Volkswagen applied just about everything to its rakish 2021 Atlas Cross Sport, but is it enough for it to stand out?

The VW Atlas Cross Sport

The midsize VW Atlas Cross Sport 5-seat SUV redistributes space for a wealth of back-seat and cargo space


Volkswagen’s new Atlas Cross Sport shares a rich bloodline that also underpins the Lamborghini Urus, Audi Q8 and Porsche Cayenne Coupe, if not other nameplates in the VW Group global family. Consider it the sporting alter ego to the three-row, seven-passenger Atlas SUV.

Using the footprint of the family-oriented Atlas, the Cross Sport adopts a shaved roofline with a styling slant at the rear with redistributed back seat space for a long 40.4 inches of legroom.

Compared to the full-size Atlas, the Cross Sport is 5.2 inches shorter with a roofline lowered by 2.2 inches. Front headroom is still tall at 39.4 inches with a long 41.6 inches for legs. And even the cargo space is fully functional at 40.3 cubic feet behind the back seat (stacked to the ceiling) and 77.8 cu. ft. with the 60/40 back seat folded.

An interior view out the windshield of the VW

The cabin has broad front shoulder room of 61.5 inches and tall headroom of 39.4 inches. (VW)

New for 2021

The Cross Sport was new for 2020 and received a few technology updates for 2021. The next-generation MIB3 infotainment system with wireless app-connect and multi-phone pairing is now standard on SE models and above. And VW’s newest driver-assistance features of Travel Assist and Emergency Assist were added to SEL models and above.

Travel Assist is a semi-autonomous driving system that when activated will steer, accelerate and brake the vehicle when driving on a divided highway. The system is good at lane centering, but, as with many of these semi-autonomous systems, the vehicle will drift wide along sweeping highway corners.

The electronic Digital Cockpit (gauge display) can be configured to include the navigation map. (VW)

Atlas Cross Sport Pricing

The Cross Sport is sold in eight trim levels — S, SE, SE with Technology, SE with Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line — in front- or 4Motion all-wheel drive.

Starting prices range from $32,050 for the entry front-drive model to $51,220 for the top-line V6 SEL Premium R-Line 4Motion (today’s tester); pricing includes the $1,195 freight charge from Chattanooga, Tenn. The tester, in Aurora Red metallic paint ($395), was $51,615.

The bumper-to-bumper warranty (including powertrain) of 4-years/50,000-miles includes free maintenance for 2 years or 20,000 miles.

Standard equipment on all models includes power and heated side mirrors, LED headlights-taillights-running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, rearview camera, 6.5-inch color touch screen and 11 cup holders.

Find Atlas and Atlas Sport lease and financing incentives here.

The seats are Euro firm and the seat bottoms will feel hard after a couple of hours on the road. (VW)

Cross Sport Safety Features

Among the standard VW Cross Sport safety features are six air bags, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. In addition, there is pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert.

The 2020 and 2021 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport received NHTSA five-Star overall crash safety ratings.

The 276-hp, direct-injection 3.6-liter VR6 and eight-speed automatic is rated for towing up to 5,000 pounds. (VW)

Cross Sport Powertrains

Powertrain choices are either a 235-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or 276-hp, direct-injected 3.6-liter VR6. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Fellow car critics say the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine will be adequate for most needs. But those who tow will want the V-6. And there’s not much incentive to go for the four.

The 2.0-liter has fuel economy ratings of 21/24/22 mpg and nearly the same with AWD at 20/24/22 mpg.

The V-6 has EPA ratings of 18/23/20 mpg front-drive or 17/23/29 mpg AWD, using premium fuel for maximum power, but 87 octane is acceptable. In highway driving, I worked up to 24.2 mpg, but around-town mileage was typically between 15-18 mpg. The 19.5-gallon tank should provide commuters around 400 or more miles before refueling.

The big sunroof in the Cross Sport

There is chauffeur-class appeal to the second row. (VW)

Cross Sport Interior Function

The SEL Premium cabin is well stocked with creature comforts and useful technologies, which made it easy to forgive the liberal use of black plastic in lower areas; it’s tough looking but not with a cheap finish.

The SEL’s heated seats and steering wheel have three heat settings, which I’d not seen before on a steering wheel. The e-bin on the shift console has two charging USB ports and a wireless pad, but the pad was fussy for my iPhone 8 and wouldn’t function unless I removed its official Apple cover. The deep center armrest console hides another USB port.

I bonded with the lush rotation of the electric steering and how easily I trolled the mall parking in search of a space. The official turning circle is 40.5 feet, but it seems much tighter as the big SUV curls easily into parking slots. The wide-screen camera with an overhead view is helpful when parking, but a front view would be more helpful.

There is solid assembly and contemporary styling elements to the interior, despite the liberal use of black plastic in lower areas. (VW)

Steel-slab security

There is a strong sense of steel-slab security in the architecture. There is a generous space inset from the doors, which is functional as crush space in a side impact.

Sightlines are somewhat complicated by large side mirrors and the broad base of the windshield pillars, which are good for roof-crush standards — but the mirrors can block views of vehicles and pedestrians when turning at intersections. Over-the-shoulder views are unimpeded and I had no issue with seeing out the slimmer back glass.

The e-bin on the shift console has two charging USB ports and a wireless pad, but it was fussy for my iPhone 8. (VW)

After a couple of hours on the road, the seat bottoms will feel hard — so much so that I wanted to pull the wallet from my back pocket. The driver’s seat helps compensate with 10-way power adjustment, though I would have preferred some up-and-down adjustment to the lumbar. The passenger has an eight-way power seat.

The sliding visors have large coverage and there is equally large door-panel storage, with a large, locking glove box.

21-inch Pirelli tires on the Cross Sport

The all-season, 21-inch Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires roll quite smoothly. (VW)

Ride and Handling

There is bullish durability in how solidly the Cross Sport V-6 feels on the road and yet how deftly it managed the tester’s hefty all-wheel-drive curb weight of 4,484 pounds.

It is not quick in its handling and in standard drive mode the ride quality is soft, for a German-engineered SUV, with some bounding over intersection transitions, but it is comfortable. Switch to Sport mode and the shifts become aggressive (almost too much for in-town) and the suspension tightens significantly.

Braking is solid with four-wheel disc brakes, 13.2-inch vented rotors front and 2.2-inch solid rear rotors. The all-season, 21-inch Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires (265/45) have a wide footprint and roll quite smoothly.

Cross Sport back seat

The long doors ease access to the second row. (VW)

Cross Sport Back Seat

There is damn-nice back-seat space accommodations that are almost too nice for children. No parent has the arm length to reach back to subdue squabbles. There is a limousine-class 40.4 inches of legroom and a slightly cropped 37.8 inches of headroom with just a low hump at the transmission tunnel. The seatbacks recline and there is generous two-level stash space in the door panels. There are a pair of vents in the rear of the console, but no fan speed or temp controls.

The back seats, which recline, have 40.4 inches of leisurely legroom. (VW)

There is lots of black plastic and the leather isn’t a showpiece but the tester’s window seats were heated and have a perforated back and cushions. The pull-down armrest has cup-can holders and there are two charging USBs and a 150-watt 115-volt household plug.

Cargo Area

There is a tall lift-up to the cargo floor, which has huge cubic footage behind the second row — 40.3 to 77.8 cu. ft. with the back seat folded. The space is 47 inches wide by 46 inches deep with a height-challenged 29 inches to the headliner.

Cargo space is 47 inches wide by 46 inches deep with a height-challenged 29 inches to the headliner. (VW)

Why Buy the Atlas Cross Sport?

Way back in the 1990s, carmakers would offer two-door versions of their midsize SUVs as the sportier variant. Those short-wheelbase models didn’t fare well in evasive maneuvers or ride quality. Today, the trend is the more rakishly styled five-door SUV variant with the sloped roof to make it look sporty. Basically, it’s an ego purchase in which the buyer pays more and gets less (space) for a still-functional format.

For $51k, the topline V-6 SEL Premium R-Line, is loaded with desirable features and details, but it is not without its quirks. Elements as simple as floor mats and a cargo area roller cover are options, $105 and $180. Its fuel economy is among the lowest among the towing-capable competitors (including the Chevrolet Blazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot), but its good German engineering is an engaging separator.

But it might not be stylistically different enough from the seven-seat Atlas to be a convincing purchase.

A top-line seven-seat Atlas SEL Premium comparably equipped to the Cross Sport tester works out to be about $1,000 less. But the seven-seater also has the option for second-row captain’s chairs ($695), which are not offered for the Cross Sport.

VW might be missing out on not offering an “Executive Black” seating format and promoting the Cross Sport as the prestigious dressed-for-success SUV.

A rear view of the Atlas Cross Sport

There is bullish durability in how solidly the Cross Sport V6 feels on the road. (VW)

2021 Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium R-Line 

Body style: midsize, 5-seat, 5-door AWD SUV

Engine: 276-hp, direct-injection 3.6-liter VR6 with auto stop-start at idle; 266 lb.-ft. torque at 3,500 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with 4MOTION permanent all-wheel drive with four performance modes

Fuel economy: 17/23/19 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium preferred for peak power but 87 octane recommended


Fuel tank: 19.5 gallons

Cargo space: 40.3-77.8 cu. ft.

Front head/leg room: 39.4/41.6 in.

Rear head/leg room: 37.8/40.4 in.

Length/wheelbase: 195.5/117.3 in.

Curb weight: 4,484 lbs.

Turning circle: 40.5 ft.

Tow capacity: 2,000 lbs. or 5,000-lbs. with tow package ($550)


Standard equipment includes: smart-key locking and push-button ignition, power tilt-and-slide panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, 8-way power front passenger seat, 17 cup holders, heated rear (window) seats, electric parking brake, Digital Cockpit (gauge display), power (heated) side mirrors with turn signals, Park Assist with steering assistant, park-distance control front and rear with tones, rearview camera with overhead view, 8-inch touch screen display for navigation-audio-apps, 12-speaker Fender premium audio system with satellite radio, Climatronic dual-zone cabin temperature control, e-bin with 2 USB charging ports and wireless pad, manual lift-up rear window sunshades, ambient cabin lighting, lighted and covered vanity mirrors with sliding visors, stainless-steel pedal covers, 21-inch wheels with 21-inch Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires (265/45), LED headlights-taillights-fog-running lights, trailer hitch, R-Line bumpers-badging-trim, rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles

Safety features include: 6 air bags, engine-brake assist and electronic differential lock, hill hold and hill-descent control, automatic post-collision braking

IQ.Drive features: Travel Assist (semi-autonomous driver assist), adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, Lane Assist lane-keeping system, semi-automated Emergency Assist, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian monitoring, Active Side assist (blind-spot monitor) and rear traffic alert


Base price: $51,220, including $1,195 freight charge; price as tested $51,615

Options on test vehicle: Aurora Red Metallic paint $395

Where assembled: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles includes the powertrain and free maintenance for 2-years or 20,000 miles.

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