What do you get when you strip the third row from a popular SUV, lay protective rubber mats back there instead, and then rake back the roof for a sportier profile?
Well, you get a sexier, roomier two-row activity vehicle, the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. It's a five-seater modified from the family hauling Atlas. It is 3 inches shorter and has a 2.6-inch lower roof, but still has gaping space for tents and duffle bags, baseball and golf equipment. Or the $500 jogging stroller (!!) that grandpa is delivering to his precious baby granddaughter and her mama.
Volkswagen figures the all-new Cross Sport will appeal to empty nesters as well as to couples and young families. Sport-minded folks may opt for the racy R-Line package, with thicker bumpers, gloss black trim and flat-bottom steering wheel.
But beyond the extra cargo space, the Cross Sport also is first in the lineup to introduce VW's new drive-assist features and the next-generation of its Car-Net connectivity, which offers access to directions, entertainment or emergency assistance.
The Cross Sport has a broad stance (80 inches wide) and three-bar chrome grille and new LEDs and fog lamps. On the downside, it has fake cutouts in the lower rear bumper where exhaust pipes should have been. This is an American-built VW - Chattanooga, Tenn. - though the engine comes from Mexico and the transmission from Japan, so maybe it's a push.
The Cross Sport comes in three trim levels, three add-on packages and two engines. The tester, the V6 SEL Premium, is powered by a 3.6-liter engine with direct fuel injection. It gets 276 hp, but that's only 41 hp more than the base engine, a 2.0-liter turbo four.
The turbo is quicker off the line, getting to 60 mph in 7 seconds (7.7 seconds for the V-6). But the big guy can tow up to 5,000 pounds if you get the factory trailer hitch, and that's a substantial 3,000 lbs. more than the turbo.
Both engines are mated to an 8-speed transmission which can send power to all four wheels via VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. It is front-wheel biased but can send power to the rear in a millisecond when needed.
With 4Motion there are drive modes, too, which include Normal, Sport, Eco, Off-road, Custom and Snow. These modes tweak engine and transmission settings for improved performance. But sporty it is not, and despite its similar profile to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is not in the same league as an off-roader.
Like the seven-passenger Atlas, its ride is pleasant on the open road, smooth, quiet and stable. It does strain in the passing lane, however, and steering is rather numb. Still, for most folks it's a comfortable daily driver as the 4-wheel independent suspension gobbles up railroad bumps and road divots nicely.