The Chattanooga, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Atlas helped the cause of the Wolfsburg brand in this country. It achieved this by targeting families with a spacious three-row mid-sized SUV that offered a straight-forward experience for all on board.
That’s great and all. However, there is now growth in an adjacent segment of the SUV market – the two-row mid-size SUV. It is not that everyone does not want a three-row SUV. It is because there are some customers who can live without carrying more passengers than cargo.
Volkswagen saw this shift in consumer tastes coming. They wanted “in” on this new subsegment of SUVs. Therefore, they took the Atlas and shrunk it a bit, lowered the roofline, made the rear area more rakish, and debuted an updated look for the big Atlas in the process.
Oh, Volkswagen also fashioned a new thinly-styled logo, too! They slapped it on several points around this new SUV.
The result is the Atlas Cross Sport.
To understand why Volkswagen created the Atlas Cross Sport, let me take out a tape measure to see the differences between it and its three-row sibling. First, off, both models share the same long wheelbase. The overall length is only shrunk by about three inches. Volkswagen also lopped off a couple of inches from the overall height, while keeping the same ground clearance.
Apart from these measurements, the visual differences become quite clear between the two- and three-row models. The new front clip makes its first appearance on the Atlas Cross Sport before it is affixed to the 2021 Atlas. It now has a more handsome three-dimensional look and fits well with the Cross Sport. If you swing to the rear of the SUV, the roofline is sleeker. Not exactly coupe-like; just less upright and sporty. My SEL tester came with 20-inch alloy wheels, a new side trim piece on the front doors, and a beautiful Pacific Blue paint job to wrap up its overall look.
I have to admit being attracted to the Cross Sport over the three-row model.
With the Cross Sport, Volkswagen took the opportunity to update the interior of both Atlas models. The steering wheel is new with the thinner, sleeker logo in the middle. My SEL tester had the Digital Cockpit, which is a customizable full screen for the instrumentation and information readouts. Everything else falls into place from the 8-inch Discover Media infotainment screen to every control and switch. I also love the short shifter Volkswagen installs in their vehicles for the automatic transmission along with the console=mounted ignition button.
The Atlas Cross Sport now has warmer colors on their trim pieces. The instrument panel and other darker finishes are in this gray-brown-ish finish – possibly, pewter? The seats are in a dark beige – could be saddle? Regardless, this is a tasteful cabin all around.
The front seats are large and supportive. I had to adjust myself to site lower than I usually do in the three-row Atlas, due to the lower roofline. Still, I was in command behind the wheel. The extra leg room out back is the big news inside. The seats are comfortable, to boot. You can have at least four adults riding comfortably for a road trip from the Twin Cities to Iowa City and back.
Where the Atlas Cross Sport will also win you over is the space behind the second row. In all, there is 40.3 cubic feet of cavernous room for activities. Fold down the rear seats, and you can load up to 77.8 cubic feet of anything you wish. It may not be as cavernous as the three-row Atlas, but the Cross Sport offers more room than its two-row mid-size SUV rivals.
Standard power for the Atlas Cross Sport is a 235-horsepower 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It offers solid torque, rated at 258 pound-feet. This engine has solid power, but it can be noisy under hard throttle. It also has the task of pulling 4,288 pounds worth of two-row mid-size SUV. That said, it does so without taxing the powertrain.
The TSI engine is attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission. My tester had the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system. With this driveline, I averaged 23.7 MPG. That’s better than I expected, to be honest.
If you really need more power – especially, if you want to tow up to 5,000 pounds – you can opt for the 276-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine.
The three-row Atlas is a smooth riding and genteel SUV. The Cross Sport shares the same wheelbase and its ride quality. It is smooth on highways and good slabs of tarmac. When the road gets rougher, the suspension system works to try to absorb them. One huge difference between the two-row and three-row models is how it truly feels. The Cross Sport feels more concentrated and smaller than its dimensions.
Taking on curves is easy, thanks to its stable handling. The Atlas Cross Sport does a good job handling maneuvers that would scare the average SUV. Push it beyond the limit, and you will feel some lean and roll. Steering-wise, I found there was a tad bit of play on-center. Putting the Atlas Cross Sport into Sport mode will weigh down the wheel. However, it cannot resolve the steering system’s wider turning radius and vague on-road feel. Also, I found the fenders to be a bit more upright for my liking when it comes to some very tight maneuvers. A 360-degree camera would help in this case, which my tester did not have.
The braking system is great with solid pedal feel and stopping power down to its four discs. I found good stops in normal and panic modes that are shorter than in the larger Atlas.
It is also worth mentioning that it will surprise you on how it does off the tarmac. It took on a rutted driveway with a steeper drop than usual with ease. The Atlas Cross Sport offers shorter overhangs, an 8-inch ground clearance and the 4MOTION system, just in case you have to use it to get over some bad pieces of dirt and gravel n the way to the farm or cabin. In addition, the 20-inch Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires surprised me with good grip on this maneuver.
If you really want a 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, then pricing might be right. The lineup starts at $30,545 for an S model with front-wheel-drive and the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. My SEL 4MOTION tester arrived with a sticker price of $42,700.
It is worth noting that you will soon see these new elements on the Atlas Cross Sport – the front clip, interior trim, new logos, etc. – in the 2021 Atlas three-row model.
While it is handsome, comfortable, and spacious, the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport does fit the profile for those looking for a mid-size two-row SUV. Does it fit your lifestyle? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Though I’d try one first before you sign the paperwork in your driveway.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America
All photos by Randy Stern