Long the laggard in the booming U.S. sport-utility vehicle market, Volkswagen is playing a fast game of catch-up, one quickly paying off as it defies this year’s downturn in the American automotive market.
The German manufacturer rolled out its latest entry during a preview at its sprawling assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on““““ Friday, the new Atlas Cross Sport offering buyers a sleeker, five-seat alternative to the seven-seat Atlas SUV that has already become one of the brand’s most popular models in years.
Volkswagen was “a little late to the curve,” with a number of gaps in its line-up, Scott Keogh, the CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said during the preview. It is in the midst of a “massive swing,” he added, with the Cross Sport just the latest in a series of new utility vehicles to come. That includes both a smaller model and VW’s first all-electric offering for the U.S. which also will adopt an SUV body style.
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At first glance, potential shoppers might confuse the new Cross Sport with the original Atlas model. The dimensions are virtually identical, with the same, 117.3-inch wheelbase and an overall length that’s just 2.8 inches shorter than the seven-seater. Height is also down a bit over 2 inches.
A closer look reveals a number of visual updates, including a revised grille – with the new VW logo unveiled at last month’s Frankfurt Motor Show – more sculpturing to the rear body panels, a more coupe-like roofline that flows into a completely new rear end, and the availability of 21-inch wheels on the R-Line edition of the Cross Sport. Essentially, everything from the B-pillar back has been updated.
The R-Line, incidentally, will shift a bit from the version offered on the existing Volkswagen Atlas, opting for piano black detailing that replaces some of the current chrome accents.
Open up the front doors and the cabin is immediately familiar, though here there also have been tweaks made in terms of materials meant to give the Cross Sport a bit more luxurious feel. Beyond losing the third row, the second row no longer tilts and slides – something of a surprise, as having the ability to slide fore and aft is something a few competitors like to brag about.
Whether that will matter is uncertain as rear legroom is substantial, easily topping one key competitor, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now, pop the tailgate and be prepared to discover an absolutely massive cargo compartment. You’ll find 40.3 cubic feet behind the second row and a full 77.8 cf when those seats are folded down.
From a technology perspective, the Cross Sport will take what’s already offered on the seven-seat Atlas up a notch. It will offer 4G WiFi and, shortly after launch, Qi wireless charging. There’s a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and the large touchscreen infotainment package features an array of connected car apps.
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At a sneak peek a few weeks back, TheDetroitBureau.com got a look at several of the new functions, including remote starting.
We also had the chance to check out the new Traffic Jam Assist system debuting on the five-passenger version of the Atlas. It takes the current adaptive cruise control system up a notch, not only matching the speed of the car ahead and holding your place in your lane but also bringing you to a complete stop, if necessary. The SUV will start up again if traffic starts moving within three seconds. Otherwise, you just need to gently tap the throttle. The system also can read, display and respond to road signs.
From a powertrain perspective, buyers will get two choices, starting with a 2.0-liter turbo-four making a respectable 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The alternative is a 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6 that takes the numbers up to 276 hp and 266 lb-ft. Both are paired with an eight-speed automatic and, beating out the seven-seat Atlas, the Cross Sport will come to market with a choice of both front and all-wheel-drive for either of the two engine packages.
As for fuel economy, initial EPA ratings are not available yet for the V-6. The turbo-four will deliver 21 mpg city, 24 highway and 22 combined in front-wheel-drive configuration, 18/23/20 with all-wheel-drive.
For those who plan to haul a boat or some other trailer, maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.
We’ll have to wait until closer to the on-sale date next spring for pricing on the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, though CEO Keogh hinted it will be “in the $30,000 price range.” The current, seven-door Atlas starts just over $32,000 including delivery fees.
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Even before the arrival of the Cross Sport, Volkswagen’s newfound focus on SUVs has begun to pay off big time. Its current line-up accounts for 52% of its U.S. sales, up from 14% in 2016. And the automaker hopes to see that upward momentum continue. It plans to roll out a number of additional SUVs in the coming years, including the first long-range all-electric model it will offer in the states. We’ll have more on that strategy in a separate story.