By Derek Price
As part of the endless slicing and dicing that makes up the contemporary market for crossover vehicles, Volkswagen has birthed a new flavor of the Atlas this year.
Based closely on VW’s spacious, three-row SUV, the Atlas Cross Sport deletes the back seat and gets a sloping, sporty roofline and big cargo area in its place.
As a styling exercise, it works beautifully.
The sleek back roof changes the character of the vehicle from purely functional to somewhat sporty — at least as sporty as a galumphing SUV can be.
As a practical vehicle, though, the prettier look in back requires a major sacrifice in practicality. Even if you don’t use it all that often, having a third-row seat in a pinch is a great luxury when you need it. And as good as it looks, the Atlas Cross Sport’s tapering shape drastically cuts down on overall cargo volume.
With the seats folded flat in the original Atlas, there’s 98.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. Do the same thing in the Cross Sport, and you’ve only got 77.8 cubic feet to work with — still enough for many tasks, but 21% less than in the three-row version.
The Atlas Cross Sport is priced $1,000 less than the bigger Atlas, making the buying decision one about personal preferences more than money.
If you value practicality and need that third-row seating, the Atlas is hard to beat. If you value style and like the sleeker look, the Atlas Cross Sport fills that niche perfectly.
One of my favorite things about the Atlas is the way it handles, and that’s true of the Cross Sport version, too. This is one of the more car-like vehicles of its size, tuned for people who like crisp turning and the ability to feel what the car is doing over the road. In the long German tradition, it feels taut, not sloppy.
My tester was powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine — the most powerful in the lineup with 276 horsepower. Even with the biggest engine, I could feel the vehicle’s weight every time I mashed the accelerator. This is such a large, nearly truck-size vehicle that it almost requires a truck-size V8 engine under the hood to feel sprightly.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 235 horsepower. It delivers government-rated fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. The V6 drops those numbers down to 17 and 23 (or 16 and 22 with all-wheel drive).
Inside, like the Atlas, the Cross Sport’s top selling point is space. It really is roomy, clearly designed with American-size passengers and drivers in mind. The quality of materials and construction seems on par with this highly competitive class of vehicle.
One very bright spot: VW’s infotainment system is wonderfully easy to use. It responds quickly and is designed in a way that looks sleek and modern, something that feels ironic when I think about older Volkswagens. I remember some bizarre HVAC and radio controls, but today’s VWs are simpler to understand — and in some ways much better — than many American and Japanese competitors.
The Cross Sport aims to deliver a lot of content for the money. Standard features include 18-inch wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitors, rear traffic alert and a built-in WiFi hot spot.
If you want to upgrade it, VW’s Digital Cockpit is one of my favorite features. It gives you snazzy looking, customizable graphics behind the steering wheel that gives you lots of information about the vehicle and trip. You can also get your Atlas Cross Sport with leather seats, adaptive lighting, radar-based cruise control, remote start and an Easy Open back hatch for convenience.
Pricing starts at $30,545 for the base S trim and ranges all the way up to $49,795 for the fully loaded SEL Premium R-Line. The mid-grade SEL starts at $39,545.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL ($43,245). Options: Aurora Red metallic paint ($395), Monster Mats trunk liner ($235), privacy cover for cargo area ($200), roadside assistance kit ($85). Price as tested (including $1,020 destination charge): $45,180
Wheelbase: 117.3 in.
Length: 195.5 in.
Width: 78.4 in.
Height: 67.8 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (276 hp, 266 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 22 highway
Why buy it?
The two-row Cross Sport looks more modern and stylish than the purely utilitarian, three-row Atlas. Even with the sloping roof, the rear cargo area is still spacious with a long loading floor and the ability to fold down the back seat.