include a digital cockpit display and an integrated navigation system. The digital cockpit display is a 12.3-inch screen that replaces the traditional instrument cluster with an adjustable display that can show everything from navigation maps to full-screen infotainment. The integrated navigation system utilizes the 8-inch screen and allows for route guidance with a 2 and 3-dimensional bird's eye view map display. For Pilot owners searching for a more advanced infotainment and connectivity experience, these features may entice them to buy an Atlas instead.

3.1. Interior Design and Comfort

The Atlas has a more luxurious cabin with more soft-touch surfaces and better materials, especially on the top trims of both. The middle of the lineup is a bit less impressive at least in terms of fitting in with the asking price. The Pilot, typically Japanese, is more function-oriented. There's storage everywhere, including a huge center console bin and big door pockets, and it's lined with lots of cupholder and USB ports. It's not the most stylish interior Honda has come up with, but it's versatile and well put together. The Honda has easier third row access and the seat is more comfortable for adults than the VW's. The Atlas' seat does slide forward easily, though getting back there and into the back is still a bit of a hassle.
Interior space is more of a mixed bag and both have good head and leg room up front, but the Pilot has about an inch more shoulder room. The middle rows are comfortable in both, but the Atlas' middle row bench slides and tilt/folds at the touch of a button for easy access to the back. Middle row captain's chairs are an option too. The Atlas' cargo volume is larger in both configurations compared to the Pilot and it has a comfortable 20 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seats. The Honda struggles with just over 16 cu ft, but for larger families, the Pilot's load floor is lower and the space is wider when both rows are folded down.

3.2. Infotainment and Connectivity

The Honda comes with their Display Audio system which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Essentially, the user's smartphone becomes the guinea pig for the infotainment system and will allow access to various apps for music, messages, and navigation via the built-in touchscreen. While smartphone integration is appreciated for its simplicity and familiarity, the Honda infotainment loses functionality without said smartphone plugged in due to its shoddy built-in features. Honda also offers their own built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, however this is a feature only included with the most expensive data package from AT&T and is certainly less hassle-free when considering its VW counterpart. The most significant disadvantage is the Honda system's lack of general response and ease of use compared to the VW. Voice recognition is a standard feature for Car-Net equipped models and really goes to show how hands-free capable the VW can be. The last two services are only complimentary for 3 months.

The Volkswagen Atlas provides its Car-Net 2.0 system standard on all models. Not only do VW owners receive a 5-year free trial to various services, they will also receive 6 months free of 4G LTE Wi-Fi provided by Verizon. This trial will allow the user to connect up to 4 devices and is sure to come in handy while on those long car rides. Wi-Fi connectivity is gradually becoming a necessity in today's age and we're happy to see that VW is making it so easily available. The Car-Net system also comes with VW's own smartphone integration app which allows you to access certain MIB2 infotainment via iPhone or Apple Watch. Post 2020 models, the Atlas will also include a complimentary 4-year subscription to VW's Remote Access Services to further aid the hands-free experience.

In this day and age, connectivity and hands-free capability have gone from desirable to non-negotiable in the car industry. Both the VW and the Honda offer Bluetooth capability and several USB ports throughout the cabin. Both also provide AUX inputs and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. However, this is where the similarities end.

3.3. Safety Features

Safety features between the 2023 Honda Pilot and the 2023 VW Atlas are superior to many other vehicles that are on the market today in the mid-sized SUV field. The Atlas comes with many features for the prevention of accidents as well as added protection built into the frame. An energy-absorbing steering column and automatic post-collision braking system are all designed to prevent impacts from occurring as well as reducing the severity of impacts by absorbing the brunt of the force. Rain braking support and hill start assist are designed to prevent slippage or skidding, and electronic stability control and side assist are all designed to prevent collision by detecting an object or vehicle and compensating steering for the driver. An area where the Atlas shines is passenger protection. The Atlas comes with airbags for all three rows of seating, which is rare for most vehicles. Side curtain airbags have rollover sensors, which are designed to protect occupants from head injury in the event of a collision. A crash-optimized front end is designed to absorb and deflect energy away from the passenger during a crash. Also, the advanced and rigid safety cage has front and rear crumple zones to help absorb energy. This vehicle was given a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA. Although some features are more advanced than others, Honda does a good job with safety features on the Pilot. Honda sent out a team of engineers to the IIHS facility in Virginia to analyze and test all areas of safety on the new design for the Pilot. From these tests, the Pilot received a TOP SAFETY PICK rating. This was all due to the fact that the new design for the Pilot has advanced safety features and excelled in all areas of crash test simulations. An ACE body structure is designed to transfer energy throughout the vehicle during a crash, which will reduce the impact force on the passengers. The Pilot design also has advanced compatibility engineering to help reduce the force of impact with smaller or larger vehicles. When comparing the two, Honda and VW do an exceptional job at protecting their passengers as well as designing features to prevent an accident from occurring. These features are sure to sell individuals who are concerned with the safety of their family.

3.4. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

The most effective use of these features will be in highway driving, and they were rated very well in a comprehensive review of safety systems in competitor vehicles.

On vehicles with Honda Sense, LED lighting on the instrument panel will indicate when the system is operating and the detected lane will be shown on the display screen. If the car starts to drift out of the detected lane without a turn signal on, the steering wheel will turn in the opposite direction and provide noticeable resistance. Road Departure Mitigation is an extension of the lane-keeping assist system. If the car is about to leave the road surface without the turn signal on, the wheel will again turn in the opposite direction and provide resistance, and the system will also brake and/or pull at one side of the vehicle to prevent it from leaving the road.

The new Pilot has systems that can monitor and assist the driver in scenarios including: Lane Keeping, Road Departure, Adaptive Cruise Control, Attentive Driving Mode, and Traffic Sign Recognition. This is achieved using a windshield-mounted camera, front radar, and rear radar, in conjunction with a host of sensors around the vehicle. These features are great for improving the safety of the vehicle, though they can result in the car essentially driving itself and requiring input from the driver monitoring system to tell the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. It is also suggested that the various systems can be turned off and on, and will give off specific warning messages should it detect that using the system will put the driver in an unsafe situation.

Dual purpose car: Both systems of the Pilot are designed to work in heavy traffic and on highways. The features are designed to improve the highway driving experience as well as reduce driver fatigue in stop and go traffic. This is an important distinction as some other available driver assistance systems on other vehicles are only designed for one or the other.

Honda Sense and Pilot Assist Plus are what Honda company called advanced driver assistance systems of the new Honda Pilot. These features were available in all trim levels of the vehicle. The systems Honda calls these features differ in the exact way that they operate, but functionally are quite similar to other manufacturers' products on the market. Of the two, Pilot Assist Plus is the more advanced version, which Honda describes as a semi-autonomous system and will likely be the more discussed feature. Unfortunately, the availability of these safety features is not adaptive, meaning all of the necessary safety features must be turned on manually every time the driver starts the car.

4. Price and Value

Let's break the two SUVs' cost and esteem down to two simple categories. Trim levels are a helpful tool when comparing one model to another. They provide a good foundation for comparing exactly what you get in a car for a set price. Unfortunately for the VW Atlas, there has not been detailed information available on 2023 trim level prices yet. However, the 2022 Atlas starts at $31,555 (USD). The entry-level model will be undercut by $160 (USD) with the base 2023 Honda Pilot LX grade starting at $31,395. At the top end of the model line, the Atlas has a starting price of $50,725. The real value lies at the top end of the Honda Pilot model line, which has a starting price of $49,120 for the fully loaded Black Edition. The top-end Pilot does everything better than the Atlas save for gas mileage. In terms of the Black Edition, Dennis says, "The Pilot Black Edition stays at the top of the Pilot trimmings and it is a great contrast to what I mentioned previously on the Atlas. The Black Edition is simply the best and most luxurious, which is all too often not the case with other manufacturers' top model." This is a testament to the Atlas' top model possessing a $350 resale value of 50% engine the $1200 ($49,120 vs. $50,725) engine the Pilot Black Edition would be the more sound investment. All things considered, the Honda Pilot holds the edge on trim level pricing and helps provide a sound investment and good long-term value.

4.1. Base Price and Trim Levels

Honda has yet to release pricing on the 2023 Pilot, however the 2022 version ranged from $32,550 for the base LX model up to $49,120 for the fully loaded Elite. It’s safe to assume the 2023 model will likely stay in that price range. The base level LX would be great for a family who doesn’t necessarily need leather seats, a sunroof, and navigation built into their vehicle. If you’re stepping up from the LX, to the EX FWD (2WD only) you’re looking at a price increase of $3,520. Here, you’ll get some nice upgrades like Honda Sensing, the intelligent Traction Management System, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with larger 18-inch wheels. For only $600, you can upgrade from the FWD to the AWD model. Following the schedule, the EXL AWD would be $39,590, then the Special Edition AWD for $40,340. This is a slightly newer trim level added to the lineup, which has all the features of the EXL plus the hands-free access power tailgate, wireless phone charging, and second-row sunshades.
This would put you into the Touring Trim, which is currently priced at $44,720. This is the trim to get if you’re planning on using the Pilot to tow, as the AWD version has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs compared to 3,500 on the previous trim levels. Along with the more capable AWD system and a standard 9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, you’ll get a plethora of different features such as a Wi-Fi hotspot, a hands-free access power tailgate, and a 590-watt premium audio system. If you’re a family who intends on keeping the Pilot for the next 8-10 years, it may be worth looking into the top Elite Trim or the Black Edition. These $48,820 and $49,120 models offer a similar range of features, differing on the Elite offering more of a luxurious feel with second-row captain’s chairs and the option of a heated second row. The Black Edition is a more stylish alternative, decked out with black features and orange stitching throughout the interior. Both models come standard with AWD, a 9-speed automatic transmission, and all the top safety and driver assist features.

4.2. Ownership Costs and Resale Value

Although it is difficult to anticipate ownership costs and resale values for cars that have yet to hit the streets, consumer resources like Kelley Blue Book can offer some insight. Going by the previous model year, the 2009 Pilot's 5-year Cost to Own value (which is a 5-year estimate of depreciation, fuel expenses, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales taxes) is rated excellent at 8. Honda's are recognized for their excellent resale value and several resources estimate that after 5 years a new 2010 Pilot will retain between 46-53% of its original value. Of all the resources, Edmunds and KBB are probably safe estimates of value retention. As an example of the 2009 Pilot's resale value, Edmunds TMV is $28,209 and a quick 2010 Pilot price report shows that the estimated trade-in value of a 2009 Pilot is around $22,589. A solid 7-8 grand difference from the original purchase price is very good. In total, these values are indicative that the Pilot offers better ownership value than many new cars in its class.
Unfortunately, owning a Pilot can be an expensive venture. Relatively average to above-average insurance premiums are offset by excellent IIHS safety ratings that can reduce the likelihood of high-cost accidents in this mostly family-oriented vehicle. However, there are widespread reports of premature transmission failure in the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 models that can cost upwards of $3000 to fix. Revisions for the 2005+ models solved a lot of the previous issues, but transmission problems will always be a negative mark on the second-generation Pilots. Compression ring problems in the 2009 engines cause fouled spark plugs that will need replacement as often as every 15,000 miles ($125). Spark plugs can be changed myself in a V6, but it's miserable work and a local mechanic quoted me at over $300 to do it. Step-up weight and class of the vehicle also mean higher fuel costs.


[1] K. D. Klinich, "Survey of Vehicle Controls and Displays," 2023. umich.edu

[2] S. Banna, A. Ottesen, and B. Alzougool, "Reasons Why Only Kuwaiti Citizens Drive Electric Vehicles despite Being Only a Quarter of the Population," World Electric Vehicle Journal, 2023. mdpi.com

[3] K. Oldknow, K. Mulligan, and G. McTaggart-Cowan, "The trajectory of hybrid and hydrogen technologies in North American heavy haul operations," in Railway Engineering …, 2021, Springer. springer.com