VW Atlas Cross Sport — Stylish and cargo friendly

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(October 11, 2020) For those pope who like the size of a mid-sized three-row crossover SUV, but have no need for the cramped third-row and would rather have extra cargo space and second-row legroom, there's a new breed of two-row variants now available including the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. The Cross Sport is the mechanical cousin of the three-row Atlas, but slightly shorter and a bit lighter — and with more room for cargo.

The Cross Sport is entering its second year against a cadre of competition including the Honda Passport, Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge and Nissan Murano. The biggest upgrade for the 2021 Cross Sport is the addition of VW's MIB3 infotainment system across the lineup. Also new is Emergency Assist that constantly monitors the driver’s attentiveness by checking the input of their hands on the steering wheel.  

The Cross Sport and the three-row Atlas, introduced in 2018, look much alike and unless parked side-by-side 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. With closer inspection you will notice that 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 Cross Sport's strong point is practicability with a good driving demeanor and scads of room for passengers and cargo. 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.   

Our test car came with the 3.6-liter V-6, but we have driven the Cross Sport with the 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and found it adequate for all driving situations. We prefer the bigger engine, but realize that the extra cost and slightly less gas mileage may sway buyers to the 2.0. And we can report that during our experience with the smaller engine several months ago, we were satisfied with its performance. For comparison purposed, the V-6 has been clocked from 0-to-60 in around 7 seconds, the 4-cylinder just under 8 seconds. The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and is barely noticeable in both renovations.

If towing 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.

The new MIB3 infotainment system features wireless App-Connect, with multi-phone pairing that can easily switch between devices, and enhanced voice recognition. The illuminated USB-C input connecter, first introduced on the previous generation, is now standard on all models with MIB3.  Additionally, the MIB3 infotainment system features a redesigned navigation system, with simplified and enhanced map designs, intuitive route options, quick access to frequently visited locations, and advanced route management.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and there is a CD player in the glovebox — something that is rarely seen in new 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 $31,565 and moves through the trims to the V6 SEL Premium R-Line with 4Motion at $50,815 including destination charge.

Our V-6-equipped SE with Technology carried a bottom line of $39,710 including a $1,020 destination charge.

2021 Atlas Cross Sport


Base price: 431,565; as driven, $39,710
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 276 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 255 pound-feet @ 2,750 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
Length: 195.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,288 pounds
Turning circle: 40.5 feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 40.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 77.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 17 city, 23 highway, 19 combined
0-60: 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Passport, Ford Edge, Chevrolet Blazer

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

The Bad

• Too much hard plastics

The Ugly
• Below average gas mileage