Fewer Seats, More MPGs: Volkswagen Debuts Atlas Cross Sport in New York

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Regardless of where we think Volkswagen’s true strengths prevail, the company is dead set on electrification. Granted, much of this is the direct result of the diesel emissions fiasco. But it doesn’t appear to be solely interested in providing lip service to an angry public; it wants to build these cars and it really wants you to be excited about that.

The brand’s current lineup doesn’t include much in the way of electrics, e-Golf notwithstanding, but CEO Matthias Mueller has promised to unveil a new EV “virtually every month” as its multi-billion-dollar investments into new battery technologies and charging infrastructure begins to bear fruit. In the meantime, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing VW parade a steady stream of electric concept vehicles. Normally, these are part of Audi’s e-tron lineup or the VW’s new I.D. sub-brand. However, the electric push has started spilling over into the core brand, and the latest product is more than just a battery-driven green machine. It feels tangible, like it might be meant for everyone — not just EV enthusiasts.

Volkswagen’s Atlas is a relatively spacious three-row, midsize crossover — fairly fuel efficient for its size, but not a hoot to drive. VW wants to remedy this by hybridizing the MQB platform, chopping a row of seats, and adding a helping of power that won’t jack up your weekly fuel bill. More importantly, this two-row model seems to bridge the gap between practicality and fun.

Debuting today in New York, the Atlas Cross Sport is technically a concept vehicle. But, unlike the I.D. concepts, we can see this morphing into a production model without much trouble. The recipe involves making a more capacious two-row Atlas, chucking in the optional 3.6-liter V6 FSI, and affixing a pair of electric motors to boost the powertrain’s total output.

The end result is an Atlas offering superior performance to the existing V6-equipped model with vastly improved fuel efficiency. While the real-deal Atlas’ direct-injection V6 already offers noteworthy horsepower gains over the base 2.0-liter, the torque improvement isn’t particularly impressive. The larger engine is really more for towing than performance. VW solves this issue with the addition of dual electric motors. The front unit develops 54 hp and 162 lb-ft, while the rear outputs 114 hp and 199 lb-ft.

Volkswagen estimates a 0-to-60 rush of 5.4 seconds with the all-wheel drive PHEV, which would beat the piss out of the base 2.0-liter’s 7.3-second average (the V6-equipped model is actually slower off the line).

Energy for the electric mills comes from a compact 18 kWh lithium-ion battery housed in the center tunnel. As a plug-in model, the battery can also be tapped to usher the vehicle around town for up to 26 miles without the use of gasoline, making it ideal for short errands. But VW hasn’t decided if this is the best way to go.

While the Atlas Cross Sport will become a production model, Volkswagen says it going to weigh consumer response before it decides whether to go plug-in or mild hybrid. Were it to ditch the power port, the mild hybrid would use a smaller 2.0 kWh battery and boast a lessened sum of 310 horsepower — good for a 0-to-60 time of around 6.5 seconds.

Either way, both prospective hybrids top out at 130 mph and would be massive improvements over the existing model. They would, however, operate very differently. Whereas the mild hybrid would function more or less like a standard car, the PHEV would gain multiple drive modes: E-Mode, Hybrid, GTE, Off-road, and Battery Hold/Battery Charge.

E-Mode runs the car as a pure electric, operating only the rear motor, until the battery loses enough charge to swap over to normal hybrid operation. GTE is the performance mode and alters the throttle mapping, tightens up the steering, and tweaks the six-speed DSG transmission. It also provides full access to the vehicle’s 355 hp and 494 pound-feet of torque.

The other modes should be self-explanatory. Charge and hold optimizes the battery for E-Mode if an operator cannot access a charging point, while off-road prioritizes all-wheel drive. The various driving modes can be further broken down to mitigate poor road conditions (like snow) or place an emphasis on comfort. This can all be controlled through a standards 10.1-inch centralized touchscreen with proximity sensors and gesture control. The 12.3-inch digital cockpit changes depending on drive mode and can be customize to a driver’s tastes. For a concept, it’s a pretty realistic example. It’s not outlandish and even has cup holders.

Beyond the model’s visual acumen, there isn’t much else to say. The Atlas Cross Sport looks highly similar to its internal combustion counterparts, just with a gently rounded posterior, added aluminum trim, and more accent LEDs than it probably needs. We imagine the production version looking even more like the existing SUV and ditching most of the neon piping.

The two-row, hybridized Atlas goes into production in Chattanooga in 2019.

[Images: Volkswagen Group]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 19 comments
  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Mar 28, 2018

    Good looking, but I can't see buying one. Just had "the talk" with my wife this morning about what to get when the CRV lease is up... If you're going to get an SUV/CUV, get a boxy one so at least you get a roomy interior. The last kid is away at college, so we only really need a bigger vehicle 3 to 4x a year to drive us and the kids to CVG to go on vacation. I'm thinking about cheaping-out and getting a VW Golf SE (or Wolfsburg if they happen to have any on the ground when the time comes) and just pay to park 2 vehicles at the airport if we have to.

  • Tylanner Tylanner on Mar 28, 2018

    When can I buy one...I always wanted to drive my Hot Wheels

  • Theflyersfan By the end of the summer, it will be buy one, get one free with a free charger at home install.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Mach-E is very easy to ignore.
  • Bd2 This is a marketplace segment leader beating toyota to the punch yet again for projected market domination by 2026. It's perfectly optimized with reasonable acceleration, size and weight and is guaranteed to hit the 375 mile charge target and probably exceed it because Kia has been known for exceeding goals regularly these last few years. The Theft issue will be forgotten soon enough, affluent buyers are flocking to kia dealerships from the Hamptons to Vancouver.
  • Dwford 169". Same size as the Bolt EUV. The void got filled pretty quickly. Hopefully the next Chevy Bolt comes next year as promised.
  • MaintenanceCosts Unless something goes wrong this is going to sell very well in cities. I'm not a fan of the styling either here or with the EV9, but the products seem to me like they are well planned.