2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Review

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross - Volkswagen births an Atlas alternative


Volkswagen, Europe’s largest automaker, builds upon the success of its three-row mid-size crossover introduced in the 2018 model year with a peppy yet preppy all-new sibling sharing a familial theme.  

The three-row Atlas provided VW dealers with a standout vehicle in lots primarily dotted with cars and wagons attaining worldwide appeal, but coming up a bit short when yearning for additional interior volume.  Designed with the American lifestyle and market in mind from the get-go, Atlas serves as the most versatile (and roomy) VW offered.

So for an encore, VW debuted the Atlas Crossover Sport as a 2020 model year product.  While both share virtually identical wheelbase dimensions (distance between front and rear axles), the newer Cross Sport differs with two seating rows standard.

 The 117.3-inch wheelbase measures in as one of the mid-size segment’s largest, besting Ford’s popular (and Chicago-built) Explorer by 4.5 inches and contributing to a well-balanced ride. However, overall length of Atlas Cross Sport measures about three inches shorter than its brawnier brother with shorter overhangs. Plus its lower-profile roof dips 2.6 inches with a rear hatch now dynamically angled and sporting a top-side spoiler.

The highly recognizable V over W circular logo adorns the back hatch’s lower portion and centers the front grille in concert with a trio of stretched horizontal chrome bars.

Count Atlas Cross Sport as the third vehicle assembled at Volkswagen’s sole U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee when production started last October. Opened in 2011, the German automaker’s sole tenant until late 2017 was the mid-sized Passat sedan; that is until the three-row Atlas set up shop.

Atlas Cross Sport offers two conventional internal combustion powertrains, identical to its big brother. Front-wheel drive or VW-branded 4motion all-wheel drive are available in both powertrains.

A 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine delivers 235 horsepower, while a 3.6-liter V-6 ups the horsepower ante to 276. The economical four cylinder probably suffices in most situations, with the V-6 as a worthy alternative.   Both connect to a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission and include start-stop technology, quieting the engine at prolonged stops. This technology may also be turned off via a button below the in-dash touch screen adjacent to the hazard button.

When opting for this latest incarnation of 4Motion all-wheel drive (handy during four-season Midwest treks), the system senses and activates before wheel spin occurs, helping minimize traction lose.  Drivers also get to select from one of four drive modes: normal, snow, off-road and custom off-road via a tactile chrome dial adjacent to the between-the-seats transmission shifter.  The car-like uni-body platform is best suited for on-road travel, but 4Motion assists nicely if snow descends or if light-off roading opportunities arise.

Currently, neither Atlas or two-row Atlas Cross Sport offers a gas-electric hybrid variant, plug-in hybrid version (PHEV) or all-electric EV version; but that could change in the not-to-distant future.  Volkswagen broke ground last fall of a second assembly plant adjacent to its current Tennessee digs for electric vehicle assembly. Plans are for this new facility to assemble both EV and internal combustion vehicles on the same production line. It would join five other VW plants worldwide designed for EV assembly. Volkswagen also announced assembly of EV battery packs would take place within the confines of the sprawling Tennessee complex.

Atlas Cross Sport includes three primary trim levels:  S, SE, and SEL; along with three prominent option packages (Technology, Premium and sporty R-Line). Pricing starts at $30,545 for a front-drive four-cylinder S trim, competitively priced with a majority of five-passenger crossovers.  

Our tester represented the other end of the spectrum, a SEL Premium V-6 4Motion checking in at $48,095 with a $1,020 destination charge. The only factory option was an up charge for the funky ‘Pure Gray’ exterior paint delivering a low-sheen and texture depth.   It’s unique without an ostentatious attitude.

One additional add-on after leaving the factory included $235 worth of ‘Monster Mats’.  Normally, car mats do little to excite my inner car-guy, but these heavy-duty blocked-bottom liners cover the cargo surface and second-row seat backs.  With second-row seats folded, the larger cargo area gets extra protection.  These mats easily wash/clean up, keeping Atlas Cross Sport clean and fresh.

Atlas Cross Sport, as with just about all VW interiors, gets high marks for a simplistic, friendly interior layout that welcomes, not overwhelms, drivers and riders upon entering.  A majority of German luxury nameplates have tendencies to over complicate even simple tasks.

A concrete example involves HVAC controls.  Atlas Cross Sport (and a majority of VW models) continues employing a simple, low-tech design with three decent-sized twist dials; one for fan speed and the two end orbs handling dual temperature settings. Fan direction operates from a button above, part of a horizontal row of black buttons.  It’s a better mouse trap than ‘slide bar’ or ‘in-screen’ designs utilized in some posh offerings.  Also, the electronic push-start button locates not on the dash where blockage from the steering wheel may occur, but next to the eight-speed automatic transmission shifter, a logical and accessible local.

Below the three dials resides a large cove with multiple power sources (12-volt outlet, Smartphone plug ports), ideal for cell phone storage.

Our Premium SEL included a fully-animated instrument panel.  Push-button monitors found on the steering wheel face help driver’s tailor the style. The default setting most eye and user-friendly includes two circular orbs (left-side tachometer, right-side speedometer).  A second option includes digital readouts of orb info. A center, multi-panel window includes a half-dozen or so scrollable options.

The V-6 engine coupled with all-wheel drive registered a rather disappointing 16 miles per gallon city and 22 highway.  Front drive V-6 combos raise each category by one. Front drive four cylinders offer best results at 21 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.  The sizeable tank holds 18.6 gallons of regular, 87-octane fuel.

Standard App-Connect Smartphone integration through Apple Car Play and Android Auto allow interaction of stored phone info with the in-dash touch screen. For the ‘connected’ generation, this ‘must have’ keeps users informed when on the move. A standard ‘Wi-Fi’ hotspot helps ease online travel through the world wide web of traffic.

Our SEL Premium offered the largest in-dash touch-screen size (eight inches) available in Atlas Sport Cross, sufficient, but a bit smaller than what’s trending now in rivals. Logically arranged touch tutorials help ease on-screen adventures as do two side knobs framing the screen controlling volume and station presets.

Cross Sport width dimensions virtually match that of its larger Atlas sibling, providing ample room when transporting three adults. Large side doors swing open providing easy entry/exit for long-legged individuals. The lack of a third row opens up generous leg room for rear passengers, too.  When opened, the back hatch provides ample head clearance as well.

2020 Atlas Cross Sport

Price as tested: $49,745

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower: 276

Wheelbase: 117.3 inches

Overall Length: 195.5 inches

Overall Width: 78.4 inches

Overall Height: 67.8 inches

Curb Weight: 4,411 pounds

Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city/22mpg highway

Powertrain warranty: Four year/50,000 miles

Assembly:  Tennessee  

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.