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2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive: Jumbo 2-Row

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/3/2020 Motor Trend Staff

As nests empty, relieving parents of carpooling obligations, the latest trend is truncating the three-row jumbo SUVs that folks fled to (in their prior abandonment of minivans). The latest example is VW's third-row-ectomy of the jumbo Atlas SUV. So how does the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport compare with other midsize two-row utes?

Research the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport on MSN Autos

Let's start by defining the competitive set: There's the Chevrolet Blazer (nee Traverse), the Ford Edge (loosely related to the previous-gen Explorer), the Honda Passport (Pilot), and the Nissan Murano (D-platform sib to the Pathfinder). Relative to those players, the Atlas is considerably bigger.

Call it a case of reduce, reuse, recycle. Words to live by for both saving the planet and maximizing shareholder value. Just as dog owners might reuse shopping bags at the store a few times and then repurpose them as pooper-scoopers, savvy automakers are reusing parts-bin items and repurposing chassis architecture by applying different bodies or "top-hats" atop them.

a car parked on the side of a road © Motor Trend Staff

How roomy is the VW Atlas Cross Sport?

At 195.5 inches, the 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport longer than the next-longest Murano by 2.7 inches, and it's an inch or two wider and taller than all but the Honda Passport. Speaking of Passport, the VW compares most closely with the new Honda, in that both utes essentially share their wheelbases with their three-row sibling, but Honda shortened the Passport's overall length by 6.0 inches, while VW only trimmed 2.8 inches off the Atlas's overhangs.

That distinction speaks volumes to the disparate missions these brands are chasing: Honda casts the Passport as an adventure-mobile, improving approach/departure angles by 1.7 and 6.8 degrees, respectively, and boosting ground clearance. It has also raised the boxy roof so as to lose only 4.8 cubic feet of the available luggage space behind the Pilot's rear seat.

VW is going for a longer, lower, wider, sleeker look, so ground clearance and approach angle are virtually unchanged and departure improves by just 4.3 degrees, while that rakish rear window reduces the Atlas's cargo space by 15.2 cubic feet (it ends up 0.9 cubes smaller than Passport).

What the Cross Sport really delivers on is rear-seat legroom, as the fixed rear seat is positioned well aft of the one in the three-row Atlas, endowing Cross Sport with a whopping 2.8 inches more rear legroom. To preserve cargo area, the outdoorsier Passport only adds 1.2 inches of rear legroom. There's so much room in the back of the Cross Sport that many rear passengers' feet won't need to go under the front seat. Might this be more rear legroom than anybody really needs? Maybe…

a motorcycle that is sitting on the seat of a car © Motor Trend Staff

How does the VW Atlas Cross Sport drive?

From behind the wheel, this VW two-row SUV feels notably wider and longer than its competition. Those hoping for a nimbler, more maneuverable, easier-to-park SUV when trading down from a three-row ute will be much better served by a Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, or Nissan Murano. Those who like the feel and performance of their Atlas and are smitten by the sleeker lines of the Cross Sport will find its ride quality, steering feel, and overall driving dynamics completely familiar. Same goes for the cockpit appearance and functionality, which retains the Atlas's Euro-sleek, spare aesthetic and overabundance of hard black plastic—even in top-trim models.

Our drive from Vancouver to Whistler Village in British Columbia, Canada, marked the first time we've sampled any Atlas with the 2.0-liter turbo driving all four wheels. Rated at the same 235 hp/258 lb-ft as in the big Atlas, it's down just 15 percent on power and 3 percent on torque relative to the V-6, so despite running identical transmission and axle ratios to the big Atlas, acceleration from a stop doesn't suffer as much as one might expect relative to the VR6. And the turbocharger helped preserve the Cross Sport's sea-level performance as we climbed the 2,200 feet to Whistler Village. VW expects just 30 percent of all Atlas buyers to opt for the I-4 and 40 percent to go for front-wheel drive.

a car parked on the side of a snow covered road: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 3 © Motor Trend Staff 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 3

VW Atlas Cross Sport pricing

Where you will save a bit is on the initial purchase price. The base 2.0-liter front-drive Cross Sport starts at $31,565, which is $1,000 less than the equivalent Atlas. At $44,065, the SEL R-Line represents the biggest savings at $1,250. The new 2.0-liter Atlas Cross Sport 4Motion model opens at $33,465 and peaks at $44,165 for the top-spec SEL R-Line—so expect equivalent Atlas models to command at least another G-note when it becomes available for 2021.

Those hoping to save a few bucks on fuel by ditching the third row are going to be disappointed by the Atlas Cross Sport. According to the EPA, the 2.0-liter front-driver does 1 mpg better in the city (21 versus 20 mpg with the same 24 highway and 22 combined ratings), the V-6 models get identical fuel economy (17/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined for front-drive, 16/22/19 with 4Motion). The 2.0-liter 4Motion gets 18/23/20 in the Cross Sport; the Atlas has yet to be certified. By comparison, the V-6-only Passport is rated 20/25/22 mpg in front-drive guise, 19/24/21 with AWD while the smaller V-6-only CVT-equipped Murano gets 20/28/23 mpg with either drivetrain. The Blazer and Edge also meet or exceed the Cross Sport's economy with equivalent powertrains.

Research the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport on MSN Autos

VW shareholders will be pleased the automaker saved the considerable tooling expense of all those floor pan stampings, 4Motion propeller shafts, and more. Buyers with extremely long-legged family members and friends will also be delighted with the limo-like Atlas Cross Sport's rear seat. Everybody else might want to take a serious test drive in the thriftier, more maneuverable competition.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
PRICE$31,565-$45,965
LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE2.0L/235-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.6L/276-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT4,100-4,400 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE117.3 in
L x W x H195.5 x 78.4 x 67.8 in
0-60 MPH7.3-8.5 sec (MT est)
EPA FUEL ECON16-21/22-24/19-22 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY160-211/140-153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB0.87-1.06 lb/mile
ON SALECurrently
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