By on March 4, 2020


2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

What happens to an OEM that may have been caught napping while its competitors race to fill every possible niche with crossovers?

It takes its three-row crossover, lops off the third row and some rear space, gives it a name that plays off the existing moniker, and puts it out there.

Hence we have the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, which shares its platform with the Atlas (the wheelbases are even the same) but loses about three inches of length and a bit more than two inches of height while offering seating for just five.

(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Vancouver, fed and housed me, and had assembled media take part in off-site activities such as bobsledding and skiing. I did not take the proffered jacket.)

The biggest visual differences are a lowered roofline and a much more angular D-pillar (one that reminds me of the Jeep Grand Cherokee) along the rear hatch. The front lighting’s so-called “signature” is a bit different, too. The front bumper sweeps up at the corners, making the face match that of the upcoming, refreshed 2021 Atlas.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Inside, headroom is a bit reduced compared to the bigger Atlas, while legroom is increased – by a fair bit for those in the second row. There are about 40 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats when they aren’t folded, which is about double that of the three-row with the rear seats up.

The cabin has the usual VW acres of black, with simple controls. The digital gauges look nice and are easy to read at a glance, which comes in handy when you’re a math-challenged American needing to keep an eye on your kilometers per hour.

[Get new and used Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport pricing here!]

Two engines are offered, both available with all-wheel drive: A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and a 3.6-liter V6 generating 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Both pair to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Non-AWD models are front-wheel drive. SEL and SEL Premium models can tow 5,000 pounds with a factory-installed hitch; otherwise, a dealer-installed hitch for other models allows up to 2,000 pounds of towing.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

There’s a whole bunch of trims on offer: S, SE, SE with Technology, SE with Technology and R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line.

I spent the first part of my day on the gently curving Sea to Sky highway in an SEL Premium V6 with AWD. The first thing I noticed was the extremely light steering – which seems to be a hallmark of non-sporty VWs these days. We’re talking Kozy Koupe light here. A flick into Sport mode helps, but only a bit.

Despite this, the Cross Sport felt a bit livelier in handling, especially in Sport mode, than the last three-row Atlas I drove. About as lively as things could get on the Sea to Sky – the road’s corners aren’t particularly challenging. As with the Hyundai Venue, I’d like some further testing.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

The V6 pulled nicely, but the eight-speed displayed some hesitant behavior when called upon to downshift. Overall, the experience was on the sportier side for a five-seat crossover, but you’re still aware you’re driving a crossover. At least body roll was well muted. Ride was comfortable in Sport and Normal modes, but potholes and rough road weren’t really a challenge.

A four-cylinder SEL with AWD handled and rode similarly, and offered up a pleasant surprise – the turbo-four got up to speed with an urgency I didn’t expect. And the eight-speed was smoother and crisper, for whatever reason.

The SEL Premium comes at a price. Both vehicles were well-equipped, with standard features in the SEL Premium including 20-inch wheels, adaptive front lighting, fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, leather seats, heated outboard rear seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, nav, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, park assist, park distance control, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, lane-keeping assist, traffic-jam assist, rear power liftgate, Bluetooth, and wireless charger.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

With the only options being the paint job and rubber floor mats, plus a $1,020 destination fee, this version of the Cross Sport cost $49,745.

That’s a lot more than a loaded Honda Passport – which, to be fair, rides on the aging Pilot platform, and in line with the upper trims of the (also aging rapidly) Jeep Grand Cherokee in V6 guise.

This is why I might tell a friend who’s considering the Cross Sport to consider a four-cylinder SEL. Similarly equipped, the four-banger SEL I drove cost $42,700. Not to mention that the trip computer showed much better fuel economy numbers after my stint in the four, despite an uphill climb into the mountains.

There are too many trim combinations to list full pricing here, but the base price of entry is $30,545 for a FWD S and $37,345 for the most basic V6 you can get – a SE with tech. The most expensive four-cylinder starts at $47,995, while the priciest Cross Sport is a V6 AWD that checks in at $49,795.

Standard features include 18-inch wheels, roof rails, LED lights all around, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, two USB ports, blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Fuel economy is listed at 21 mpg city/24 mpg highway/22 mpg combined for FWD four-cylinders and 18/23/20 for those with AWD. With the V6, it’s listed at 17/23/19 and 16/22/19 with AWD.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

If the Atlas strikes your fancy but you don’t need a third row, the Cross Sport is a fine ride, though I’m not sure if it provides much reason to step up from the smaller Tiguan unless you need the extra space – and comparing specs, the Tiguan comes close in some interior measurements. It’s also available with three rows, for what it’s worth.

The harder part is placing the Cross Sport in the universe of the mid-size, five-seat crossover class. I’d take it over Ford’s Edge or Chevy’s Blazer (depending on trim), and it’s about on par with the Grand Cherokee V6, and perhaps a notch below the Passport. It’s not the first crossover I’d plunk a down payment on, but I’d not be ashamed to own one. It’s somewhere in the middle/upper-middle of a crowded pack.

It helps that VW was starting with a solid base in the three-row Atlas. The trick is to option the Cross Sport the right way. While the V6 offers more grunt, the four-cylinder should suit most needs. Be careful with the option boxes.

Atlas may or may not have shrugged, but a chopped Atlas will carry the load solidly, if not spectacularly.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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24 Comments on “2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive – Atlas Chopped...”

  • avatar

    Nice that they actually give a decent version of the 2.0T here instead of the 180hp lump of sadness from the Passat and Tiguan.

    • 0 avatar

      It seems as VW tries to get ahead of ever increasing regulator hurdles, it had to drop a fuel efficient and fun 1.8T engine for the 2.0T Budack Cycle lump… Even though it was supposed to be 7% more efficient, it can’t rev and is down 1 mpg since 2015

  • avatar

    I like the simplicity of the dash and a screen that is not tacked on to the dash. Exterior looks decent as well.. and no CVT! /s

  • avatar

    I own a 3 row Tiguan (2019) and spent some time in a V6 Atlas while the Tiguan was in for warranty work. My thoughts are as follows:

    The Atlas is significantly wider in the cabin than the Tiguan, and drove and felt much larger as well. If you don’t need the third row, but want the extra width to allow for an adult and 2 car seats, thins might be the ideal compromise.

    The V6 was particularly thirsty compared to the B cycle 4 cyl in the Tiguan. If the 4cyl provides better numbers, I would think it will be a popular choice. With an extra 50 HP from the 4 cyl (235 vs 184) I bet that it has plenty of power for everyday traffic.

    I honestly see the Tiguan and the Cross Sport fighting for the same buyer. Overall, if that leads to larger total sales, VW has a win. Now all they need is something smaller than the new MQB Tiguan to compete with the sub compacts.

    One question is the existence of a 2wd 5 seater. The 2WD Tiguan comes only as a 7 seat model, something to do with CAFE. Maybe they don’t plan to sell many 2WD models, just a get you in the door teaser.

    • 0 avatar

      The V6 on offer is sort of a mystery to me. I think they offered it because American consumers expected it. It is literally the least competitive V6 on offer, maybe in any vehicle currently on sale.

      The 4cyl offers more low end torque and auto journo types have reported that the 4cyl is actually faster to 60mph, at least in a FWD 2.0 vs. AWD V6.

      If you look at owner sites, which I have, the 2.0t is clearly the one to have if care at all about fuel economy, there are a lot of owner complaints about the V6’s thirst.

  • avatar

    You’d have to REALLY like the exterior of this to buy it over the Palisade/Telluride. For less money with those, you get more car and a much nicer interior. No one is taking corners in any of these behemoths, so it’s really about looks and value.

    The Atlas is nice, but this segment plays 2nd fiddle compared to the H/K twins.

    • 0 avatar

      While I agree that a Telluride or Palisade is a better vehicle… probably…they don’t compete with Atlas Cross Sport. They do with Atlas and yes, they are a better buy than the regular Atlas. I do think that the VW is nicer than the Passport, Blazer and Ford Edge though.

      • 0 avatar

        Atlas Cross Sport is much much much closer in size to 3 row crossovers than other midsize 2 row crossovers. It’s also priced closer to 3 row crossovers than other midsize 2 row crossovers. This combines all the disadvantages of 2 and 3 row crossovers with none of the upsides (maybe besides cargo space).

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Telluride and Passport are three-rows, this one is two.

  • avatar

    Maybe, if the volume of Cross Sport sales are added to the Atlas sales, the VW Atlas will catch up to the sales volume of the Subaru Ascent (they almost did it in 2019).

  • avatar

    How do companies continue to resort to the ALREADY KNOWN NAME + MODIFIER convention for new models. I understand the challenge/cost of introducing a new name but taking the “safe” route and leveraging a name you already have is confusing in the long run. History is riddled with these misadventures. Santa Fe Sport. Pathfinder Armada. Outlander Sport. When does this actually work. Maybe the Range Rover Sport (although I don’t think many consumers can explain exactly how/where it fits in the product lineup) but I can’t think of another that has really stuck. The whole thing is particularly silly in this case. First of all, the Atlas is relatively new vehicle so they’re not leveraging a well-known name. And second, the name “Atlas” had to have been selected to emphasize the large size of the original vehicle…and now they’re applying it to another vehicle whose entire reason for existing is because it’s smaller.

  • avatar

    Chopping the Atlas makes it look a whole lot less slabby, although the front end still looks pretty generic. I think this thing will sell like hand sanitizer around coronavirus.

    (This is also, incidentally, the segment that plays the role that the CC segment played a decade ago.)

  • avatar

    I like this better than a Ford Edge or a Honda Passport, but not better than a Grand Cherokee (as long as I could get the Hemi equipped Jeep.)

  • avatar

    Volkswagen Edge

  • avatar

    I guess at least it stats $1k under the Atlas, where Honda decided a seat delete should add $300. Honda still managed to get ~25% of Pilot sales out of the Passport, so I suppose if VW can move 20k of these in a year they’ll do OK?

  • avatar

    Lots of features… and it’s wide. So far, so good. However…
    there are lots of other choices for CUVs out there, and some aren’t pushing 50Gs before taxes and title. What makes this one a better choice than all the rest?
    Methinks it’s one more in a crowded segment. Those who want these (women) had better equate “VW” with “Gucci”, or it’s going to go the way of the Mercedes Nissan pickup truck.

  • avatar

    I had high hopes for this thing when it was rumored, but this thing is about 98% as big as the regular Atlas while only having 71% of the seating. For some reason in the photos here it looks like a big Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Neither engine option is compelling- they are both slower AND less fuel efficient than the competition. VW whiffed it.

    Every entry in VWAG’s crossover lineup is missing something. Either too big, too small, too slow, too thirsty, or too expensive. The closest thing to something compelling is a Tiguan with the APR Plus tune that comes with a warranty, but APR hasn’t cracked that ECU yet. In the luxury realm I feel like Audis aren’t good value.

  • avatar

    Why did VW put nasty Hondaesque rims on this otherwise beautiful SUV?

  • avatar

    Why does this vehicle remind me of a 2006 Grand Cherokee?

  • avatar

    Ford Edge by Mitsubishi.


  • avatar

    The very embodiment of a pointless and useless model.

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