What do you get when you strip the third row from a popular SUV, lay protective rubber mats back there instead, and then rake back the roof for a sportier profile?
Well, you get a sexier, roomier two-row activity vehicle, the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. It’s a five-seater modified from the family hauling Atlas. It is 3 inches shorter and has a 2.6-inch lower roof, but still has gaping space for tents and duffle bags, baseball and golf equipment. Or the $500 jogging stroller (!!) that grandpa is delivering to his precious baby granddaughter and her mama.
Volkswagen figures the all-new Cross Sport will appeal to empty nesters as well as to couples and young families. Sport-minded folks may opt for the racy R-Line package, with thicker bumpers, gloss black trim and flat-bottom steering wheel.
But beyond the extra cargo space, the Cross Sport also is first in the lineup to introduce VW’s new drive-assist features and the next-generation of its Car-Net connectivity, which offers access to directions, entertainment or emergency assistance.
The Cross Sport has a broad stance (80 inches wide) and three-bar chrome grille and new LEDs and fog lamps. On the downside, it has fake cutouts in the lower rear bumper where exhaust pipes should have been. This is an American-built VW _ Chattanooga, Tenn. _ though the engine comes from Mexico and the transmission from Japan, so maybe it’s a push.
The Cross Sport comes in three trim levels, three add-on packages and two engines. The tester, the V6 SEL Premium, is powered by a 3.6-liter engine with direct fuel injection. It gets 276 hp, but that’s only 41 hp more than the base engine, a 2.0-liter turbo four.
The turbo is quicker off the line, getting to 60 mph in 7 seconds (7.7 seconds for the V-6). But the big guy can tow up to 5,000 pounds if you get the factory trailer hitch, and that’s a substantial 3,000 lbs. more than the turbo.
Both engines are mated to an 8-speed transmission which can send power to all four wheels via VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. It is front-wheel biased but can send power to the rear in a millisecond when needed.
With 4Motion there are drive modes, too, which include Normal, Sport, Eco, Off-road, Custom and Snow. These modes tweak engine and transmission settings for improved performance. But sporty it is not, and despite its similar profile to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is not in the same league as an off-roader.
Like the seven-passenger Atlas, its ride is pleasant on the open road, smooth, quiet and stable. It does strain in the passing lane, however, and steering is rather numb. Still, for most folks it’s a comfortable daily driver as the 4-wheel independent suspension gobbles up railroad bumps and road divots nicely.
The two-ton-plus Cross Sport lags in the segment in fuel economy, managing an EPA-rated 16 mpg city, 22 highway for 19 combined with the 3.6-liter engine plus AWD. Oddly, the four-banger doesn’t fare much better unless you go with the FWD version.
Inside, with the third row gone, everyone gets to stretch out in all directions. Volkswagen shoved the rear seat back to create three more inches of legroom back there, and the 80-inch width means more shoulder and hip room. The missing third row opens 40 cubic feet of space behind the second row, though the raked roof lowers vertical space. There are 78 cubes with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down.
Front seats are heated and ventilated and well sculpted, with 10-way power with lumbar for the driver, and 8-way power for whomever called shotgun first. Top trims get an advanced virtual instrument display which includes the new dynamic road sign feature: It reads the current speed limit and alerts if the vehicle speed exceeds by a set number.
Another new driver feature is Traffic Jam Assist, which can accelerate as high as 37 mpg and brake to a full stop without driver input.
Atlas’ center stack remains clean and neat, with an 8-inch touchscreen that offers good graphics and feedback. The Car-Net system offers a slew of features through a smartphone app, including car location assistance, monthly vehicle-health reports, and speed alerts when someone else is driving your car.
A premium Fender audio system with subwoofer is available on top trims and a dual sunroof _ front one opens, slides and tilts _ makes for a brighter and breezier cabin.
Beyond the new driver-assist features, every Cross Sport gets forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor and rear traffic warning.
The Cross Sport is the new kid on a block with the likes of Ford Edge, Chevy Blazer, Honda Passport and some others with similar abilities. It’s a good formula for those who don’t need a third row but want the extra cargo space.
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
Starting MSRP: $30,545
As tested (Top-line V-6 SEL Premium): $49,510 (Includes 10-way leather seats, 20-inch wheels, 4Motion AWD, trailer hitch package)
What’s all the excitement about? VW ditched the Atlas’ third row and made more space for active folks and their outdoor stuff
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V-6 engine with to 8-speed transmission; 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine available
How’s the performance? Comfortable, quiet highway ride but mediocre driving dynamics overall; 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds
Fuel economy: Less than mediocre: EPA estimates 16 mpg city, 22 highway, for 19 mpg combined
ABOUT THE WRITER
Barry Spyker was the automotive columnist for The Miami Herald and editor of its Wheels & Waves section. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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