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Auto review: VW Atlas Cross Sport has what it takes to run with the best 5-seat midsize SUVs

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

Volkswagen hit a trifecta with the Atlas Cross Sport five-passenger SUV: Looks, value and features.

After struggling to cash in on the SUV boom for years, VW's model line has caught up with the American customer. SUVs accounted for 52% of 2019 US vehicle sales, over-indexing at 53% of VW's U.S. business, a radical turnaround from when the German brand struggled with vehicles that were the wrong size, price or both for American tastes.

With the appealing Cross Sport on sale now, SUVs' share of VW U.S. sales should be even higher this year.

VW will surely continue to add SUVs -- every automaker will, experimenting with shapes, features, sizes and prices to reach every possible customer. With the Atlas, though, VW is now a serious player in three of the most important segments: the compact Tiguan; midsize family carriers, with the three row Atlas; and five-seat midsize SUVs with the Cross Sport.

The Cross Sport competes with strong models including the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano.

That's a murderer's row, but the Atlas Cross Sport is up to the challenge.

 

Driving impressions

The Cross Sport is satisfying to drive, but one of its strongest selling points is obvious at a standstill: This is one good-looking SUV.

The Cross Sport is more than a just shortened version of the visually undistinguished three-row Atlas. It adds flared rear fenders and square tail lights that are vaguely reminiscent of the design of big American sedans and muscle cars. Multispoke 21-inch wheels and tires on the loaded SEL Premium R-Line I drove added to the Cross Sport's presence.

The rear pillar and hatch are dramatically raked. The sides tuck in more than the boxy three-row Atlas as they approach the roof. Auto designers call that "tumblehome," a phrase originally used in nautical design to describe a ship's hull growing narrower as it rises farther above the waterline.

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