2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport

By Author: Brendan R. Appel, Date: Oct 14, 2020

Room for an NBA Team

There seems to come a time in every parent’s life where you become excited at the prospect of taking your two or three kids along with their two or three friends out somewhere.  So, you instinctively buy a three-row, seven-passenger SUV, and life is good.  But then you find that you’re the one always being asked to drive everywhere, with other people’s children in tow. After a while, you begin to look at that new SUV with a sense of disdain, and you vow to never again buy a car that holds more people than your own family.  If Timmy wants to tag along, let his father drive him!  There’s only one problem: you’ve gotten used to the practical size of that three-row behemoth, especially with all the stuff it can carry. So, what do you buy now?

Thankfully, Volkswagen has the perfect answer for you, and it’s called the Atlas Cross Sport.  Starting life as a full-sized, three-row Atlas, the Cross Sport ditches the third-row, loses 5.2” of length, and lowers the roofline for a sportier look.  Not only that, Volkswagen takes full advantage of the Cross Sport’s interior room by pushing the rear seats back an extra 2.8 inches, giving a limousine-like feel with a massive 40.4 inches of legroom.  This has to be the roomiest second row of any SUV on the market today, and with the already spacious front seat space, there is certainly ample room for the big and tall out there – even the starting 5 on your average NBA team can get comfortable in this crossover. Along with all the room, a panoramic sunroof also keeps rear seat occupants from feeling claustrophobic.  Eleven cup holders, yes we actually counted them, will make sure you and your passengers stay well hydrated.

Cargo room is huge for a 5-passenger SUV, measuring in at 40.3 cubic feet, which is three feet more than the similarly sized 5-passenger Lincoln Nautilus.  On paper, that 3 cubic feet may not sound like much, but in reality, you can really see and feel the difference. While the Cross Sport’s capacity is down from the full Atlas’ 55.5 cubic feet with the third row folded, you don’t seem to miss those extra 15 feet, perhaps owing to much of that loss being vertical space, a victim of the sport-back look.  Fold the Cross Sport’s rear seats down, and cargo volume balloons to 77.8 cubic feet – 9 more than the Nautilus.

Standard power comes from VW’s ubiquitous 2.0L inline 4-cylinder turbo making a very familiar (to VW/Audi owners) 235hp and 258lb-ft of torque.  This same engine has been around a while and makes good power in a lot of applications.  Optional, and highly recommended, is a 3.6L VR6 making 276hp and 266lb-ft of torque.  Moving to the nostalgic VR6 (who remembers the VR6 Corrado?) will only cost you $1,300 and a few miles-per-gallon – and while there isn’t a huge power and torque advantage over the 2.0L engine, having a 6-cylinder under the hood just feels right in a vehicle this size.  Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic that competently gets the job done.

Trim levels start with the base FWD S 2.0T models at $30,545 and move all the way up to an SEL Premium R-Line at $49,795.  Our test vehicle was one step below that top rung, an SEL Premium, starting at $48,095.  That price – about the same as a top-of-the-line 7-passenger Hyundai Palisade – gets you 4Motion AWD, 20” alloy wheels, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, leather seating trim, a 360 surround camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic assist, forward collision warning and auto emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, auto high beam headlines, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, hill hold control and descent control, remote start, an excellent Fender premium audio system with a subwoofer, an 8” touchscreen navigation system with Android Auto and Apple Car Play,  a wireless phone charger and a swipe-foot-to-open rear hatch.  That’s quite an impressive list of features for under $50,000.  VW also includes two years (or 20,000 miles) of free scheduled maintenance as well, along with a luxury-like 4 year/50,000 mile warranty.  Notably, however, VW only includes 3 years or 36,000 miles of roadside assistance, so you’ll want to pick up a AAA membership after that ends.  The only options on our test vehicle were the “Pure Gray” exterior (which photographs beautifully at twilight) at $395 and a $235 set of Monster Mats with a heavy-duty trunk liner.  The only feature missing that we’d like to see is a Head-Up Display.

While the list of features and impressive dimensions are great, driving is where the Cross Sport really shines. Suspension is Volkswagen tight, and if you’ve driven a VW recently, you’ll know exactly what that means – bumps are absorbed well with only enough transfer to the chassis to let you know what is going on underneath you. Steering is spot-on accurate and road feel is good.  German engineering for German mountain roads can be felt every time you have to take a turn or on a twisty road, especially in sport mode.  The Cross Sport feels taught but not harsh; athletic but not unforgiving. Brakes are firm and linear.  In addition to sport, there are normal, eco, snow and off-road modes as well, but most drivers will probably find normal suitable for every day driving.  We, of course, mostly opted for sport mode which enhances steering feel, throttle response and the transmission’s aggressiveness.  And, while we prefer the VR6 engine over the 4-cylinder, it could still use some more power for that off-the-line punch.

The infotainment center is an easy to use touch screen with well laid out virtual buttons surrounded by useful hard buttons to jump into things like navigation, the menu or apps. The all electronic gauge display – familiar to Audi users – is soft on the eyes and well laid out. The interior in general is simple, functional and utilitarian – basically German – but won’t strike anyone as luxurious as that is not VW’s mission. 

In conclusion, if you are in the market for a versatile vehicle with excellent passenger room that lets you carry all your stuff on that long road-trip but won’t volunteer you for free carpool duty, then the Atlas Cross Sport brings a lot to the 5 passenger SUV table.  Just make sure to tell Timmy’s dad he’s going to have to drive him if he wants to come along. 

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