2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport by Ben Lewis

We recently tested the VW Atlas, the brand’s newest 3-row, 7-passenger SUV, and really liked it. And not just us, it’s been a strong sales success – an affordable, stylish, fun to drive 3-row SUV is a hot ticket these days. Just take a look at the Kia Telluride.

But the brand famous for the VW GTI can’t just let that large SUV sit there. They wanted to make something sportier, with a little more attitude and fun. Voila’! Welcome to the swoopier 5-seater Cross Sport. And we found it surprisingly different from its 3-row sibling.

Atlas Cross Sport Design – an Emphasis on Sport

VW took out the carving knives to create the Cross Sport – a lower roofline, an aggressive rear hatch, it’s five inches shorter and 2 inches lower. Don’t think it’s gone tiny on you – this is still a large vehicle and cuts an imposing silhouette.

It’s a standout too, with full LED lighting and a three-bar chrome grille. One thing we like – VW kept it simple. Something this big with lots of exterior frills can look too busy. The cleaner look gives it real presence – it easily could be an Audi or other high-end SUV. You do get a little bling here and there – the Cross Sport badges on the sides are tasteful, and the large ATLAS name strip on the rear looks bold.

It also looks capable – all Cross Sport models feature a Fjord-crossing 8-inches of ground clearance, and sharp departure angles that would help off-road. (Or parking speed bumps.) Poised on our SEL model’s 20-inch alloys, and wrapped in optional Pure Gray paint, our tester looked ready for some rugged terrain, or a little rallycross!

Atlas Cross Sport Interior – Massive Space-ship

Inside will be mostly familiar to anyone who’s been in a VW lately, and really familiar to someone who’s been in an Atlas. The big difference is the seating. Our previous Atlas tester had 3-rows of seats, and they were comfy, enjoying best in class 3rd row room. With no 3rd row, the Cross Sport become almost sinfully luxurious for those in back, and the luggage space is huge with seats up, and gargantuan with the rears folded.

While it is spacious in back, we’d prefer being up front. There’s the typical VW design – modern and clean – and the seats are large and comfortable. It is an interesting seating position, though, you feel a bit hunkered down – trying to get your elbow on the windowsill for classic cruising is a reach, and the dash feels high up as well. It feels more like a sports coupe than an SUV.

Make that a luxury sports coupe. Outside of a few hard plastics, our SEL came nicely equipped with a 10-way power driver’s seat in V-Tex Leatherette and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. The big news is the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit System. We enjoyed in on our recent VW Jetta GLI and it’s just as impressive here. Using a display that started in the upscale Audi brand, and in the Atlas, we get a massive 10-inch TFT display which you can customize depending on what you like to see. Having the navigation screen straight ahead of you is still our idea of the way to go.

Every Atlas Cross Sport model offers the ability to customize up to four driver settings. Dependent on trim, customizable features include driver seat memory, mirror settings, driver assistance system preferences, temperature, Volkswagen Digital Cockpit arrangement, and navigation view.

It’s an ideal partner with the generously-sized Discover Media 8-inch display in the center console. It’s a nice piece of kit to help you find your way – it features 2.5D navigation, one-shot voice destination entry, typed destination entry with search and auto-complete, and predicts possible destinations based on frequently used routes. Pretty cool.

VW is pretty hip to the tech, so Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as well, and our SEL’s 6-speaker audio system sounded good – but the SEL Limited’s amazing 12-speaker Fender audio system would seriously tempt us.

Atlas Cross Sport Performance – an Atlas Rocket?

Houston, we have a problem. When we tested the 3-row Atlas, it was powered by the larger, sweet-sounding 3.6L V6 engine that pumps out 276 hp and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. On our front wheel drive Cross Sport, we had the smaller 2.0-liter, turbo four-cylinder that serves up 235 hp, and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.

Working through the standard 8-speed automatic, it’s responsive, and relatively quick. But you get the feeling it’s working hard to move that much mass around. We might opt for the V6. Drive for yourself and decide.

The long-travel suspension gives a smooth ride, and this would be an easy vehicle to toss around on a fire road, and it would be a fine all-weather ride as well. Compared to the Atlas 3-row, it feels more adventuresome and sportier.

And if you opt for the available 4Motion 4WD it should be quite capable off-road. For the daily drive, it’s quiet and composed, and with its broad shouldered stance, low nice and solid build quality, would be an excellent vehicle for a long distance cruise as well. And you have the European feel when you drive that puts you in the Audi, BMW and Mercedes zone. A nice place to be.

Safety equipment is comprehensive, our tester featuring Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Active Blind Spot and Rear Traffic Alert, Lane Keep System and Traffic Jam Alert, Dynamic Road Sign Display and Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go.

Big Value Too?

Like most European vehicles, that will depend on how you spec it. You can get into an Atlas Cross Sport S for just $30,545 that’s a lot of vehicle for the money, and if you want 4Motion All-wheel-drive, it’s an additional $1,900. There’s an SE model that starts at $33,945, and it opens up a few desirable options, including the available Technology Package which includes Remote start, Park Distance Control and 20” alloy wheels. You can also add a Panoramic Sunroof for $1,200. Go for the V6 engine and 4Motion, and you’re right under $40,000. A good sweet spot.

Our tester was the luxury SEL trim with front wheel drive and 2.0-L 4-cylinder. Starting at $39,545, and adding $395 for the Pure Gray Exterior, and $1,020 for destination, we totaled in at $40,960.

Competition would include the Honda Passport ( a Honda Pilot chop job) at $40,400 for a Passport Touring 2WD. A lovely vehicle – we think the VW is a more involving drive, and more aggressive looks, but at the same price you get a powerful V6 for the same price.

If you’re looking for that European feel, the Audi Q5 is a great SUV, but it starts at $43,300 and you’ll easily get to $50,000 to be comparably equipped to the VW. We’ll say the Cross Sport is competitively priced within the segment, and the bargain buy if you want something with the Euro goodness.

Stylish, spacious, sporty and luxurious – the VW Atlas Cross Sport stands out from the crowd of boring SUVs!