by Jared Rosenholtz
The mid-size SUV segment is filled with two distinct sets of competitors. There are three-row SUVs like the Volkswagen Atlas and Honda Pilot, and smaller two-row models like the Honda Passport. VW used to compete in this segment with the luxurious Touareg, but it never sold well in the US because of its high price and is no longer offered here. So in order to compete with the likes of two-row mid-size SUV like the Passport, Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, and Nissan Murano, VW had to get creative.
Taking the lessons learned from the luxury segment with models like the BMW X6 and Porsche Cayenne Coupe, VW has now taken its three-row mid-size Atlas and turned it into the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport. Think of it as a sportier, sleeker version of the Atlas for families who don't require a third row. The Atlas Cross Sport acts as a spiritual successor to the Touareg but with a much lower entry price and more humble roots, hoping to succeed where the Touareg failed.
The Cross Sport rides on the same 117.3-inch wheelbase as the standard Atlas but sits 2.3 inches lower and measures 2.8 shorter. VW has significantly changed the exterior styling so the Cross Sport doesn't simply look like a case of 'Honey I Shrunk the Atlas.' At the front, there is a new three-bar chrome grille and a distinctive new light signature which, much like the concept, extends the width of the car. VW has included other nods to the concept as well, including the aggressive front bumper and sculpted hood.
From the side profile, it is easy to see how different the Cross Sport is compared to the standard Atlas. The silhouette is completely distinctive due to the car's heavily raked rear pillar and rear hatch. VW has also altered the rear end with new lights, a sculpted rear bumper, and new chrome accents. R-Line models have even more heavily sculpted bumpers, black accents, and optional 21-inch wheels. The Cross Sport is clearly better looking than the US-spec Atlas and almost as pretty as the European Touareg.
In the cabin, Cross Sport buyers are treated to a host of upgrades over the standard Atlas. The Cross Sport feels more luxurious with a new, more intuitive steering wheel, available stitching accents on the doors, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, rear sunshades, wireless phone charging, and a 12-speaker Fender sound system. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit is also available on SEL and SEL Premium models, giving drivers a head-up look at their map and other pertinent information.
VW has also crammed tons of valuable safety technology into the cabin. Even the base S model includes forward-collision warning with autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear traffic alert. Higher trim models add adaptive cruise control with a stop/go feature and park distance control. Well-optioned trims also include traffic jam assist, which controls the throttle and brakes and keeps the vehicle centered in its lane up to 37 mph.
Since the Cross Sport is smaller than standard Atlas, there are some practicality trade-offs. The vehicle offers 111.8 cubic feet of passenger space, with 40.3 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row, or 77.8 with the rear seats folded. This pales in comparison to the larger Atlas, which offers 55.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 96.8 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded flat. The cargo capacity may not be as impressive but rear legroom sits at 40.4 inches, which is actually more than the Atlas' 37.6-inch measurement.
The output is unchanged from the three-row Atlas, so the Cross Sport should be a bit quicker due to its smaller size. The base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 235 horsepower and the optional engine is a 3.6-liter V6 with 276 hp. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and buyers can opt for either front-wheel-drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive. If you need to tow, the V6 with the Towing Package can pull 5,000 pounds. Fuel economy figures have yet to be released but we expect them to be slightly better than the three-row Atlas.
VW will offer the Atlas Cross Sport with eight trim levels: S, SE, SE w/Tech, SE w/Tech R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line. Pricing will likely begin below the base Atlas S, which starts at $30,895, but official numbers won't be revealed until closer to the car's launch in Spring 2020.
When it goes on sale, the Cross Sport will compete with other two-row SUVs like the Blazer, Edge, Santa Fe, Sorento, Murano, and Passport. Like its larger brother, the Cross Sport will attempt to stand out with bold looks, clever technology, and a newfound dose of American personality with a touch of German common sense. With a much lower price point, we expect the Atlas Cross Sport to post better sales numbers than the old Touareg.