2024 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Review

2024 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport - Two-row Atlas adds new engine in 2024


German automaker Volkswagen (a name translating from Deutsch into English as, ‘The People’s Car’) continues peppering its U.S. lineup of sedans, crossovers and soon, a retro-inspired Microbus, with cutting-edge technologies.  In 2018, Europe’s largest automaker introduced the roomy three-row Atlas, its largest five-door opportunity and one specifically designed for American audiences and pavements.  It’s assembled in the U.S. at the company’s massive assembly campus in Chattanooga, Tennessee which opened 13 years ago.

Building upon the success of its largest crossover, a slightly shorter, svelter version boasting two rows entered into the fray in the 2018 model year with the same America First mindset.  It’s also built in the Volunteer State with a slightly longer namesake:  Atlas Cross Sport. Both share virtually identical wheelbase dimensions (distance between front and rear axles), allowing Atlas Cross Sport to maximize  row two legroom while offering substantial cargo versatility.

Updates for both in 2024 qualify as significant during this mid-cycle refresh boasting a new engine, updated HVAC controls/multi-function touch screen, front light bar and more standard equipment sprinkled within lower trims.  

The 117.3-inch wheelbase, one of the mid-size segment’s largest, contributes to a nicely balanced ride. Overall length of Atlas Cross Sport measures 5.2 inches shorter than its brawnier brother with shorter overhangs. Plus, its lower-profile roof dips 2.6 inches with a dynamically angled rear hatch and top-side spoiler growing in length from 2023.

Our Atlas Cross Sport tester enjoyed a trendy visual appeal with a primary horizontal belt line underscoring strap-like door handles before arching over wheel well contours and connecting to wrap around tail light housing in back while meeting up with the lower air dam frame in front. A secondary, higher, horizontal trim line skims under windows highlighting narrowed door glass.

The highly recognizable V over W circular logo adorns the back hatch’s lower portion with a glowing red amber/outline at night and centers the front grille (in stenciled white nighttime glow) in concert with four stretched horizontal bars. When driving at night an eye-appealing white light bar stretches across the front while daytime running lights encircle headlight bulb housing at both ends adding greatly to this crossover’s personality.
As of 2024, both Atlas and Atlas Sport Cross propel via internal combustion engines with no all-electric, or EV twin.  However, Volkswagen proudly markets the all-electric compact ID.4 and arriving in the 2025 model year, the retro-looking, all-electric ID.BUZZ with exterior styling harkening back to a swanky 1960s Microbus with three rows of seating.

It created a notable buzz as a crowd pleaser at the February 2024 Auto Show. Volkswagen’s ID.4 compact crossover rates one of the few import-badged all-electric vehicles built in America (also at Chattanooga, Tennessee) and qualifies for the Federal Government’s full $7,500 2024 EV rebate now redeemable at the time of purchase.

Previous Atlas editions offered the choice of two powertrains starting with a base four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 235 horses or a V-6, a naturally-aspirated (non-turbo) 3.6-liter with 276 horses. In the 2024 model year, this equation changes.

The sole engine moving forward for both ‘Atli’ is a revamped ‘Evo4’ 2.0-liter turbocharged EA888 beauty with 16 valves, dual camshaft layout and a lower weight of 72 pounds.  Unlike many European engines, this one pleasantly operates on regular, 87-octane fuel instead of pricier premium producing 269 horsepower and 273 lbs.-ft of torque, 34 more horsepower and 15 lbs.-ft. better than the outgoing four. A bump up in torque over a broader rev range compared to the retired V-6 delivers nearly identical horsepower (the V-6 produced three more) enhancing drivability and acceleration. This powertrain’s under hood of several other snappy VW products including the Golf R and Arteon sedan.

This engine combines with a standard eight-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive or VW’s active control all-wheel drive marketed as 4Motion. The Evo4 provides superior fuel economy when compared to the departed V-6 while similar to the outgoing four.

The 4Motion system (recommended for upper Midwest travel) with ‘Active Control’ defaults to a front-drive bias during low-load circumstances. If the system senses any form of traction loss, rear wheels engage within a fraction of a second with no input needed from the driver.  Up to 50 percent of engine torque can be directed to the rear wheels.

Entry SE trims come standard with front-wheel drive and 4Motion as a $1,900 option.  Two decades ago, an all-wheel drive system added $3,000 to the bottom line. The upgraded SEL comes standard with 4Motion. The SE offers a ‘Technology’ package (hands-free power lift gate, nifty front and rear lightbar, front and rear parking sensors), standard in the three SEL trims. The SEL R-Line trim adds exterior equipment package with specialized body side cladding, bumpers and 21-inch wheels. A fifth-available trim includes all bells and whistles marketed as the SEL Premium R-Line, our tester de jour.
The Silver Mist SEL Premium R-Line Atlas Cross Sport tester with 4Motion and all available pleasantries and tech checked in at $51,795. The bottom line landed at $52,795 compliments of a $1,350 destination charge. A base, front-drive SE comes relatively well equipped including a wireless charge pad, adaptive cruise control and ventilated front seats for $36,715.

Our Atlas tester presented a relatively quiet interior with a brake pedal allowing predictable foot travel, with no immediate grab as felt in some sportier-tuned crossovers.  Despite the ‘Sport” portion of its title, this vehicle prioritizes comfortable, family driving attributes.
The interior presents a completely different vibe than the last time we tested an ACS in 2020 with a wider array of soft-touch materials rather than hard plastic.  Three manual twist dials assisting when adjusting interior temperatures now give way to a cockpit design with larger, prominent 12-inch multi-function touchscreen skewed gently towards the driver. Volkswagen held strong to the tactile simplicity of manual twist dials longer than most major automotive manufacturers before a final surrender to the screen/tech Gods this year.
A touch-sensitive shelf below the screen offers short cuts to raise or lower dual front zone temperatures with a simple finger push.  Gently touch the red arrow to raise interior temperature, push blue arrows down to decrease.  A full screen menu includes a touch-slide bar lowering and raising fan speed summoned by pushing one of four quad buttons below the screen and side-by-side manually-adjusting air vents, a region also home to a red Hazard button. Another adjacent quad button summons to the screen a half-dozen drive modes, including a snow mode. Front/back defroster buttons tuck far, far away to the left of the manually adjusting steering column near headlight adjustments.
In effect a touch replaces a twist, but the touch requires drives to temporarily divert eye attention away from the traffic pattern ahead.  Also long gone, a simple volume on/off button replaced with a touch-sensitive icon. The screen brightness and sharp graphics are appreciated but the design, layout and nesting takes more time to master than other market designs.

To the flat screen’s left, a 10.3-inch digital instrument panel display features a couple of different views selectable via the steering wheel’s 3 o’clock spoke. The wheel’s 9 o’clock position monitors the adaptive  cruise control a handy feature gaining popularity during the past decade which automatically speeds and slows Atlas via radar depending upon the distance of the vehicle ahead.  It’s part of VW’s IQ suite of safety technology.
The electronic eight-speed automatic transmission shifter locates between supportive front buckets within a narrow confine just aft of a rectangular in nature, brushed aluminum electric start/stop assist.  The ‘Park’ function engages from a push of a small rectangular button.  Ordering up reverse, neutral or drive requires a gentle nudge forward or back of an illuminating gem-like finger token. Two inline beverage holders occupy directly to the right of this shift platform and the electronic parking brake remains aft of the gear shift. It’s easily mastered.
Row two 60/40-split seatbacks manually tilt back 20 degrees via a side seat lever helping ease back fatigue during long trips. Generous proportions with ample leg space allow three adults to enjoy travel together. Backrests easily and manually fold flat expanding cargo capacity to an impressive 77.6 cubic feet.
Volkswagen trails only Toyota, standing as the second largest vehicle manufacturer worldwide.  Yet, here in the States, with just four percent of overall market share, it’s a perennial long-time niche player. At the 2024 Chicago Auto Show, keynote speaker Pablo Di Si, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America shared a goal of doubling its current four percent market share during the next decade.  Volkswagen’s Argentinian-born president emigrated to Chicago as a teenager, earning a BA in Business Administration/Finance from Loyola University in Rogers Park and a post-graduate degree in Accounting from Northwestern University a few El stops north when clanking along the Red/Purple Lines.
A gaggle of worthy three-row competitors include the Subaru Assent, Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Volkswagen’s generous four-year/50,000-mile warranty differs from most in that it’s transferable to the next owner throughout the remainder of its duration. Twenty-four-hour roadside assistance coverage is good for three years or 36,000 miles.

Classifying the all-electric compact ID.4 as a crossover, VW’s 600 nationwide stores promote five crossover body styles in 2024.  Both Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport slot into the mid-size category with the compact Tiguan checking in as the best-seller of the bunch.  The subcompact five-door Taos rounds out the foray.
Atlas Sport Cross sales in 2023 reached 34,816, a sizeable 22 percent jump from 2022, but not quite reaching the figure generated by the three-row Atlas during the same 12-month time period at 60,859.

2024 Atlas Cross Sport SEL Premium R-Line

Price as tested: $52,795
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder
Horsepower:  269
Wheelbase: 117.3 inches
Overall Length: 195.5 inches
Overall Width: 78.3 inches
Overall Height: 67.8 inches
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city/26mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Four year/50,000 miles
Assembly:  Tennessee   

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.