While the very name, Volkswagen, may bring to mind images of the Beetle, the Golf and the GTI, what’s drying buyers to VW showrooms these days is a very different sort of product. Sport-utes like the Tiguan and newer Atlas model dominate demand.
It should be no surprise that, after a slow start, Volkswagen is rapidly fleshing out its crossover line-up, with an assortment of new models in the works, including the all-electric ID.4 and a yet-unnamed model set to slot in under the current base-model Tiguan. We’ll see both of those in showrooms over the next year or so. But for those who don’t want to wait – and who want gobs of space for passengers and cargo, the newest addition to the line-up is the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.
As the name implies, it’s meant to be a sportier version of the three-row Atlas. And, at first glance, you might have trouble telling them apart – the updated Atlas adopting many of the design tweaks found on the Cross Sport. But how do they compare in other ways? To find out, we headed up to Vancouver for a couple days behind the wheel of the two-row model.
While the two versions of the VW Atlas might look quite similar, at first, there are some notable differences beyond the number of rows. The Cross Sport may share the same, 117.3-inch wheelbase but, at 195.5 inches, nose-to-tail, it’s 5.2 inches shorter. Width remains the same 78.4 inches, but the height of the two-row model drops 2.3 inches, to 67.8.
Perhaps it’s worth comparing to some of the other vehicles in the segment, however. The Atlas Cross Sport has as much as a 6.3-inch advantage over other models in its two-row segment, including the Ford Edge, Honda Passport and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
So, while it may be a wee bit shorter than the three-row Atlas, the Cross Sport delivers massive amounts of interior and cargo space. If that were your primary consideration it would be hard to look anywhere else.
Of course, there are other factors to consider, as we did while up in British Columbia. Price, for example. Volkswagen has worked hard to counter the perception that it is the high-priced spread. There actually is quite a spread from the base S to the SEL Premium R-Line trims – from $31,565 to $49,795 before options and $1,020 in delivery fees – but when going head-to-head with competitors like those we mentioned the new Atlas Cross Sport continues to come across well.
Skipping the base S model, which is largely a fleet offering, even the relatively low-end SE, at a starting price of $34,965, offers a wealth of desirable features, such as keyless entry, heated front seats, automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat and an 8-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system.
It also comes standard with advanced driver assistance technologies including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. Other ADAS technologies, including active cruise control, are optional on the SE, with some included as standard fare on higher-level trims.
Two features worthy of note are the Dynamic Road Sign Display system intended to spot a change in the local speed limit and automatically adjust your cruise control speed – while displaying the revised number for those using their right foot on the throttle. There’s also the Traffic Jam Assist feature, first offered by sibling brand Audi, allowing the car to automatically adapt to changing traffic conditions at low speeds, even coming to a complete stop and then starting back up again when traffic begins to move.
At a time when many manufacturers are opting for simplified powertrain options – some abandoning everything but four-cylinder offerings, VW continues to give Atlas Cross Sport buyers two distinctive options:
· A 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four; and
· A 276 hp V-6 which, like the turbo-four, is paired to an eight-speed automatic with double overdrive.
· Both engines drive the front wheels, though all-wheel-drive is available as a $1,900 option.
There’s less of a difference than you might expect between the two engines in terms of launch, both hitting 60 in less than eight seconds based on our very informal test. Whether it’s worth the extra $1,800 for the V-6 is questionable. It sounds a bit nicer and likely would handle towing a little more easily – turbos often pushed to work a bit harder with a trailer behind, something that can seriously impact fuel economy.
That’s not something you can read in the official EPA specs, however. The feds give the 2.0T the definite advantage, rating it at 21 mpg City and 24 Highway with the front-driver, 18/23 with AWD. The V-6, meanwhile, gets an EPA-rated 17/23 in FWD, 16/22 with AWD.
The numbers are reasonable but not outstanding. You pay a penalty for the Cross Sport’s roominess. The Honda Passport, depending upon configuration, gets up to 20 City, 27 Highway, the Ford Edge up to 21/29.
The differences are minor and are likely to be minimized by buyers looking for all that space – especially with gas prices currently so low.
Where we found the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport falling a little short was in its overall road dynamics. It just doesn’t quite deliver the sporty and aggressive feel that you’d expect considering both the name and the looks, with the coupe-like roofline and steeply raked back glass.
The Cross Sport delivers a smooth, even ride that passengers will enjoy, with reasonably modest body roll in corners. But steering is on the numb side and we had to work harder than we’d expected holding a line while heading north to Whistler, the region’s big skiing resort, along twisty route 99.
It may not offer the sportiest ride, but the two-row version of the Atlas does have an attractively sporty look, both inside and out. The cabin is reasonably well appointed, especially as you move up the grade level ladder. There are nice details, like the stitching on door panels and metallic accents on the steering wheel. Surprisingly, this is a five-passenger package, with a three-seat bench for the second row only.
Like other manufacturers, VW has been rushing to introduce new, high-tech features and it has updated its Car-Net smartphone app, adding features such as remote start, along with the usual functions like remote door locking and unlocking. Car-Net comes standard, along with the App-Net feature letting you display smartphone apps on the infotainment screen. Onboard Wi-Fi is available for a subscription fee.
Overall, while a bit more sporty driving feel would be appreciated, it’s hard not to like the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. For those who like plenty of interior space and a nice looking design, inside and out, VW has come through quite well.