2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SEL 4Motion new car reviews

Think of the Atlas Sport Cross as the regular Atlas's edgier sibling. Underneath, there is still the same engine and transmission options, but, on the outside, this Atlas features a bolder design. At least, that's what Volkswagen tells us: "The all-new 5-seater Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport takes the winning formula of the 7-seater Atlas—ample interior space, plus a host of comfort and technology features at an attractive price—and adds [a] bolder design."

Design language aside, the Atlas Sport Cross is available in eight different trims which, depending on which one you get, can be had with either a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-four or a 3.6-liter VR6. You can also choose if you want the power sent to all four wheels, or just the front ones.

Speaking of power, the inline-four is said to be good for 235 horsepower 258 lb.-ft.of torque (although Volkswagen says this is "achieved with premium fuel"), and the VR6 is reported to be capable of 276 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque.

We were given the keys to a well-optioned SEL trim equipped with Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive and the 2.0-liter engine. Keep scrolling to see what we thought about it.

[Editor's Note: Pictures feature a 2020 Atlas Sport Cross V6 SEL 4Motion]

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J.G. Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

Our Atlas Cross Sport loaner was an extremely technology-filled vehicle. That’s no surprise as most press fleet cars are loaded with every option the manufacturer can deliver to give journalists a look at every available option in one convenient location. But the surprise was the seamless integration of that technology into the overall experience.

Technology in cars frequently gets a bad rap, and not entirely undeservedly. But in many cases, the friction comes not from the idea, but the execution. Lots of cool ideas for adding technology to cars are just poorly integrated, and make things more complicated, not easier or less seamless. Touchscreens that require you to go three menus deep to change a radio station, lane departure klaxons that shriek as though your nuclear sub has just been torpedoed, “HOW DO I JUST MAKE THE DAMN FAN BLOW HARDER!?!?!” These are all legit gripes surrounding the overapplication of technology.

But this Atlas kind of nails it. First off, it has what could be the best lane departure haptics I’ve ever encountered, actually making the system a welcome addition and not an annoying distraction. The added feedback makes lane dividing lines feel like they have additional “texture” through the wheel. It’s an extremely realistic sensation. So realistic, in fact, that I went back and drove back over the same piece of road near my house in a different vehicle to make sure I was actually feeling the car telling me something, and not the actual lines. It’s technology applied in a way that gives you a clearer picture of what the world around you looks like. Remember the first time you saw an HDTV image? Yeah, it’s like that.

Likewise, the all-digital dash display. Sure, you can select an option that gives you traditional round tach and speedo gauges, but you can also page through various other displays that give you more relevant information right in your primary sightline. Designing easily readable displays is tough, but whoever worked on this project for VW has earned my respect. Each page is intuitively laid out, and whether you’re on a page that is focusing on navigation, or surrounding traffic, every piece of info seems to be right where your eye wants to look for it.

And all this technology blends into a vehicle that is still easy to operate. Look, I know this kind of gets filed under “auto journalist problems” and someone driving the same car every day would eventually get used to the peculiarities of a particular vehicle, but I should never have to search and poke and prod to figure out basic functions of a vehicle. These are standardized for a reason. If I want to go to a movie, I can walk up to the ticket office and say “I’d like one ticket for the 3:15 showing of Jaws II” and they’re going to know what that means. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Spokane or Wilmington or Tucson or Toledo. Imagine if the code in one city was gently dropping a roll of dimes on the counter while whispering “Mama wants some smoked ham,” or having to break a pine board across your shin while flashing an unblinking, dead-eyed smile. That’s what I feel like when I drive some cars and want to do something as simple as switching on the rear wipers. VW has embraced a level of easy-to-operate standardization while simultaneously integrating technology in a helpful, non-intrusive way.

And, as an actual vehicle, the Atlas Cross Sport is great. It feels a bit underpowered, but it’s rated to tow 5000 lbs with the optional V6, so it has some legit capacity. I’d recommend not pulling out in front of anyone with a loaded trailer, though, as it might take a while to attain a comfortable cruising speed.

Dynamically, though, it’s typical modern VW, which is to say fairly excellent. It’s a crossover that drives like a responsive sedan, and VW leans into the driving experience with excellent seating and a sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheel far better than any crossover deserves.

The Atlas Cross Sport also does a nice job of walking the line between a luxury car and a utility vehicle. It’s nice enough to spend a long time in, but it’s also got some more utilitarian surfaces and textures actually lend a feeling of durability to the interior. A set of nicely integrated Weathertech mud mats help with this as well. It’s a comfortable vehicle you could easily take to a nice dinner, but not feel guilty throwing some bags of mulch in the back.

With a price nudging $50k for our test car, there are some bucks being spent here, but you’re getting something for the outlay. The entire Atlas Cross Sport lineup doesn’t have many options, just various trim levels with different standard equipment. So, I guess in a way there are lots of options, just offered in a different way. Anyway, you can get all the technology of our test car but give up a few pieces of additional trim (and replace the V6 with a 2.0-liter turbo 4) and save about $10,000.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

It’s fairly easy to live with, which should be par for any new vehicle sold these days. Sadly, though, some come with just a few quirks that can drive you nuts. “Please, for all that is holy, how do I just change the radio station.”

Not so here. The controls make sense.

It’s also a good size for daily use. It doesn’t drive big yet isn’t the smallest SUV out there.

It feels and drives like a VW. Call that parts bin engineering, call that corporate DNA, but the Atlas doesn’t feel like an Acura or a Lexus or whatever else. It’s all VW, all the time.

Fan of the VW and in the market for an SUV? Then this might be your baby.

Not sure? It’s worth a drive. Compared to the rest from Asia, it’s a more mechanical feel, if that makes any sense. The buttons deliver that European click.

Our tester had the 2.0-liter four, not the V6. It’s a smooth engine but, with just 235 horsepower, maybe not a ton of headroom if towing and full loads are in your future.

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