VW Atlas Cross Sport — Just right for small family

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(June 14, 2020) The subcompact crossover segment is not the only red-hot portion of the SUV market these days, the two-row mid-sized crossover has also become hugely popular with new and innovative products such as the Honda Passport, Ford Edge and Chevrolet Blazer. Now, add another stylish vehicle to the mix — the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.

It's a smaller two-row version of the well-received three-row Atlas, which came on the scene in 2018, and has been a North American hit for the German car company. Unless parked side-by-side the two versions of the Atlas may be hard to distinguish. The biggest difference is size. The Atlas Cross Sport is five inches shorter — but rests on the same 117.3-inch wheelbase as the Atlas — and sits two inches lower to ground — and it comes with only two rows of seats with room for five.

Because the Cross Sports rides on the same chassis as the regular Atlas, it loses almost nothing in terms of practicality or interior room. The Cross Sport adds a rakish roofline — made possible with the subtraction of the third row seat — to give it a more stylish stance, although both vehicles are conservatively styled inside and out. The Atlas' strong point is practicability with a good driving demeanor and scads of room for passengers and cargo. Even adults taller than 6 feet should have no problem getting comfortable in back,

Cargo space in the Cross Sport measures 40.3 cubic feet behind the second row of seats, plenty of room to load sporting gear, materials for a weekend project, or roller boards for a long road trip. The rear seat folds flat for a total of 78 cubic feet of cargo space, but there’s no ski-pass-through or 40/20/40 folding configuration. A rear cargo cover isn’t standard but is available as an option. And the Cross Sport comes with a spare tire under the rear cargo floor.

There are two engines available, both mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 235 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. Optional is a 3.6-liter V-6 with 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are well-suited to the 4,000-pound vehicle.   

We previously drove the three-row Atlas powered by the 3.6-liter V-6, and now the 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. While quiet and smooth operationally, we sometimes wished for more power when passing or entering the highway. But overall — with never more than three people on board and with no cargo — we were satisfied with the 4-cylinder engine, which has been clocked at 7.7 seconds from 0-to-60.  The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and is barely noticeable. If towing weekend toys is part of your life, we recommend opting for the V-6, which has a tow rating of up to 5,000 pounds. The 2.0-liter is rated at just 2,000 pounds. We suggest you drive the Cross Sport with both engines to determine which suits your needs best.

As for gas mileage the Atlas Cross Sport falls a bit short compared too much of the competition. The 2.0-liter front-drive model is rated at 21 mpg city, 24 highway and 22 combined. The AWD version is rated at 18/23/20. The V-6 has an EPA rating of 17/23/19 FWD and 16/22/19 AWD. The V-6 is a $1,600 upgrade and all-wheel drive — 4Motion in Volkswagen parlance — can be added to either engine for $1,900.

Handling felt similar to the Atlas, which is capable, predictable and confident. The suspension delivered a comfortable ride, capable steering and sure braking. The cabin is quiet except under heavy acceleration when getting the vehicle up to speed.

Inside, the instrument panel is nearly identical to the Atlas except for some minor trim differences and its own unique steering wheel. There’s a wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones; 4G LTE Wi-Fi; and VW’s reconfigurable Digital Cockpit gauge display. We recommend upgrading to the excellent Fender premium stereo system. The infotainment system is operated via an intuitive touchscreen with large icons, a clear display of onscreen text and large redundant buttons. A nice touch was the rotary audio volume and tuning knobs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and there is a CD player in the glovebox — something that is rarely seen in 2020 vehicles.

Standard safety features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. Lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance are available by moving up to higher trim levels.

The Cross Sport comes in three main trim levels — S, SE and SEL.  Additionally, VW offers Technology, Premium and R-Line variants. The S starts at $36,920 and moves through the trims to the V6 SEL Premium R-Line with 4Motion at $50,815 including destination charge. Our SEL test car with Technology Package and AWD carried a bottom line of $42,465.

2020 Atlas Cross Sport


Base price: $36,920; as driven, $42,465
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 235 @ 4,500 rpm
Torque: 258 pound-feet @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Length: 195.5 inches
Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,288 pounds
Turning circle: 40.5 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 40.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 77.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 18 city, 23 highway, 20 combined
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Passport, Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge

The Good
• Excellent cargo, passenger space
• Comfortable interior
• Two engine options

The Bad
• Hard plastics inside

The Ugly
• Below average gas mileage