Volkswagen hit a trifecta with the Atlas Cross Sport five-passenger SUV: looks, value and features.
After struggling to cash in on the SUV boom for years, VW's model line has caught up with the American customer. SUVs accounted for 52% of 2019 US vehicle sales, over-indexing at 53% of VW's U.S. business, a radical turnaround from when the German brand struggled with vehicles that were the wrong size, price or both for American tastes.
With the appealing Cross Sport on sale now, SUVs' share of VW U.S. sales should be even higher this year.
VW will surely continue to add SUVs — every automaker will, experimenting with shapes, features, sizes and prices to reach every possible customer. With the Atlas, though, VW is now a serious player in three of the most important segments: the compact Tiguan; midsize family carriers, with the three row Atlas; and five-seat midsize SUVs with the Cross Sport.
The Cross Sport competes with strong models including the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano.
That's a murderer's row, but the Atlas Cross Sport is up to the challenge.
The Cross Sport is satisfying to drive, but one of its strongest selling points is obvious at a standstill: This is one good-looking SUV.
The Cross Sport is more than a just shortened version of the visually undistinguished three-row Atlas. It adds flared rear fenders and square tail lights that are vaguely reminiscent of the design of big American sedans and muscle cars. Multispoke 21-inch wheels and tires on the loaded SEL Premium R-Line I drove added to the Cross Sport's presence.
The rear pillar and hatch are dramatically raked. The sides tuck in more than the boxy three-row Atlas as they approach the roof. Auto designers call that "tumblehome," a phrase originally used in nautical design to describe a ship's hull growing narrower as it rises farther above the waterline.
The Cross Sport's performance lives up to its looks. The V-6 delivers solid acceleration around town and on the highway, with fast tip-in in sport mode. The transmission is smooth and quick.
Road and wind noise are mild, and the suspension muffles bumps well. Body roll, squat and dive are minimal.
The steering is quick and firm in sport mode, with good on-center feel.
The Cross Sport is among the roomiest vehicles in its class. It has the same 117.3-inch wheelbase as the 5.2-inch longer three-row Atlas. The room made available by ditching the kiddie seats goes toward more passenger and cargo space. Only the Honda Passport has more passenger and luggage room.
My vehicle was trimmed in black and burgundy leather. The spacious front seat had a wide center console with a deep storage bin. Controls included an easy-to-use touch screen and buttons and dials for climate, volume and tuning.
A panoramic sunroof stretched over both rows of seats.
The rear seat has generous leg and headroom. The cargo area is bigger than all competitors but the boxy Honda Passport.
With a curb weight of 4,411 pounds, the Cross Sport is at the heavy end of its class. That pays off in its length and room, but nothing's free, and the cost includes unimpressive fuel economy ratings. My AWD V6 model scored 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway and 19 combined in EPA tests. The combined figure, which is probably the best measure for most shoppers, trails all four competitors, even the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which justifies its heaviest-in class weight with four-wheel-drive systems for off-road capability.
2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport
Base price: $30,445
Price as tested: $50,030
Power: 276 hp, 266 pound-feet of torque
EPA fuel economy estimates: 16 mpg city, 22
Bottom line: All the virtues of its larger sibling