VW was the small car company. It made Beetles by the bushel that fit in your back pocket, almost. But America super-sized and small cars like the Beetle stopped selling.
So VW stopped selling Beetles and started selling models like the Atlas, a massive three-row VW SUV big enough to carry a Beetle piggyback, plus seven people.
In 2020, a two-row version of the same thing appeared—the Atlas Cross Sport. With a lowered roofline, this one’s big on style, a bit less headroom, and more space for stuff behind its second row.
It’s also a whole lot of VW under its hood where you’ll find the only V6 you can still get in any new VW except its three-row stablemate.
What It Is
A sleeker, two-row-only version of the standard Atlas is more practical in at least one way than the Atlas.
The sleek looks derive from side glass that’s lower and extends farther toward the rear, tapering into a sharper point just before it reaches the more steeply angled rear liftgate. Bright chrome trim plates are also pressed into the bodywork to jazz up the look.
The practical plus derives from the extraction of the third row, which makes for a roomier second row and much more room for cargo behind the second row than the Atlas has behind its third row.
Mechanically, the Cross Sport is exactly the same as the Atlas. Both come standard with turbocharged four-cylinder engines and can be ordered with VW’s 3.6-liter V6.
Either engine can be paired with FWD or AWD.
Prices start at $30,855 for the base S trim with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and FWD; adding the optional 4Motion AWD bumps the sticker price up to $32,755.
V6-equipped models start at $37,645 with FWD and $40,095 with AWD.
A top-of-the-line Premium R-Line with the V6 and AWD lists for $50,025.
The ’21 Cross Sport offers the latest version of VW’s MIB3 glass-faced/capacitive touchscreen infotainment system, which features wireless App connect and the ability to pair multiple phones.
• A VW for buyers who need a big VW with a bigger style.
• Available with a big V6.
• More cargo room with its seats up than inside the Atlas.
What’s Not So Good
• Big price bump to get the V6.
• Style costs headroom.
• The auto stop/start system is aggressive and intrusive.
Under The Hood
Like the standard Atlas, the Cross Sport comes standard with what is becoming the Universal Engine in vehicles of all types – a 2.0-liter turbocharged four.
This particular type and size engine has become so common in everything from small cars to large crossover SUVs like this VW. This particular displacement works especially well with turbochargers, which maintain smaller engines’ power output, replacing larger engines without turbos as the car companies struggle to wring more gas mileage out of smaller engines.
More specifically, the relationship of bore-to-stroke ratio and other attributes of a 2.0-liter engine is especially conducive to an agreeable power curve when an engine this size is turbocharged.
Instead of peaky and revvy, maximum torque is almost immediate. In this case, all 258 ft.-lbs. are all in at just 1,600 RPM, which is ideal for getting a big VW like this moving without feeling like the engine is struggling.
Note that the torque produced by the 2.0-liter engine is nearly the same as the torque made by the VW’s optional and much bigger 3.6-liter V6, which produces 266 ft.-lbs. not-immediately at 3,500 RPM.
The V6 has a horsepower advantage. It develops 276 hp at 6,200 RPM while the four is all done at 5,000 RPM, where its maximum of 235 hp is achieved.
What it means is that the 2.0-equipped Cross Sport feels stronger in stop-and-go driving, at low-and mid-range speeds, while the V6-equipped model comes into its own once you’re rolling, where it enjoys revving.
Both engines are paired with eight-speed automatics and the same 3.6:1 final drive ratio.
Tow capability varies from just 2,000 lbs. for models with the 2.0-liter engine to 5,000 lbs. for those equipped with the V6.
All Cross Sports come with a 19.5-gallon tank, enough fuel to travel more than 450 highway miles even with the big V6, which almost matches the highway mileage (22 MPG) of the smaller 2.0 liter four (22 MPG).
The smaller engine’s big advantage, MPG-wise, is in city driving, where it rates 21 MPG vs. 16 for the V6-equipped Cross Sport.
But there is a caveat.
The four needs premium unleaded to achieve its maximum horsepower and torque; the V6 achieves its maximum horsepower and torque on regular unleaded.
On The Road
The Cross Sport does have one thing in common with the Beetle. It is not a demanding vehicle to drive, unlike many new vehicles, which ought to come standard with a co-pilot to help you manage all the controls.
This one, you just get in and drive.
As in the redoubtable Beetle that made VW one of the world’s biggest-selling brands, you will find pleasantly simple, easy-to-use controls inside the Cross Sport. Controls include a grab-handle (rather than mouse/tap/touch) gear-selector that gives feel and feedback and similarly functional rotary knob controls to adjust the temperature/fan and radio station/volume settings. All of which can be adjusted by feel without having to take your eyes off the road.
Not just a safety advantage; it is a blood-pressure advantage and less aggravating.
Unfortunately, there is one aggravation that’s worse inside this VW—the repetitive (and intrusive) stop-start cycling of the engine practically every time the vehicle stops. It is especially aggravating when the engine stops when you’ve just parked, and you press the ignition off button. The engine restarts because it shut itself off.
Then you have to press it again to get the engine to stop.
ASS, the actual acronym for Automatic Stop/Start, has got to qualify for the most obnoxious, no-one-asked-for-it, but we’re forced to buy this feature since seatbelt interlocks and buzzers back in the ’70s.
Almost every new vehicle comes with ASS not because buyers asked for it but due to regulatory pressure to meet federal fuel-efficiency mandates, which effectively requires it.
The trivial fuel savings (about 1 MPG overall) achieved by cycling the engine off and on a dozen times or more each trip is far outweighed by the cost imposed on your peace of mind.
Also, there will likely be more cost of replacing the starter battery more often due to all that restarting.
The good news is ASS is defeatable and not just by remembering to push the “off” button every time you go for a drive. You can program it to stay off forever. It’s perfectly legal and will cause no harm to the vehicle or your warranty coverage.
ASS aside, the Cross Sport is an extremely agreeable big lug despite its bigness, which is why it’s so agreeable. It doesn’t feel oafish or monstrous. Light steering and good visibility make close-quarters maneuvering easy as long as it fits into that parking spot.
Both engines have their merits. The four is probably the best choice for the mostly-city driving owner; the V6 is the better choice for high-speed highway work.
It’s nice that VW doesn’t force you to buy the V6 to get the available 4Motion AWD system.
And both the FWD and AWD models have eight inches of ground clearance—more than most crossovers, especially the FWD ones.
At The Curb
The Cross Sport puts form ahead of function vs. the standard Atlas. It seats only five vs. seven, and there’s less headroom, 37.8 inches vs. 40.4, for the three of those five, the ones who sit in the Cross Sport’s backseats.
The stats are not necessarily functionally meaningful unless your “roofline” is much higher than average. A tall person like me, (well over six-feet tall) can sit in the Cross Sport’s second row without the head getting polished by the headliner. For normal-sized adults, it’s even less an issue.
Legroom might be more of an issue. The standard Atlas has only 37.6 inches vs. a much more generous 40.4 inches for the CrossSport. This is the boon of dispensing with the third row, which opens up more floor space.
There is more cargo space, too, behind the Cross Sport’s second row: 40.3 cubic feet vs. only 20.3 cubic feet behind the standard Atlas’s third row. The standard Atlas does boast more total cargo space—96.8 cubic feet with both its second and third rows folded.
But you have to fold them to get more space for cargo than you have available in the Cross Sport with its second row in use.
With the second row down, cargo space opens up to 77.8 cubic feet.
There is something besides the numbers to consider when considering the Cross Sport relative to other large crossovers in its price range like the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, and Honda Passport. It is the only crossover in its price range related to much more pricey luxury crossovers from Audi, part of the VW family.
It’s reasonable to cross-shop the Cross Sport vs. an Audi Q5, which is smaller and comes standard with essentially the same 2.0-liter engine (marginally stronger, rated as making 248 hp) but starting at $43,300.
Especially when you compare that with a loaded Cross Sport with the V6, the optional digital cockpit and LCD flatscreen gauge cluster plus the available 900 Lumen LED headlights, 480 watt, 12-speaker Fender audio rig, the huge (4.5 feet long) sunroof, and available 21-inch wheel/tire package.
Sit inside both and see for yourself. The VW looks expensive.
The Audi is.
VW’s touchscreen has a glass rather than a plastic face, and you can work it without tapping it. The glass is as pinch/swipe sensitive as the glass facing of your smartphone and has the additional advantage of being better-looking. Plastic looks cheap especially as it ages. Glass is classy and never hazes over.
VW’s MIB3 interface is voice-commandable, and you can even command the car to do things like honk the horn or flash the lights or open the door when you’re not in or even near the car via Car-Net Remote Access.
VW also offers something called Speed Alert—an app that notifies the owner when someone else is driving it faster than a predetermined maximum speed set by the owner. The idea here, apparently, is to keep teenaged drivers from hot-shoeing the family sled. Potentially, the app can also be used to narc out the owner to the insurance carrier or the government from driving too fast.
VW offers DriveView, an app that enables the insurance carrier to know exactly how fast you drive and brake and when and how far you drive. For now, it’s a voluntary enrollment.
One day it may not be.
Keep in mind that car companies are claiming they own the data emitted by your car, which kind of makes it not really your car.
The Bottom Line
The Cross Sport is prettier and in some ways more practical than its three-row stablemate.
And that’s no small thing!
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.