As the U.S. market continues to favor crossovers and SUVs, the new Atlas Cross Sport is a competitive entry into the midsize segment

Shipping out to dealerships now is the new 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, to which I know you’re thinking, “Yay! Another crossover!” Competing in a class the EPA classifies as “compact”, there’s nothing small about the Atlas Cross Sport...nor the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, or Jeep Grand Cherokee with which it competes. Product planners may also consider the Chevrolet Blazer, Nissan Murano, and Toyota 4Runner as viable players in the conference.

Many of the aforementioned alternatives have either been significantly updated or, in the case of the Blazer, completely resurrected in the last few years – at the opposite end of that scale is the 4Runner, which was last redesigned a decade ago. Because five-speed automatic for the win, right? Sigh.

Affixing “Cross Sport” to the three-year-old Atlas must mean the two vehicles are related, right? Indeed. As we previewed in October, VW builds the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport on the same line at its Chattanooga Assembly Plant. The midsize Atlas replaced the Touareg in North America, and the Atlas Cross Sport replaces…that’s a good question.

According to Volkswagen, its large-ish two-row doesn’t replace anything. Rather, the CUV shores up its portfolio. Just as VW built the Atlas with North America in mind, the Atlas Cross Sport is for those same consumers – but ones who don’t need a third row.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

The Price Of Power

The Atlas Cross Sport comes in eight trims: S, SE, SE w/ Tech, SE w/ Tech R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line. Within the segment, the base Cross Sport is the most affordable. But like its competitors, higher trim models eek past the $50,000 mark with options.

Like the Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. An available 3.6-liter V6 offers 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Towing numbers are also the same: 2,000 pounds with the four-cylinder and 5,000 pounds with the V6. With the Tiguan, its 2.0-liter turbo-four is tuned for 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Towing power is up to 1,500 pounds. But, hey, everyone gets an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Now, you’d think with one less row than the Atlas, there would be an improvement in handling and dynamics with the Atlas Cross Sport. But, no. The Cross Sport shaves only about a hundred pounds from the Atlas’ bulk. Fuel economy gains are minimal with one city mpg more than the Atlas at 21/24/22 for the 2.0T FWD. The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport V6 versions received identical EPA numbers of 17/23/19 (FWD) and 16/22/19 (AWD). There is no Atlas 2.0T AWD but the Cross Sport model is rated at 18/23/20. From our brief time behind the wheel, detecting a performance difference between the two proved enigmatic.

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SUV Samesies

Our drive route afforded us time on the ever scenic, sometimes precarious, Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia, Canada. Starting in downtown Vancouver, our mostly highway trip took us from the coastal vistas of Horseshoe Bay to the waterfalls of Squamish, and ended in the mountainous interior of Whistler. Including a couple of scenic stops along the way, we drove about 90 miles total. Divide that by two people and two engines and, well, I enjoyed the Altas Cross Sport 2.0T SE with Technology and SEL Premium R-Line V6 models at 22.5 miles a pop.

No, that’s not much time to properly test a vehicle, but so be it. With a dozen-plus oysters on my plate at lunch (judge me) post drive, I slurped some thoughts away. Was the vehicle quiet? Relatively, especially considering each one was equipped with winter tires, a requirement that is provincial law throughout most of B.C. from October 1 through April 30. A quick peek spotted Bridgestone Blizzak treads.

There was more engine noise with the 2.0-liter, as the four-cylinder was obviously working harder, but it wasn’t sluggish.

Was power an issue with the climbs and descents? With the V6, not at all. With the 2.0T, same. There was more engine noise with the 2.0-liter, as the four-cylinder was obviously working harder, but it wasn’t sluggish. How was the steering feel? Adequate. You know, like the Atlas. And while unbelievably breathtaking when not hidden behind fog and general winter hullabaloo, the Sea-to-Sky Highway isn’t the most engaging road out there – at least the portion we drove. Maybe in the driest conditions, but with freezing temperatures, threatening ice, along with elevation changes and the not-too-subtle warning that 20 kmh (12 mph) over the speed limit meant vehicle impoundment, I drove like my inner grandparent. (Impoundment actually happens with plus-40 kmh/24 mph, but who wants to be that guy at a corporate event?)

The Atlas Cross Sport won’t win any road rallies, yet it handled itself with poise. Never did I feel there was too much crossover to control. Even with a turning circle of 40.5 feet, which is more than its segment rivals and even the Atlas (listed at 38.1 feet), the Atlas Cross Sport doesn’t turn like a school bus. In fact, the one time I made a U-turn, even my driving partner mentioned that its turning circle wasn’t bad.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

New Safety Features To Learn

The Atlas Cross Sport comes with a plethora of driver-assistance features, including blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, automatic post-collision braking, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking as standard. Available are adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist, parking assist, automatic high-beams, and an overhead camera view. And newly available to the U.S. market are traffic-sign recognition and traffic jam assist.

Traffic-sign recognition is as self-explanatory as a system name can get. Forward-facing cameras detect road signs and transfer that information into the navigation system to inform that you’re within the impound-speed zone, of course.

The Atlas Cross Sport comes with a plethora of driver-assistance features.

Traffic jam assist works in conjunction with adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. As long as those systems are activated, TJA will turn on automatically to steer, accelerate, and brake the vehicle up to 37 mph. If this speed sounds goofy, it converts to 60 kmh, which sounds less silly. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the system to work.

When encountering morning traffic in Vancouver, my co-driver tried to find an activation switch to no avail. So, I did what most people wouldn’t: opened up the owner’s manual, read through the safety section on Traffic jam assist, and couldn’t find any error on our part.. Maybe the ACC wasn’t set soon enough or the speed too low, or the other systems weren’t actually on. Or maybe the cameras and lasers couldn’t detect the lane markers because of construction barricades. So many maybes but one definitive “no” in that the new feature wasn’t actually tested. Traffic Jam Assist aside, the ACC did operate as expected.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Fashionable Style

Design-wise, the Atlas Cross Sport wears the standard Volkswagen cloak of anonymity. Angles are slightly sharpened and sloped, particularly the raked rear hatch, making its height 2.2 inches lower than the Atlas. And although sitting on the same wheelbase, with the third row removed the Atlas Sport Cross is 2.8 inches shorter in length yet somehow 0.1 inches wider. Hmm.

Full LED lighting and automatic headlights are standard across the lineup, while 900-lumen LED headlights with adaptive front lighting comes on SEL models. A new front fascia along with restyled front and rear bumpers further differentiate the Cross Sport from the Atlas. But the casual passerby will notice none of this.

Design-wise, the Atlas Cross Sport wears the standard Volkswagen cloak of anonymity.

Both Cross Sport models I drove wore Platinum Gray Metallic outfits. Neither flashy or outright boring; just off-the-rack basic. Luckily, Volkswagen offers a couple of blue hues at no additional charge if the wallflower look isn’t your thing.

The interior styling is – wait for it – nearly identical to the Atlas. But instead of a 12.3-inch digital cockpit display, the Cross Sport is outfitted with a 10.3-inch one. Standard is a 6.5-inch touchscreen with an 8.0-inch version available on higher trim levels. Tapping on that non-haptic surface, however, proved to be cumbersome while driving. Even from the passenger side, I didn’t always hit the correct menu option – and there are quite a lot of options. But owners can customize as they choose, and that’s a plus.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

More Than Enough Comfort And Cargo

In terms of comfort, both the leatherette upholstery of the SE and genuine leather surfaces of the SEL Premium R-Line received no complaints. The steering wheel felt beefy but not too large. Two-tone dash and door inserts paired with contrast stitching are available on upper trim levels for that added premium look and feel.

VW put some thought into the ergonomics. For example, the manual front passenger seat height has 19 different settings. Meaning from the lowest position, I pulled the lever 19 times before the seat finally stopped rising. At 5’2” my head did not hit the liner. At 6’2”, my driving buddy’s did when in the same seat. Excessive? Yeah. But everybody is different so kudos to Volkswagen for acknowledging the long, short, and in-between torso’d.

With an echo chamber of up to 77.8 cubic feet, the Atlas Cross Sport maintains a podium finish behind the Toyota 4Runner (89.7 cu.-ft.) and Honda Passport (77.8 cu.-ft.).

And no surprise that, like the Atlas, the interior is downright cavernous. With an echo chamber of up to 77.8 cubic feet, the Atlas Cross Sport maintains a podium finish behind the Toyota 4Runner (89.7 cu.-ft.) and Honda Passport (77.8 cu.-ft.). For the sake of why not, the Tiguan offers up to 73.5 cu.-ft. And while the Atlas Cross Sport has more than an inch of legroom for both rows, a five-passenger Tiguan itself can comfortably carry four adults (three of whom were six-footers) and their luggage, which included skis. So, there’s no question to the Atlas Cross Sport’s own functionality and usability.

(Note: Honda’s specs will list the Passport with up to 100.7 cu.-ft. But to paraphrase a footnote, that’s only if the front-row seats are pushed into the most forward-facing, upright position that no adult can actually comfortably drive in. So, don’t at me about that.)

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Market Value

According to Wards, 52 percent of the U.S. Light Vehicle Market was made up of crossovers and SUVs. Similarly, more than half of Volkswagen’s sales last year were thanks to its crossovers, which itself experienced a 16-percent year-over-year increase. The business case for the Atlas Cross Sport is obvious but the curious wonder what the sales mix between engines might be and how the smaller, more affordable Tiguan enters the mix.

The smaller ute offers seven-passenger capability at a $7,600 discount over the Atlas. But for a VW fan who only needs seating for five, the all-wheel-drive Tiguan starts at $27,265 versus the front-drive Atlas Cross Sport at $31,565. The $4,300 difference might seem high to some, but when spread out over the average 69-month car loan (yeah, it’s long now), that’s another $62 a month. Tiguan AWD versus Atlas Cross Sport AWD moves that difference to $6,200. What does that buy? For starters, more power.

The business case for the Atlas Cross Sport is obvious.

The Tiguan offers only one powertrain but the both the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are available with a turbo-four or a V6. But unlike the Atlas, a front-drive Cross Sport is available with the four-cylinder on six of eight available trims. The Atlas limits the turbo-four to FWD-only duties with no R-Line or Premium model options.

Volkswagen was mum on figures, but when there is a $19,250 difference from the entry Cross Sport S 2.0T FWD to the top-of-the-line SEL Premium R-Line V6 AWD, it’s just something to ponder while strolling that lengthy price walk.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium R-Line AWD

Engine 3.6-Liter V6
Output 276 Horsepower / 266 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 16 City / 22 Highway / 19 Combined
Weight 4,411 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 77.8 Cubic Feet (2nd row folded down)
Towing 5,000 Pounds
Base Price $39,245
As-Tested Price $51,050