Who Needs a Third Row?

Who Needs a Third Row?

LOS ANGELES—What’s the difference between the Volkswagen Atlas and the Atlas Cross Sport? Not much other than looks, really. Both models share platforms and powertrains, and both are way bigger than VW’s other SUV, the spunky compact Tiguan and upcoming 2022 VW Taos subcompact crossover. The 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line I tested looks slightly sportier than the regular Atlas, features the same 117.3-inch wheelbase, and ditches the meager third-row seats. It also loses some headroom and cargo volume thanks to its raked rear window and swoopy roofline. The fastback, mid-size SUV seats five instead of seven, and it is nearly 3 inches shorter and about 2 inches lower than the Atlas. Which version is better for you? As usual, it depends on what you need.

Under the Atlas Cross Sport’s hood you find a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. The six is mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with 4Motion all-wheel drive. The V-6 offers 41 extra horses over the 2.0-liter four version, and it gets 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. I averaged about 19 mpg combined around town, but if you are worried about gas prices spiking, the turbocharged 2.0-liter with AWD is less thirsty and offers a slightly better 18/23 mpg city/highway.

Our loaded tester came with optional Pure Gray paint ($395, and think “drab and dull”), and a rich Dark Burgundy and Black leather interior that bumped its $49,795 sticker up to $51,210, including a $1,020 destination charge. Worth it? Depends on if you like what you see, but if the monster-sized price tag scares you, a base Atlas Cross Sport with a 2.0-liter turbo-four and standard front-wheel drive starts at $31,565.

The Atlas Cross Sport R-Line adds an R-Line grille, beefer bumpers, special badging, and silver roof rails. It offers a relatively smooth ride while rolling on large 21-inch wheels. The top trim also includes a trailer hitch with a 5,000-pound towing capacity to pull your dingy. By the way, the turbo-four can only pull 1 ton, or a late ’70s VW Beetle.

The 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line is perfectly fine for long hauls and quick jaunts around town, but if you are looking for a sporty ride, you would be better off with sexier sibling offerings from Audi; test drive a Q5 and up. The Cross Sport’s ride is pleasant enough but it is sporty in looks only, the handling is vague, and the steering column felt creaky on our tester on steep inclines.

Inside the 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line is a heated, leather-wrapped, three-spoke R-Line steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats with separate controls for rear passengers. There’s also a huge panoramic sunroof with a power tilting and sliding front section, and with a fixed rear section.

The deep center console offers plentiful storage and, more importantly, a USB port and a charging port. The stainless-steel pedal cluster looks “sporty,” and the 8.0-inch touchscreen is easy to use and is flanked by two knobs to make life a little easier as you drive. The R-Line trim also adds a booming Fender sound system with a center speaker and a subwoofer for your jams.

Tech goodies include an overhead-view camera, Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (not as impressive as Audi’s version), park assist, active blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping and traffic-jam assist, a handy wireless charger up front, and two more USB ports and a 12V plug.

2020 Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line Test: Capacity

There’s 40.3-cubic-feet of space behind the second-row seat now that VW ditched the almost worthless third-row bench. With the seats folded down, it ups to 77.8 cubic feet, which is decent but not as good as a standard Atlas’s 96.8 cubic feet. The tradeoff for the Cross Sport looks is less front-row headroom than the standard Atlas (39.4 inches vs. 41.3 inches). The situation gets worse in the back seats, where headroom is 37.6 inches compared to the Atlas’s 40.4 inches.

The 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport is available in eight trims from the base S model to the top of the line SEL Premium R-Line tested here. So, if you have to choose between the Cross Sport or a standard Atlas, it all depends on the space and the number of seats you need. Either one should do the trick, but if you really want “sport,” you can’t beat a Golf GTI for fun. Heck, we’ll even take the 2021 Arteon Wagon if VW would bring it to the U.S. One final note: If you still prefer an SUV, a better MIB3 infotainment system is available for SE models and above in 2021.

2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line Pros

  • Sporty looks
  • Seats five comfortably
  • Offers more rear legroom

2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line Cons

  • Mediocre gas mileage
  • Steep price tag
  • Slightly less rear headroom

2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport Competition

  • Chevrolet Blazer
  • Ford Edge
  • Honda Passport
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL R-Line Specifications
ON SALENow
PRICE$49,795/$51,210 (base/as tested)
ENGINE3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/276 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm
TRANSMISSION8-speed automatic
LAYOUT4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE16/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H195.5 x 78.4 x 67.3 in
WHEELBASE117.3 in
WEIGHT4,288 lb
0-60 MPH7.5 sec