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2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport First Drive: Following the fashion

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Whistler, B.C. - Car manufacturers are looking for new niches to sell more models. There’s nothing in that really, but currently one of the most promising segments ripe for expansion is that of the midsize 5-person SUV.

This category is inhabited by a few veterans that for years had little competition and have been well-established for years. Think of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the best-selling vehicle in its class in Canada, or the Ford Edge, which has also been in place for a long time. Other models have been added recently, like the Chevrolet Blazer and Honda Passport. We can now add the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport to the residents’ list.

Economy of (smaller) scale
Volkswagen followed the same principle as Honda with the Passport, essentially taking the platform and engines of the Atlas and removing the back two seats and some length. The Atlas Cross Sport is therefore based on the same chassis as the Atlas but offers an overall length 59 mm shorter than the 2021 generation of the Atlas arriving this summer.

Photo: B.Charette

Beyond that, it features new headlights that lengthen the centre bar of the three-bar chrome grille. The rear pillar and tailgate have a longer slope than the Atlas to give the impression of a 4-door coupe. VW also took the opportunity to redesign the styling with a slightly more flowing silhouette in the Trendline, Confortlime and Execline versions. The latter, for an additional $1,690, comes in an R-Line version that features a unique bumper with a prominent R logo and more chrome and black lacquered trim, as well as available 21-inch wheels.

Two small pet peeves about the Cross Sport: the base 18-inch wheels look a little cheap for a $38,000 SUV, and Volkswagen has installed fake exhaust pipes (dual for the 4-cylinder engine and quadruple for the V6) that frankly look ugly. Dual fake exhausts for the 4-cylinder engine and quadruple fake exhausts for the V6. If the exhaust is hidden under the hood, leave it there. There's no need to pretend otherwise, no one is fooled.

4 or 6 cylinders
Just like with the Atlas, you have a choice of a 235-hp 2.0 turbocharged 4-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque or the 276-hp 3.6L V6 with 266 lb-ft of torque.

The good news is that all Atlas Cross Sport models (as well as the next Atlas) will only be available in AWD in Canada. This means no more 4 cylinders with front-wheel drive only. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Photo: B.Charette

Volkswagen points out that only 5% of buyers were opting for a front-wheel-drive model. With this all-wheel-drive 4-cylinder, Volkswagen people hope to claim 30 and even 40% of sales for the 4-cylinder version. The Atlas, which ranks third on the brand’s sales chart (behind the Tiguan and the Jetta), wants to consolidate its position in the segment with the Cross Sport version.

Regarding towing capacity, it's still possible to tow 2,268 kg (or 5,000 lb) with the V6, and VW representatives told us that they're working very hard to get the same capabilities with the 4-cylinder.

Interior update
The price of a Trendline model is set at $38,995. For that, you get 18-inch wheels, LED automatic headlights with heated mirrors and front seats, rain-sensing wipers, cloth seats, a blind spot detector and rear cross-traffic sensor.

Photo: B.Charette

All models offer forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring system and rear cross traffic warning.

For $45,195, the Comfortline adds adaptive cruise control, parking assistance system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, remote start, power tailgate, panoramic roof, dual-zone automatic climate control, voice-activated control via an 8-inch screen and 8-way adjustable power seats for the driver.

You have to go to the $54,495 Execline version for the virtual cockpit developed by Audi, but you also then get heated and ventilated leather seats in the front and heated seats in the back with power adjustment for the driver and front passenger. There’s also a larger inventory of electronic driving aids like the "Traffic Jam Assist", which is an assistant that allows the vehicle to navigate through morning traffic at speeds of up to 60 km/h, stop and restart if traffic picks up within three seconds.

The Execline also comes with a traffic-sign recognition system that displays speed limits, no-passing zones, school zones and work zones that are detected by cameras and vehicle data. A Fender audio system with 12 Panasonic speakers and 480 watts is also among the options.

The R-Line adds 21-inch rims, some nice logos and stainless steel pedals.

Photo: B.Charette

An aging V6
On this day we drove both the 4-cylinder and V6 models in turn. The upshot from that is that the V6 no longer has the power of attraction it had until recently. With the addition of 4-wheel drive to the 4-cylinder models, there’s frankly little to be gained from going for a V6. The power and torque of the 4-cylinder is very similar to those of the V6, which dates back to the 1990s and is beginning to show its age via ordinary performance and high fuel consumption.

Driving mostly highways, it was difficult to get under 13.5L/100 km, while the 4-cylinder is closer to 11.5, which is not extraordinary but far more acceptable.  

As mentioned, Volkswagen told us they're working hard to give the 4-cylinder a towing capacity of 2,268 kg like the V6 with the (unacknowledged) goal of simply rmeoving the V6 from the product offering. You can also feel the 4-cylinder more nervous on the road. Steering is precise without being very communicative.

Photo: B.Charette

As for cargo space, you get 1,141 litres behind the second row of benches and over 2,200 if you fold the seats down.

For parents who no longer have children at home or simply for those who don't need a third row, the Atlas Cross Sport offers another alternative in this segment. The 4-cylinder is the model that we think makes the most sense.

We like

Well-appointed interior space
Good driving position
Comfortable seating

We like less

Thirsty engines (even the 4-cylinder)
Aging V6
Some regrettable plastics still dot the cabin

Photo: B.Charette

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