2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport Brings New Bodystyle and More Tech
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport brings a rakish rear hatch to the refreshed Atlas line, but limits the midsize crossover’s seating configuration to five passengers. Once nestled inside VW’s upcoming Atlas variant, those five occupants will enjoy VW’s next generation Car-Net technology platform, while drivers can expect to be coddled by upgraded driver assistance technologies.
The Cross Sport applies an Audi Q7-esque not-a-coupe treatment that dials up the elegance, even when concealed by camouflage vinyl. If this is all it takes for buyers to feel like they’re avoiding the soccer parent image, then VW can expect to attract a style-sensitive buyer pool ready and willing to lose the small third-row seats. Even though the rear overhang is 5.7 inches shorter than the standard Atlas, it gains storage capacity in the transformation as a result of the removal of those rear seats. In its place is a flat load panel that covers a space-saver spare tire and optional Fender subwoofer. There’s actually a decent volume of unfinished storage capacity I’d expect many owners to find useful for infrequently used items.
Having not driven a standard Atlas before, I cannot comment on the differences between that vehicle and the Cross Sport. In our very brief drive, the focus was on the model’s driver-assistance technologies. With a 45 mph top speed, I could only sense a few high-level attributes. In standard driving mode, steering effort was extremely light, to the point of feeling artificial and disconnected from the vehicle. The effort built linearly when steering into a turn, but remained relatively light throughout. Unsurprisingly, throttle and transmission calibration was eco-focused, with latent throttle application and resistance to downshifting.
Sport mode brought significantly revised steering feel. The efforts were much greater and the system had a lot of return damping, feeling much more Germanic. I feel like the “right” mode for the car is somewhere in between the two, but at least drivers can select the steering mode of their choice separate from the powertrain modes. Oddly, the infotainment system prevented the driver from doing so while underway.
When placed in Sport mode, the Cross Sport’s throttle pedal mapping and transmission calibration made the car feel more responsive and willing to accelerate, but alas, there wasn’t enough time to evaluate if this would be a suitable mode for daily driving. Regardless, VW includes a manual shift mode for the driver who prefers to take control.
The upgrades to the driver-assistance system take advantage of a new camera, milliwave radar sensor, and enhanced processing power. Dynamic road sign display combines image recognition from the cameras with GPS cross-referencing to provide convenient speed limit and passing zone information in the instrument cluster. The traffic jam assist takes adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist to the next level, bringing the vehicle all the way down to a stop and resuming if stopped for less than 3 seconds. Beyond that, the driver simply has to press the “resume” button or touch the throttle pedal. Lane centering is provided for all cruise speeds, taking advantage of increased processing power to keep the vehicle actively centered, versus the reactive nature of lane-keep assist.
In the pre-production demonstration vehicle I drove, the lane centering worked reasonably well on a curvy two-lane road. It constantly worked the wheel to remain straight, though it exerted less authority than expected when the vehicle wandered close to an edge line. The feature was occasionally tripped up by broken center lines and once deactivated itself on a curve without an audible warning when I had my hands off the wheel for too long. I tried it a second time and it provided the audible warnings. One hopes this will be sorted by production time. Elsewhere, the active cruise control and traffic jam assist worked smoothly and intuitively, all the way down to a full stop.
Almost all 2020 model year VW vehicles will come equipped with the automaker’s next-generation Car-Net. With 4G connectivity and a new app, the new platform brings in-vehicle WiFi hotspot capability, as well as seamless integration with third-party applications. The WiFi hotspot can provide access to up to four devices; servicing of the hotspot can simply be added to the owner’s existing Verizon plan as an additional device. While Verizon is the only provider currently enrolled, T-Mobile is in the works and others aim to follow. In the meantime, non-Verizon customers will need to get a Verizon data plan.
The new application, called Car-Net Remote Access, allows owners to interact with their vehicles remotely. Features include remote start and stop, remote door lock and unlock, remote honk and flash of lights, last parked location, and remote vehicle status display, which provides information on fuel level, mileage, and door and window status.
Utilizing Google Maps from within the Car-Net app, destinations or points of interest may be sent directly to the vehicle. Later this year, VW claims it will be able to connect with Alexa or Siri smart home devices, allowing owners to send commands by voice.
Other included features include a parking assistance from Parkopedia, which helps locate off-street parking. Vehicle health reports and service notifications can be pushed directly to the app and service appointments can be scheduled. Family guardian services allow for alerts to be sent to the owner if the driver varies from any of the various boundaries a user can program into the feature. The “best” drivers may want to enroll in the DriveView program, which shares a tracked driving score with various insurance companies to lure discounted rates.
Additional possibilities here are really endless, but they will include integration with services like Turo, enabling another user to be handed rights to operate the car. Delivery services could also be integrated to allow the car to be opened and closed by delivery personnel.
The best part about the Car-Net Remote Access app system is that it is included, free for 5 years. It’s transferable to the next owner, too. Whenever a VW representatives talked about “engagement” with the owner, I heard “customer retention.” It’s easy to see buyers sticking with a brand in order to retain familiarity with such a comprehensive interface.
[Images: Anthony Magagnoli, Volkswagen]
Following 10 years in Toyota's Production Engineering division, Anthony spent 3 years as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer for FCA. From modest beginnings in autocross, he won a NASA SpecE30 National Championship and was the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge TC Rookie of the Year. Aside from being a professional racecar driver, he is a private driving coach and future karaoke champion.
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