The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is a style-oriented newcomer to the mid-size two-row crossover party. And true to popular form, it arrives fashionably late, but brings with it acres of space for you and four others.

New for 2021: The whole thing was new for 2020, so there’s not a lot of difference this year. The Atlas Cross Sport is VW’s third SUV, built on—you guessed it—the bones of the Atlas. What’s different? A more rakish roofline and shorter length makes the Cross Sport a five-seater versus the seven of the original Atlas. It also debuts a new nose and updated interior, both of which will make their way onto and into the regular Atlas for the 2021 model year.

It’s essentially a sportier-looking Volkswagen Atlas with slightly shrunken dimensions, and two rows of seating instead of three. It is also the first in a crop of new utility vehicles from Volkswagen as the German automaker looks to double its crossover lineup. Powertrain options are identical to what’s in the regular Atlas: a choice of either a 2.0-liter 235 hp turbo-four or a naturally aspirated, 276 hp V6 engine, tied to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with the option of 4Motion all-wheel drive.

High-tech features abound, with available options like wireless phone charging, and Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit LCD instrument panel. The Digital Cockpit is highly configurable, allowing the driver to customize the 12.3-inch display to show just the info they need.

The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport will be built alongside the regular Atlas and the Passat family car at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Tennessee.

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Read More 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive Review

Volkswagen Atlas Powertrain

If you’re familiar with the Atlas’ engine options, then you know the Cross Sport’s lineup too.

All trims come with VW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, pumping out an adequate 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. If there’s no replacement for displacement, step up to the 3.6-liter V6. It pushes out 276 hp and 266 lb-ft, plus can tow up to 5000 lb (when properly equipped). Both engines hook up to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional; Canadian buyers only get the latter.

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Features and Pricing

S: Starts at $31,565 (4Motion +1900)

The S is the base trim of the Atlas Cross Sport and is only available with the 2.0-liter, 235 hp TSI engine. It does however, come with both FWD and 4WD, 4Motion in VW-speak. The S 4Motion stats at $33,465. The S trim gets 18-inch alloys, LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, fabric seats and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard. Other standard features include an auto-dimming rearview mirror, reversing camera, front assist and a blind spot monitoring system.

All prices include $1,020 in destination charges.

SE: Starts at $34,965 (4Motion +$1,900)

Adding on the S trim, the SE features machined alloys, heated side mirrors, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, two USB ports, power liftgate, and leatherette seats.

SE with Technology: Starts at $36,965 (4Motion +$1,900)

The SE with Technology trim is also available with the 276 hp V6 motor and prices start from $38,365 and as with the FWD trim, the 4Motion is $1,900 dearer. SE with Technology comes with 20-inch alloys as standard along with a 115 volt charger in the second row, easy-open liftgate, and remote start. Driver assistance systems include front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.

SEL: Starts at $40,565 (4Motion +$1,900)

The SEL trim is also available with both the inline four TSI and the V6 powertrain. The V6 FWD SEL starts from $42,365 and opting for the 4Motion will set you back by an additional $1,900. The SEL trim boasts of features like heated side mirrors, steering wheel and water nozzles. It also comes with memory function for the driver’s seat, an 8-way power-adjustable passenger seat and a panoramic sunroof. Additional standard features include the VW digital cockpit (Multi-information display) and Discover Media Infotainment system with navigation and the V6 towing package. In terms of driver aids, it adds lane assist, light assist, traffic jam assist and Dynamic Road Sign Display to the mix.

SEL Premium: Starts at $47,315 (4Motion +$1900)

SEL Premium is the top of the line Atlas Cross Sport trim without breaching the R-Line territory. It is available with both powertrain options but with 4Motion AWD only. The V6 starts at $49,115. Standard features for the Premium include 4Motion with Active AWD system, 20-inch machined wheels, power-folding mirrors, leather seats, vented and heated front seats, rear sunshade, and a Fender audio system. In addition, it also comes with active park assist and area view cameras.

R Line (+$1,700)

All trims except the S and SE are available with the R-Line treatment. R-Line adds special badging and decals along with two-tone 21-inch alloys to the package and $1,700 to the price.

Volkswagen Atlas Recommended Trim

Volkswagen has long straddled the line between mainstream and luxury. The old Touareg leaned too far into the latter, and base Atlases the former, so we’d aim for the happy middle ground with the Cross Sport.

Our pick? Make it an SE with Tech. It comes with most of the, er, tech goodies, and a reasonable price tag to boot. Depending on where you live, consider adding 4Motion. Or, if you find yourself needing to tow, consider adding the V6.

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Fuel Economy

The Atlas, in either seven- or five-seat forms, is not exactly a fuel-sipping champion. Put another way: it likes to drink.

The best EPA ratings are, understandably, for the front-drive four-cylinder model. Stick to turbo power and two powered wheels and the Cross Sport will repay you with a 22 mpg combined rating. That equates to 21 mpg in the city, and 24 on the highway.

The numbers slide down with the addition of V6 power and/or all-wheel drive. Option them both and you’ll be looking at  a combined 19 mpg (16 city, 22 highway).

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport vs Chevrolet Blazer

Pricing for the Chevrolet Blazer starts several thousand dollars below the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport’s starting price, which could be enough to draw some budget-minded consumers away from the German crossover.

But the Blazer has been criticized for its firm ride and questionable quality for the price. Those aren’t likely hangups for the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport; we found it pretty cushy in our first drive, and if there’s one thing VW knows how to do, it’s offering a premium look and feel at a sub-premium price.

Read More 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Review

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport vs Honda Passport

For many, the question of Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport or Honda Passport might end up coming down to styling and brand reputation. On paper, they’re quite close, the six-cylinder Atlas Cross Sport producing about the same peak power, with the same number of seats, similarly packaged features—even the same max tow rating.

But the Honda, which has a starting MSRP around where the Atlas Cross Sport starts, packs V6 power as standard. The base Atlas Cross Sport packs a less potent turbo-four, with no apparent benefit to fuel economy.

Read More 2019 Honda Passport Review

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport vs Hyundai Santa Fe

Since its last redesign for 2019, the Hyundai Santa Fe has proven just about untouchable in terms of value, with quality and content that belie its low MSRP. The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is unlikely to match it in that regard, and numerous publications have declared the Hyundai the clear winner in the two-row midsize crossover segment.

But let’s not count the Atlas Cross Sport out just yet. Volkswagen is adept at endowing its products with a near-perfect mix of ride comfort and handling confidence, along with a truly upscale feel.

Read More 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive Review

By Kyle Patrick

There’s no getting around it: the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is a calculated business move. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

VW has seen the tide-change that’s sweeping across both America and Canada. The majority of its sales in the US last year weren’t from the iconic Golf, or the refreshed Passat. No, 53 percent of the brand’s total sales were SUVs, despite only having two in its lineup: the Tiguan and the Atlas, the latter of which is designed for (and built in) America.

Since Volkswagen introduced the larger, three-row Atlas to its lineup, it’s watched average transaction prices soar by nearly $4,000. That sort of cash injection is pretty darn appealing, and the Cross Sport has arrived to maintain that upward trajectory. It targets a slightly different niche, nixing the third row and adopting a more rakish profile. The result is a trucklet that doesn’t feel much different from behind the wheel, but slots the Atlas into a more premium pocket of the very crowded mid-size five-seater SUV crowd.

Cross out the third row

The Atlas has gone to the gym to transform into the Cross Sport. Up front is a new, more angular nose, sharing its general headlight/grille shape with the Jetta and Passat. Below the greenhouse, the Cross Sport is identical to the regular Atlas from the front doors through to just behind the rear wheel arch. Beyond that, the tail is some five inches shorter, with a sharper rake to the rear glass to boot. Volkswagen has also lightly shaved the greenhouse height, with a more aggressive tumblehome — the narrowing of the bodywork — towards the tail too. It’s pronounced enough that the Cross Sport needs to use different roof rails than its more upright sibling.

Mercifully, not a single Volkswagen rep once refers to it as a coupe during the launch event in British Columbia.

The more muscular look is a welcome one. The proportions give it real presence, especially on the larger, optional 21-inch wheels. The Atlas’ character line still runs over both wheel arches, but now aligns with the leading edge of the taillights. It’s my favorite part of the design.

The chopped length makes sense with the deletion of the third row, but the back-seat passengers benefit here. The CS mounts its second row some three inches further back, giving it proper stretch-out room for adults. Head room slightly suffers, to the tune of an inch or so, but unless you’re folding NBA players in back there, there should be no complaints.

Trunk space is also vast thanks to the third pew’s absence, at 40.3 cubic feet. The Atlas’ load floor is wide and flat, and while the second-row seats don’t fold quite flush, they don’t leave any annoying humps. Drop ’em for a huge 77.8 cubes.

Two familiar engine choices

Volkswagen hasn’t messed with the drivetrain for the Atlas Cross Sport. Just like the original, the CS offers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, with a turbo 2.0-liter inline-four or naturally-aspirated 3.6-liter V6 available. The only transmission is an eight-speed auto.

I was able to sample both engine options on the short driving route, which took us out of Vancouver and north to Whistler. Starting out in the 235 hp turbo four-pot, the Atlas moved along well enough, with its 258 lb-ft torque peak coming in nice and low. The transmission would occasionally hunt for the right ratio at city speeds however, especially when the landscape threw an incline its way.

The V6 model felt slightly quicker, as one would expect with outputs of 276 hp and 266 lb-ft. It did need more revs to do so, though the quicker throttle response and throaty VR6 rumble meant that was hardly a chore.

Fuel mileage is, at least according to the EPA, slightly worse with the 3.6-liter. We’re talking a combined 19 mpg for the all-wheel drive model (16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway), compared to 20 mpg for the smaller engine (18/23 mpg). The V6 can also tow up to 5,000 lb versus the 2,000 lb rating of the turbo. It costs $1,400 more too, so if you don’t regularly tow and can live without the lustier soundtrack of the six-pot, maybe stick with the four-cylinder.

No matter which engine is underhood, the Atlas drives as you’d expect a roughly two-ton SUV to drive. The steering is light, and the blocky nose makes it easy to place on the road. The suspension is quite soft, soaking up bumps and — rightly — prioritizing rider comfort over handling prowess. It feels smaller than its dimensions would suggest, though you’re always acutely aware of how wide it is.

A solid interior with few surprises

The inside of the Atlas Cross Sport is typical VW. If you’ve sat in the original Atlas you’ll recognize the dash design. A 6.5-inch touchscreen sits in the center in the entry-level S trim, with the 8.0-inch unit present in all others. It’s a straight-forward interface, with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. There’s also a good amount of physical buttons in the console and on the wheel to take care of simpler tasks.

Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit is standard on the SEL trim and above. The dials are crisp and easy to read, and the ability to pin things like navigation front and center is most welcome.

While a more extrovert red leather interior is available, my testers for the day come with either beige or black trim. The seats are mega comfy in either row, with room to really stretch out in the back. Interior trim quality is generally pretty good, though plastics lower down on the dash feel cheap.

Standard kit is solid, including heated adjustable mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights and blind spot monitoring on all trims. The SE adds heated front seats, keyless entry, two-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a powered liftgate. SE interiors are faux leather, whereas the base S is cloth. Moving to the top-shelf SEL nets a memory function for the driver’s seat, a full leather interior, traffic jam assist, road sign recognition, and lane keep assist.

An available R-Line trim is available on the SE, SE Tech, SEL and SEL Premium. It adds more aggressive front and rear bumpers, stainless steel pedals, and, on the SEL versions, 21-inch wheels.

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Verdict: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive Review

And so we come to costs. Prices start at a reasonable $31,565 for a 2.0-liter front-drive model, including $1,020 in destination. Prices top out a little over $50k for a loaded all-wheel drive VR6-powered model. That puts it at the higher end of the class, but the Atlas does come with a powerful — if thirsty — base engine. It gives VW a direct competitor against the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, Honda Passport and, if we think laterally, the Subaru Outback. That’s a segment covering over 600,000 sales a year in the US.

The Atlas Cross Sport doesn’t rewrite the playbook for mid-size crossovers. It doesn’t aim to either. What it does is fill a gap in VW’s fledgling SUV lineup. The CS is for those that want more space without a set of barely-used seats taking it up. It’s good looking, practical, user friendly, and a comfortable mile-muncher. It will undoubtedly sell well, ratcheting up the SUV share of VW’s sales figures even more.

Detailed Specs

Price Range / $31,565 – $50,815
Engine / 2.0L I4 Turbo / 3.6L V6
Horsepower (hp) / 235 / 276
Torque (lb-ft) / 258 / 266
Fuel Economy (mpg) / 21/24/22 (I4 FWD) / 16/22/19 (V6 AWD)
Drivetrain / 8AT, FWD/AWD

Our Final Verdict

Utility vehicles have become a crucial part of Volkswagen’s portfolio, today representing more than half of the automaker’s sales, and in light of that, it only makes sense that the German company is looking to double its offerings. That the Atlas Cross Sport aims to out-perform the competition with a rich feature set and near-premium look and feel, rather than trying to undercut other two-row mid-sizers in terms of price, shows that Volkswagen knows where its strengths are.

That said, the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is entering an already crowded field, and how well it can stand out with its conservative styling and unexceptional powertrains is a question worth asking. It’s worth noting that the similarly styled three-row Atlas has found only limited success since its introduction; in 2018, its first full year on sale, it moved just under 60,000 units in the United States. Compare that to the Honda Pilot, with nearly 160,000 unit sales in 2018.

The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport might just be too little, too late.

Performance 6.0
Space and Comfort 8.0
Equipment 7.0
Infotainment 7.0
Value 6.0