2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Review

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport - An Atlas in the front, a Cross Sport party in the back


When the Volkswagen Atlas arrived for the 2018 model year as VW's new mid-size three-row crossover it was accepted with open arms and received a lot of praise. With a solid base under its belt, two years later Volkswagen introduced us to the Atlas Cross Sport, a smaller five-passenger version of the same vehicle. The Atlas Cross Sport shares the same wheel base as the Atlas, but the overall length is reduced by about 3 inches. It comes in three primary trims known as S, SE, and SEL. Beyond that base, you can add Technology, R-Line, and Premium packages to configure your Atlas Cross Sport. Base front-wheel drive S models start at $30,855 while top of the line SEL Premium R-Line models with 4Motion all-wheel drive start at $51,615. Competition includes vehicles like the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, and Toyota 4Runner.

Two powertrains are available, the base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder TSI produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and comes standard on S and SE models. SE with Technology and higher trims come with a 3.6-liter VR6 engine that delivers 276 horsepower and 266 lb. ft. of torque.  With either engine, power is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission that pairs with either front wheel drive or VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive. Atlas Cross Sport models equipped with the VR6 engine and a factory-installed trailer hitch offer a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs., while all other models with a dealer or port-installed trailer hitch allow a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 lbs.

Unlike the full-size Atlas, the lighter weight Cross Sport feels appropriately powered, especially in the VR6. I distinctly recall the three-row Atlas feeling sluggish in acceleration which is not the case in the Cross Sport. The 8-speed transmission shifts into appropriate gears with ease and has good acceleration from a standstill. The ride is firm like many Volkswagens, but absorbs road imperfections well. I particularly enjoy driving Volkswagens for their handling and the Atlas Cross Sport did not disappoint. Steering is responsive and controlled. There is minimal body lean in quick turns and it always felt grounded.

At high speeds on the highway, road noise was minimal and the vehicle was easily controlled. Do note that the tire size will impact the overall feel of the vehicle. Standard 18" tires will cushion the road much more than the larger 21" ones that come on the highest trim levels. With their good looks, you will sacrifice some smoothness. Around town, braking and acceleration both felt good. Visibility will vary depending on the driver, it does have a large front end/hood that may take some getting used to for shorter drivers. Additionally, the sloped roofline and larger C-pillar in the Atlas Cross Sport will create some blind spots, thankfully built-in 360-degree cameras will aid in driving.

When the Atlas Cross Sport arrived with a full 19.5-gallon gas tank, it offered up 355 miles of range. EPA-estimated fuel economy is best for the 4-cylinder front wheel drive model at 21/24/22 MPG (city/highway/combined). At the other end of the ratings is the VR6 4Motion model at 17/23/19 MPG.  After a week in a VR6 4Motion, I averaged 20.6 MPG in primarily suburban commuting. These numbers are average for the class. Both engines run on regular-grade fuel.

The exterior of the Atlas Cross Sport looks nearly identical to the 7-passenger Atlas from the front half with a modern design that incorporates an upscale three-bar chrome grille that is generally seen across the VW lineup. VW has adopted a new LED signature that resembles two boomerangs in each headlight casing. The lower portion of the bumper incorporates some more aggressive design cues to give it a more athletic look. It's a fairly wide crossover at 78.4 inches that is emphasized with the horizontal lines of the front.

Once you get past the front doors of the side profile, it becomes evident that this is something different from the Atlas. The lower roofline starts to dip to the back at a fairly dramatic angle. A solid character line creates a defined edge that amplifies the wheel arches and stretches across the tops of the Cross Sport doors. Chrome accents outline the windows and a chrome trim piece adorns the front doors with Cross Sport etched in it. Subtle touches like these give it a premium elegance. At the back, the Atlas Cross Sport features the same chromed "Atlas" name strip as the 7-seater that stretches around to the fenders. LED taillights and silver roof rails are also standard.

The overall length comes in at 195.5 inches and height is at 68.3 inches. The wheels are pushed to the edges with a long wheelbase and short overhangs. Wheels sizes range in size from 18 up to 21 inches. The larger wheels fill the arches best and compliment the modern and sport design of the vehicle. Beyond the wheel sizes are a variety of designs and finishes that include solid silver, two-tone, and black.  The proportions are all good making it a very photogenic vehicle from all angles.

Hop inside and you're treated to a classic Volkswagen interior. The design is simple and functional.  Materials are average but nothing overly impressive. Drivers will face a 10-inch fully digital cluster that is standard on SEL models and above.  It features 21 viewing options including car status, full screen navigation, phone information, driver assist features, and more. Embedded in the dashboard is an updated MIB infotainment screen for 2021. S models will come standard with a 6.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display while higher trim models will feature a glass-covered 8-inch display. The capacitive touchscreen enables the screen to be utilized like a cell phone with features such as swiping and pinch-zooming. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard along with a six-speaker stereo, although an optional Fender premium audio system is available with 12-speakers. The touchscreen is very intuitive, easy to use, and still maintains rotary volume and tuning knobs.

Below the touchscreen are standard buttons and knobs for climate controls along with a USB port. A standard gear selector is in the center console with a rotary dial below it for selecting the various drive modes.  Two cup holder are to the right of the gear selector making everything appropriately placed and functional. Overall materials are a step above many competing models with various accent pieces giving it a very premium class vibe.

The seats are firm, but comfortable. Cloth upholstery is standard, but SE and above models come with leatherette seating, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and a second-row middle armrest with cupholders... a feature that my 5-year-old really enjoyed for his snacks. The higher you go in trim, the more quality you get. SEL Premium models feature standard leather and heated second-row seats. Both heated and ventilated front passengers' seats are also available.  There is ample shoulder room and leg room for all five passengers. Three average sized adults will sit comfortably in the second row. An optional two-tone leather is also available in a variety of color options.

Cargo capacity is a high point as it offers 40.3 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 77.8 cubic feet with it folded flat, making it impressive in class.  Its only downfall is the sloped roof, but that adds enough of a cool exterior design element to make up for it. An available power liftgate and hands-free power liftgate make it very user friendly. The hatch opening is wide and split second-row seats provide a variety of configurations for hauling.

Rest assured that all of your cargo will be safe regardless of trim level. Standard safety features include six airbags, electronic stability control, automatic post-collision braking system, blind-spot monitor, cameras, and rear traffic alert. Stepping up the SEL and above, the safety and driver assist options expand to include lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, lane centering, emergency assist, parking assist, high beam control, and dynamic road sign display.

The Atlas Cross Sport is a true five-passenger crossover that fills the space between the Tiguan and Atlas for VW. The interior space for both passengers and cargo is among the best in class. From the outside, it's a classy looking vehicle with sharp edges, appropriate accents, and good proportions. The Cross Sport is a functional vehicle with solid towing capability, updated technology, and many available driver-assist features. It's a perfect addition to the VW lineup and one worth taking for a spin if you're in the market for a five-passenger crossover.

First Impression Summary

Test Vehicle: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL Premium R-Line

* Exterior Color: Tourmaline Blue Metallic
* Interior Color: Cinnamon Brown & Black Leather
* Notable Options: None
* Price as tested: $51,220 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.