The Volkswagen Atlas is a large, three-row SUV, and Volkswagen sold over 80,000 Atlas three-row SUVs last year. In its push to secure an even larger slice of the SUV space, Volkswagen is now offering a two-row, five-seat version called the Atlas Cross Sport. The 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport shrinks the Atlas SUV body to 195.5 inches (5.2 less) and tweaks the roofline to 67.8 inches (down 2.3) for a sportier profile to give a more athletic curb appeal. This results in the 21″ wheels being pushed to the corners and giving the Cross Sport a more menacing stance. It now only seats five but otherwise has the same general interior and engine lineup as the regular Atlas. The Atlas is classified as a midsize SUV however I would disagree with that as it certainly filled out my parking space and it seems rather imposing when parked on the street.
A new front fascia along with restyled front and rear bumpers further differentiate the Cross Sport from the Atlas. But the casual passerby including myself will notice none of this. These nips and tucks to the sheetmetal save around 200 pounds depending on trim level from the Atlas, but this still means a curb weight of over 4,400 lb. The Cross Sport sits on the same 117.3-inch wheelbase with 8 inches of ground clearance as the big brother and retains its width at 78.4 inches across. However the Cross Sport still shares the same 0.34 drag coefficient as its larger sibling which results in similar fuel efficiency across the spectrum of engine options. This means 21 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for the front-wheel-drive four-cylinder. In our all-wheel-drive V6 test vehicle that means around 16 mpg in the city city and 22 mpg on the highway.
No third row in the Cross Sport also means the split-folding bench seat in the Cross Sport slides back farther than in the larger Atlas, opening up an additional three inches of legroom. As you might expect these design changes mean a reduced interior volume. By the numbers, there’s 40.3 cubic feet behind the second row and 77.8 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. That’s a loss of 15.2 and 19 cubes, but in reality it is all lost space near the ceiling. We had no problem fitting everything but the kitchen sink in the Cross Sport when running errands around town, in fact with the second row of seats down we could comfortably have started a local house moving service.
One of the downsides to the Cross Sport is that the name alludes to a sportier drive however while this is no knock to the car the sport doesn’t really live up to that athletic moniker. The Cross Sport is no more agile than before and the ride is just as soft as the standard model, instead of sport we would consider it more comfort-focused. The Cross Sport feels big when you are on the road and with that comes a lack of some of the car-like nimbleness that some of its competitors have around town. While on the highway, the SUV feels almost truck-ish because of its size.
Two engines are available to buyers of the Atlas Cross Sport, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V6, each paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Either can be had in front-wheel drive configuration or the Volkswagen 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The test example features 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque to the party. Compared to the 2.0T 235 horsepower, it’s got 41 extra horsepower, but only 8 more pound-feet of torque. I would probably take the 2 liter turbo over the V6 as I don’t really see the benefit of the extra 3000 lb hauling capacity in my day to day life, the V6 is able to tow 5000 pounds; the turbo-four is rated to only 2000 pounds.
The Cross Sport features an identical list of standard and optional driver technology as the larger Atlas. Which means there is a plethora of features including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency brake assist, pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and automatic high beams. My tester also featured lane-keeping assist and lane-departure alerts that I found unobtrusive and helpful. The Fender premium audio system sounds excellent and offers a dynamic range, punchy bass, and lots of volume when needed.
Volkswagen’s cabin technology is still among the best in the class, mostly because of its simplicity and the smartly chosen features, the menu is easy to read and makes everything so straight forward. The upgraded 8-inch display plays host to standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, and is nicely positioned. The optional navigation software gets me where I need to go without issue and works well with the voice recognition that Volkswagen’s running these days. The top-level SEL (test vehicle) offers the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, which I liked. It is customizable and certainly worth considering. I found the Cross Sport to be exceptionally quiet inside and very comfortable on all my journeys.
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport starts at $31,565 for the base 2.0T S model, including a $1,020 destination charge, that is a $1,000 savings over the larger, three-row model, and tops out at the $50,815 V6 SEL Premium R-Line with 4Motion all-wheel drive. Previously, all-wheel drive was only available with the V-6, but the Cross Sport offers all-wheel drive with either engine for $1900. Our test vehicle came in at $50,190 as it included the Pure Gray Exterior paint which we think is with the upgrade.
While the Atlas Cross Sport may disappoint in its driving dynamics, its design inside and out is well executed, in the SEL Premium trim, the cabin is a rather nice place to be, with comfortable leather seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, heated/ventilated front seats, and a large panoramic sunroof with a front section that can slide open or vent.
Volkswagen builds the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport on the same line at its Chattanooga Assembly Plant. Volkswagen sees the Cross Sport’s competition as the Nissan Murano, the Ford Edge, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and the Honda Passport. In the end we found that the Atlas Cross Sport was a comfortable ride, boasted a solid mix of features and technology and retained the spacious cargo and passenger capacity despite its more svelte shape. What is our biggest takeaway though is just how much better the reshaped rear end looks. What we would like to see though would be a sportier R-Line option to go with the badge.