For 2020, Volkswagen introduces a new midsize crossover based on the 3-row Atlas, appropriately named the Atlas Cross Sport. The Cross Sport is a 2-row, 5-passenger, midsize 4-door wagon. Wheelbase remains an extensive 117.3 inches, but overall length is down a few inches compared to the Atlas and the roof slopes back to meet the hatch rather than retain the traditional crossover shape. Key competitors include the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano and Subaru Forester.
Trim levels include S, SE and SEL. All are available with front-wheel drive or Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive. The S comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Available on the SE and SEL is a normally aspirated 3.6-liter V6, which makes 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The 4-cylinder has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, while the V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The S model has an impressively low base price of $30,545 and comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED head and tail lights, blind-spot monitor and rear-traffic alert. SE adds dual-zone auto climate control and heated front seats. There's also a technology package on the SE that adds remote start, park-distance control and 20-inch alloy wheels. The SEL adds VW's digital cockpit and a panoramic sunroof. Finally, there's a R-Line trim that comes standard with the V6 and ads unique badging and trim throughout and 21-inch wheels.
At just 4100 pounds, the Atlas Cross Sport is one of the lighter midsize crossovers. That allows the base 4-cylinder engine to provide good power despite being down a few ponies to competitors. Throw in the available all-wheel drive and its extra 200 pounds of drivetrain components and you might want to consider the V6. Both engines provide class average, if somewhat uninspired, acceleration, with the V6 pushing Atlas Cross Sport from 0 to 60 MPH in about 7.5 seconds. The four-cylinder needs a deeper stab into the throttle in passing situations and can feel underpowered with a full load of passengers. In addition, the V6 seems to mate better with the 8-speed automatic transmission. However, both engines stumble in passing situations where the transmission takes a while to downshift to provide more power.
Atlas Cross Sport's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for extreme off-road use. There is a terrain setting dial to help provide optimal traction on dirt road and snow though. For most Chicago-area drivers, front-drive will be more than adequate, but those intended to head off road should certainly consider all-wheel drive.
EPA estimates with the turbo four come in at a middling 21 MPG city and 24 MPG highway. V6 models drop to 16 MPG city and 22 MPG highway, though that's with all-wheel drive. Routine suburban commuting will likely yield about 24 MPG overall with either engine -- a touch higher if you throw in some highway driving and a touch lower if you spend all of your time in traffic. Somewhat disappointing in either case. Both engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
Behind the wheel, the Atlas Cross Sport drives almost exactly as you might expect. The ride is firm, but still compliant enough to soften large impacts. There's almost no bounding or bouncing on badly broken pavement and no head toss that's common on larger SUVs. Occasionally large impacts pound through unfiltered, which is a bit unsettling.
In the handling department, VW's Cross Sport defaults to benign limits that prove more than acceptable in daily driving. There is minimal body lean in quick maneuvers and the steering is sharp and nicely weighted. Brakes have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. The 20- and 21-inch wheel and tire option packages adds a considerable amount of harshness to the ride. Though the larger wheels and tires do tighten up handling a bit, the tradeoff might be too much for some buyers.
Interior noise levels are low, with no noticeable wind rush or road rumble. Overall, the Cross Sport proves docile in daily driving and quite acceptable when compared to others in the class.
Mostly black with class-appropriate materials and a function-first design the Cross Sport interior delivers with minimal flourish. Drivers face a conventional twin-dial setup with a central-mounted touch screen and handy dials for climate and audio control. The infotainment system features support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Most will find the control layout pleasing if not extremely functional. The digital gauge package lends an upscale feel without becoming a distraction.
Front buckets are firm and flat. Still, there's ample head and leg room and a fair amount of width. The second row is offered with a split-folding three-place bench. The firm seat bottom slides fore and aft a few inches and the seatbacks recline a bit. Leg room is tremendous, but head room just adequate. Getting in and out of first and second rows is easy thanks to a low-step-in height and tall and wide-opening doors.
Cargo space with the third-row seats in place is an impressive 40 cubic feet. Folding the second-row seats yields a somewhat-less-impressive 78 cubic feet of space, as a few competitors with more conventional rooflines offer more max. cargo space. The hatch opening is large and there's a bit of space under the floor. Interior storage is modest for a modern crossover with just a few open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- Atlas Cross Sport offers more by subtraction. It takes all that's great about the 3-row Atlas to provide a solid and pleasant 2-row midsize SUV. Faults are few and that's key. Cross Sport gives VW fans a nice step up from the compact Tiguan and fills an important hole in the lineup. Atlas Cross Sport checks all of the boxes and instantly becomes a viable player in this hotly contested market segment.