2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0T SEL Review - Subtract Seats, Keep the Comfort

Fast Facts

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.
2020 volkswagen atlas cross sport 2 0t sel review subtract seats keep the comfort

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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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3 of 23 comments
  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Feb 16, 2021

    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.

    • Kyree Kyree on Feb 16, 2021

      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.

  • Kyree Kyree on Feb 16, 2021

    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.

  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.
  • Inside Looking Out Why not buy Bronco and call it Defender? Who will notice?