Chattannooga, TN – The setting for the launch of the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport was the VW plant in Tennessee currently engaged in construction of the Passat sedan and the big Atlas SUV. We were invited down to meet up close the latest member of the German automaker family, the name of which name pretty clearly announces its intentions to fill the role of the sportier sibling to the three-row Atlas.
One of the first things we learned from the VW representatives on hand, in fact, is that the company plans to extend the strategy of producing two variants on the same platform (here the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport) to another of its models currently sold in North America, the Tiguan. The company also confirmed this new variant would position itself lower down on the model hierarchy. Clearly, Volkswagen is not done with the expansion of its SUV lineup.
But back to the Atlas: gradually, the German automaker continues to adapt its utility models specifically to the needs of the North American market. The new Atlas Cross Sport clearly targets the segment currently occupied by the likes of the Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, new Honda Passport and even the Chevrolet Blazer, which has just recently joined the fray.
A shorter Atlas
The 2020 Atlas Cross Sport sits, as mentioned, on the same architecture as the Atlas, and so it has an identical wheelbase. In front, VW’s designers did take care to distinguish this variant by highlighting its sportier character, starting with a familiar-looking but more-aggressive front fascia. The optional R-Line package adds an extra layer of sportiness, especially with the 21-inch wheels fitted on the vehicles.
While the front part of the cabin seems to sit as high as it does in the regular Atlas, that’s actually an illusion, because the roof of this new variant is 2.3 inches lower. Meanwhile, the Atlas Sport Cross is as wide as the Atlas. So where does it lose? In the length, though I have to say the 2.8 inches it loses in back doesn’t impact much on the interior, particularly in the second row of seats that features tremendous legroom. That’s the beauty of good-sized SUVs like this that don’t have to sacrifice space to include a small third-row banquette in the back.
The new model does hold on to its muscular wheel arches, which I think are best filled by the 20- or 21-inch wheels that are optional beyond the standard 18-inch jobs of the base versions. In back the hatch is of course more pronounced in this variant, while the design of the position lights bears a certain resemblance to that found on the 7-person Atlas.
The same engines
Under the hood, the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport inherits the same engines already well-known by VW fans. The 2.0L 4-cylinder direct-injection turbo engine still delivers 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the V6 generates a healthier 276 hp along with 266 lb-ft of torque. Both combine with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Since we’re dealing with a close sibling of the Atlas, you also find the same drive modes (Normal, Comfort, Sport and Custom) that allow for adjusting the driving parameters to suit your mood or the situation. Note that, unlike in the U.S., Canadian motorists will only get versions of the Atlas Cross Sport equipped with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Seems only logical…
Same environment inside… or almost
Unsurprisingly, the interior offers mostly the same experience as the three-row Atlas. The dashboard carries the same design signature, for example, but near it sits one new item in the form of a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Like in the regular Atlas, it’s possible to add an option that gets you two screens, one a touchscreen on the centre of the dashboard, the other behind the steering wheel that proves very versatile, allowing you to choose from any number of different data displays.
Volkswagen has considered the needs of Canadian drivers with the inclusion of heated front seats as standard equipment on the Trendline model, in addition to heated mirrors and even heated windshield-wiper-fluid spouts. The intermediate Comfortline trim adds a heated steering wheel, while the top-end Execline throws in heated seats for the two outside middle-row passengers.
As acceptable as living space is for this vehicle category, so it is with the cargo capacity in the back. With 1,141 litres available with the seats in place and 2,203 litres when they’re folded down, the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport can take in a lot of gear.
As we’ve come to expect from most any new vehicle these days, safety was a priority in choosing what went into the Cross Sport for the price. So you get everything from forward collision alert and blind spot monitor to rear transversal traffic detection, right from the base version. A bit higher up the trim ladder comes available adaptive cruise control with stop-start function as well as parking assist. Also available on higher trims is road and traffic sign detection (showing speed limits, school zones or one-way street signs, for instance). As for the traffic jam detection system, it ensures the vehicle is safely distant from the one in front of it and helps it stay in its lane.
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is being built at the company’s Chattanooga plant, and it will start appearing at dealerships very shortly. Volkswagen Canada expects to begin delivering the first models to customers starting in March 2020. As for pricing of the different trims, we’ll have to wait until the model makes its official auto-show debut at the Los Angeles event in mid-November.