By on February 12, 2021

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0T SEL Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (235 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

18 city / 23 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

12.8 city, 10.4 highway, 11.7 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $41,445 (U.S) / $45,195 (Canada)

As Tested: $42,700 (U.S.) / $45,195 (Canada)

Prices include $1,020 destination charge in the United States and $2,050 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Several years ago now, I called the Volkswagen Atlas three-row “German comfort food.” It remains that – a boxy, slightly bland crossover that nonetheless does the basics well.

Enter the Cross Sport, which is supposed to liven things up, at least a little, by being lowered and shortened, while losing the weight that comes with the nip/tuck and the removal of the third row of seats (at least in theory. With all-wheel drive, the 2.0T is a skosh heavier than a four-cylinder, three-row Atlas. Generally, however, the two-row is lighter.). The front facelift that matches the larger Atlas is also meant to make things more interesting.

These changes only go so far. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here we have a vehicle that is smaller but no less comfortable, and as you will see, that is just fine.

Bland can be beautiful if function is prioritized over form. And when utility is part of the vehicle-class descriptor, it usually is.

That’s my (possibly tortured) way of saying the Cross Sport isn’t particularly exciting, nor is it meant to be, and that’s just fine. Yes, that echoes my review of the Seltos from a couple of weeks ago, but what can I say? There’s a lot of crossovers across different size ranges and price points that are boring but functional because they’re supposed to be. Which makes my job as a supposed wordsmith a bit harder.

Not that any automaker selling crossovers by the boatload gives a whit. They’re too busy counting cash.

Well, OK, maybe not in this specific case – the Cross Sport moved around 11K units in the U.S. last year, according to our friends at GoodCarBadCar. But in general, crossover buyers likely place a premium on utility.

Which the Cross Sport does well, even being Atlas shrunk.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

The grille and sloping D-pillar do add a touch of pizazz, but the main draw here is the typical VW interior – logically laid out and easy to use (and dressed in unrelieved black). You get volume and tuning knobs and big knobs for the climate controls. You also get a digital gauge cluster and a storage shelf on the dash above the center stack. It’s a pleasant place to do business, though not particularly interesting.

Pleasant but not particularly interesting seems to describe the Atlas Cross Sport – and really, perhaps 80 percent of the VW lineup these days – quite well. And it may sound like an insult, but it isn’t. Creative, interesting design is good but not always necessary.

As a grocery-getting, five-human hauling crossover, the Cross Sport is just fine.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Put the 2.0-liter turbo-four in the “fine” category – the 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque have plenty of grunt to get you going in regular urban driving, and it’s more than adequate for merging, but you won’t be running to Twitter to shout about how blazin’ fast your new Cross Sport is. A V6 is available, but it only adds 11 lb-ft of torque. Also, should you want all-wheel-drive with the V6, your vehicle will weigh 4,411 pounds. As it is, my AWD test unit weighed 4,288 lbs. with two fewer cylinders.

The engine’s power, such as it is, reaches the wheels via an eight-speed automatic. Power typically flows through the front wheels, but it can be sent to the rears as needed (up to 50 percent) via a center differential.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Drive modes? Boy, does this crossover have drive modes for you. You have four basic modes (on road, off-road, snow, and custom off-road) and within the on-road mode, you can choose between normal, sport, comfort, eco, and individual. Perhaps fiddling with the drive modes is how you spice up an otherwise mostly anonymous crossover.

Whatever mode you’re in, the Cross Sport handles competently enough, with a bit of sporting flair, and body roll is tamped down. Steering feel is, as seems typical of some VW products, very light.

Underpinning it all is a four-wheel independent suspension (strut-type with lower control arms, dampers, anti-roll bars, and coil springs upfront; multilink with coil springs, dampers, and anti-roll bar in the rear).

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Standard features included 20-inch wheels, stop/start system, hydraulic brake-assist system, automatic post-collision braking system, LED lighting all around, adaptive front lighting, fog lamps, heated sideview mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic sunroof, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, tilt/telescope steering column, heated front seats, 60/40 split-fold/fold-flat reclining rear seat, leatherette seats, multiple USB ports, digital gauges, road-sign display, front and rear park-distance control, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, blind-spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert, forward-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring and front assist, lane-keeping assist and traffic-jam assist, high-beam control, hill-hold and hill-descent control, remote start, keyless entry and starting, and remote power liftgate.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

There’s more, TV infomercial style: Navigation, uplevel audio, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless cell-phone charger.

Options were limited to heavy-duty floor and cargo mats ($235). With that and $1,020 in D and D fees, a $41,445 vehicle cost $42,700.

Fuel economy is listed at 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway/20 mpg combined.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

That’s 42 grand of fine. As I wrote last year during our first drive, the Cross Sport, even with the less-powerful engine, is a vehicle I’d place higher on the list than the Ford Edge or Chevrolet Blazer and right around the V6 Jeep Grand Cherokee or a loaded Honda Passport.

I stand by that. The Cross Sport is one of the better five-seat crossovers at this price point, but not the best.

And that’s just fine.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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23 Comments on “2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0T SEL Review – Subtract Seats, Keep the Comfort...”

  • avatar

    $42K for the SEL Cross Sport???? I think I’ve figured out why they sold only 11,000 of them last year. I think that the Ford Edge, especially with real world pricing, not MSRP, seems like the one that I would go for. When I shop for a new vehicle, I consider reliability, performance, styling and the payments. In which one of these categories is the Cross Sport a stand out??

  • avatar

    “Which makes my job as a supposed wordsmith a bit harder.”

    I’m guessing you have very little say in what press car goes where but it would be better to have Chris (or someone with a family) review the trucks/CUVs. As it is outside of mega-sport or mega-offroad trims there is a lot of sameness to reviews. “It’s a box on wheels and it is basically okay”.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Yeah, I am trying to get my creative juices flowing so that all reviews of middling, basically competent crossovers don’t sound the same. If I fail at that, then I am failing at my job, at least part of it. So that’s a challenge for me — and most reviewers, really.

      You’re right, we have little say in what car goes where. We also use different fleets.

    • 0 avatar

      Better than box on wheels is a box without wheels.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like it, but I’m trying to figure out how my 09 Sedona has more weight (4400 lbs), more power (250 hp), 3 fewer gears, and more space (3 row, or the 4×8 sheet test), but the same EPA fuel economy.

    As my car ages and my station in life is different now (empty nester), this vehicle doesn’t really seem like a step up in any way except that it’s newer. I expect to downsize, but the car has to give something in return.

  • avatar

    My impression from seeing on the street and looking them over on the dealership floor, is that the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are big vehicles seemingly a half size above their competition, especially the Cross Sport. They look particularly good in the R-Line trim. The interior may not be “interesting” but it is good design and very functional. No worse than the Pilot/Passport or current Grand Cherokee. The new Grand Cherokee/Grand Cherokee L, however, looks to raise the threshold considerably in the non-luxury mid-size CUV/SUV game, even compared to the Mazda CX-9.

  • avatar

    The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are both sort of a parts bin enigma in some respects. I dont think VW has an engine that is really well suited to this large of a vehicle. Or, I should say, that they do but they reserve them for Audi.

    I own a 2019 Atlas and actually wrote a Reader Ride Review which I think Mr. Healey either forgot about or figured it was best for the circular file.

    The V6 in the Atlas is literally the least competitive V6 in its class. The 2.0T has more torque sooner in the rev range and is quicker than the V6. Though the V6 really does sound great, it is really a dog in the AWD full sized Atlas (I had one for a week as a loaner). I actually own a 2.0T FWD version which I refer to as “minivan spec” and it has been a pretty great family hauler over the past nearly two years. I paid nowhere near $42K for my 2.0T SE with Tech, so yeah, the price seems steep when you take away the Atlas’s best feature in its third row.

    I dont know how it happened, but the 2019 version of the full sized Atlas with 2.0T and FWD was rated at 22 City and 26 highway I believe. The EPA ratings have somehow managed to fall year over year for the same powertrain despite the 2020 and 2021 models being mechanically identical as far as I know. We pretty consistently get around 24 mpg in mixed driving. I just did an actual calculation last week which registered just under 24mpg in mostly city driving in sub zero temps here in Michigan (incidentally my wife lets it warm up for 10 minutes before getting in everyday). No complaints in the MPG department or the interior volume department. I specifically avoided the V6 after reading reviews of the horrible real world fuel economy. The car has some flaws for sure, but as a minivan replacement/substitute it is pretty solid at the price I paid.

    As an owner, I will attest to the fact that the interior volume is really the selling point for the Atlas in general and I really don’t feel like the Cross Sport version has a great many things going for it aside from the fact that is somewhat novel to look at and somewhat large for a two-row.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Very interesting comments.

      I had thought the V6 was a winner, but I’ve driven neither. Maybe the MPG killer is the AWD option. Nice to read some owner input.

      • 0 avatar

        I have owned both a 2.0 FWD SEL Cross Sport, and a v6 Fwd SEL Cross Sport. My 2.0 was my first one and was fantastic. Got well above sticker mpg. Regularly gave back 23mpg city in our stop and go no highway at all city. On the highway it would pull 27-28mpg going 80mph. Loved it. Didn’t pay anywhere near $42k for it. I think it was $39xxx out the door. It was sadly totalled by a texting driver who hit us at a red light from behind going 50+ mph.

        So we looked for another one, and during covid it was hard enough to find the first one. Only fwd black on black we could find was a v6. So we got that this time. Mpg is terrible. Gets about 17-18mpg city if you really baby it. Highway is 22-23 doing 75-78mph. The 2.0 was faster for for sure. Especially if you run 91/93 octane you get the full timing and boost tables you can’t get on 87 octane. Plus the 2.0 has a massive aftermarket. Every thing pretty much for a GTI fits the Atlas/Cross Sport.

        If I could, I’d want a 2.0 FWD SEL Rline. But they won’t sell you the Rline with the The better motor, the 2.0.

  • avatar

    I think these look good for a mainstream vehicle. I see many here in Los Angeles. They seem to be the go-to Dad Car for dads who can’t or won’t splurge on a Range Rover, Q8, Escalade, etc. It’s like the modern incarnation of the VW CC.

    VW still seems to have still some of that late ’90s, slightly premium brand equity here on the West Coast where people think they are inherently “nicer” than Japanese cars.

  • avatar

    In cement gray, this thing is a looker.

  • avatar

    Are these things actually reliable? Seems irresponsible to use a VW as a family hauler.

    • 0 avatar

      VW has the some of the same issues all european offerings have… expensive routine maintenance that must be done, or it gets real expensive…

      like 40k intervals for full transmission fluid change (DCT), plugs and coils… a big chunk of change at the dealer

      and definitely a number of quite fixable recalls in the 2010-2015 time frame…

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Piece of chit

  • avatar

    This vehicle has no center differential. Like the vast majority of AWD crossovers for the last 15 years there is but a clutch to hook up the propshaft to the rear drive. To this solitary piece of cheapness, PR types assign all manner of fantabulous torque splits gleaned from their imaginations and total non-understanding of the workings. But hey, people regard themselves as technological wonders becaue they can sort of operate a smartphone or PC; the wonders of real engineering bypass the vast majority of people completely.

    Basically this vehicle is FWD with a clutch that siphons off torque from the drive to the front wheels and sends it rearward. Nothing very amazing because the tires keep the front and rear axles moving at essentially the same speed simply by not slipping except in extremes. Traditional north-south engined BMWs reverse the procedure, and siphon off torque to power the front wheels. With Audis, you have to get into an A6 or higher to get an actual center differential these days. The A4 went AWOL a couple of years ago with ultra quattro, which is of course anything but ultra.

    I look at this Atlas Sport or whatever it is, and see just one more example of a two box crossover out of the hundreds of supposedly different models of plodding nothings lining the roads. Yawn. Of zero interest for car enthusiasts, and there’s even less of them around with each passing year.


  • avatar

    So it’s heavier, slower, thirstier, blander and just average to drive and is placed below the Blazer in ranking?
    I would also trust GM’s current 3.6 and normal 9 speed over VW’s turbo 4 banger and DSG time bomb transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Yeah, so would I. A Blazer RS or Premier V6 is a much better-driving, better-fitted, better-built five-seat midsizer than this Atlas Cross Sport. And I say that as a VW fan.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    These are just not nice. The interior materials bite, the design language has no congruity with that of the global VW designs, and the engines are dogs that get horrid fuel economy.

    Did you happen to touch that plastiwood on the dashboard? I did, once, and it reminded me of something VW would have used in the 70s on an air-cooled Beetle. (However, while the air-cooled cars were cheap and cheerful, this Atlas Cross Sport is not).

    Not only that, the Atlas Cross Sport essentially has the exact same footprint as the Atlas, with far less usable space.

    I’m a VW fan, but the Atlas family is just plain lackluster, and the Cross Sport in particular. I would look to just about every one of its competitors (Grand Cherokee, Blazer, Edge, Santa Fe, Sorento, Murano, Passport, in that order) first.

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