Review update: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport flexes style and space

June 8, 2020

You want style, space for five adults, a good warranty, and enough cargo space for a long weekend up north. What do you buy?

I would answer with the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. Sure, the Chevrolet Blazer looks sportier, the Honda Passport has a sliding second row, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee is more capable. None of these competitors combine presence, carrying capacity (for both people and cargo), and value like the Atlas Cross Sport.

The 2020 Atlas Cross Sport gets lumped in with its larger three-row sibling, the Atlas, with a TCC Rating of 5.8 out of 10. It nails some key design points, but the drab interior reeks of cost-cutting and the fuel economy lags the competition.

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

Hit: That presence

The Atlas Cross Sport doesn’t have the in-your-face swagger that the Kia Telluride exudes, but with sharp 20-inch wheels filling the wheel wells, flared haunches at all four corners, sloped roofline, stubby rear end, and blunt front end, the Atlas Cross Sport has presence. It looks sportier than the Atlas, like the Audi Q8 is to the Q7.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Miss: Competition’s more efficient

The Atlas Cross Sport is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 with 276 horsepower. An eager-to-shift 8-speed automatic transmission shuffles the power to all four wheels, though the all-wheel-drive system sends power to the front wheels until there’s slippage, at which point an electronic clutch sends power to the rear for more traction. EPA ratings come in at a meager 16 mpg city, 22 highway, and 19 combined. The Honda Passport comes in at 24 mpg highway with all-wheel drive, the V-6 all-wheel-drive Blazer at 26 mpg, and the Nissan Murano can get 28 mpg on the highway according to the EPA. The only competitor that gets worse ratings is a Jeep Grand Cherokee when equipped with a V-8 and 84 more horsepower. In the real world the Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium with just me in it beat EPA estimates with an average of just over 24 mpg. Hooked up to a 5,000-pound boat and trailer setup, which is the Cross Sport’s max towing capacity, it averaged 10.7 mpg at highway speeds. That’s on par with the competition.

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

Hit: Fit for a king

It doesn’t matter where you are seated in the Atlas Cross Sport, you’ll have plenty of room. The center armrest is so large you’d have to try to touch your elbow to your loved one’s in the passenger seat, if you are into that kind of thing. In back, the term stretch-out room is defined with 40.4 inches of legroom, which is nearly two inches more than a Jeep Grand Cherokee and an inch more than the Honda Passport and Chevrolet Blazer. Thanks to only being 5.2 inches shorter than the three-row Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport can swallow 40.3 cubic feet of stuff in back, which is 9.8 more cubes than a Chevrolet Blazer, and 8.2 more cubic feet than the Nissan Murano.

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

Hit and Miss: Boring, functional interior design

If the Camaro-inspired interior of the Chevrolet Blazer is exciting, then the Atlas Cross Sport’s interior is boring. There’s no pizazz, no flash, and certainly nothing upscale about it.

But it is functional and business-like with its design. All the main controls feature knobs, switches, and buttons. Anyone in the Atlas Cross Sport will know how to change the climate control system, whereas some might be confused when it comes time to do the same thing in a Blazer. The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is easy-to-use, thanks in part to volume and tuning knobs; the interface has no lag like Honda’s system, and it looks modern.

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

Miss: Towing costs extra

My Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium’s window sticker lists a trailer hitch as a standard exterior feature. Oh, you want to use that trailer hitch beyond hauling a bike rack? You’ll need to visit the Volkswagen dealership and pony up (at least) $57 for a connector to the 7-pin wiring harness.Other vehicles, like a Jeep Grand Cherokee, come standard with a wiring harness and plug to hook up trailer lights. For Volkswagen to wire the Cross Sport for towing but not include the trailer light connector is a cheap money grab.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Hit: Comfortable and quiet

Cruising down the highway with the adaptive cruise control set above 70 mph, the Atlas Cross Sport is a nice place to spend your time. The front buckets are comfortable with good bolstering both on the seatback and bottom. For a mainstream vehicle it’s quiet with little to no wind noise despite the large side mirrors, and the steering asks for little effort to make lane changes.

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

2020 Volkagen Atlas Cross Sport

 

Bonus: It can tow 5,000 pounds

The Atlas Cross Sport’s 5,000-pound tow rating is in the middle of the competitive set of mid-size crossover SUVs. After towing 5,000 pounds of fishing boat on a dual-axle trailer, I can’t recommend doing the same in the Atlas Cross Sport. You should plan on towing 80% of your vehicle’s rated capacity, or 4,000 lbs max in the Atlas Cross Sport.

With my maxed-out load, the rear end sagged like thousands of pounds of concrete had been poured into the rear cargo hold. With much of the load off the front suspension, the front tires clawed at the pavement from a stop. They never lost traction or engaged the rear wheels through the all-wheel-drive system. After nearly two hours of cruising on the highway I could smell the Atlas Cross Sport’s brakes, though they never exhibited any fade. On the highway the Atlas Cross Sport had no trouble tracking a straight line while remaining stable, but there was always this nagging sense of “Who’s in charge here, the boat or the car?”

You can tow 5,000 lbs, but you shouldn’t. The Atlas Cross Sport is up to the task hauling a single-axle trailer with an 18-foot boat or a pair of jet skis, or small pop-up trailer. For anything larger on a regular basis there are better options.

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2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium
Base price: $31,565
Price as tested: $49,745
EPA fuel economy: 16/22/19 mpg
The hits: Comfortable cruiser, spacious cabin, visual presence, can tow 5,000 lbs.
The misses: Not efficient, VW takes a money grab for using the hitch to tow, boring interior.

2020
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2020
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