WHISTLER, British Columbia — As SUVs and crossovers have come to dominate U.S. auto sales and vehicles have grown bigger and boxier, Volkswagen believes a certain subsegment of consumers — roughly 45 percent — begin to draw a mental line in the purchasing sand.
They want big, but not too big. They want boxy, but not too boxy. They love the cargo room that a three-row crossover affords when its seats are down, but they’re put off by the notion that a third row might turn their cool crossover into little more than a minivan disguised with swinging doors.
Enter the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, a two-row, five-seat version of the German automaker’s increasingly popular three-row, seven-seat U.S.-made Atlas. Volkswagen’s third crossover aims to grab a chunk of those Goldilocks buyers — those who will buy a Ford Edge while shunning an Explorer, or clamor for a Nissan Rogue while turning their noses up at a Murano.
Arriving in U.S. dealerships this month, the Atlas Cross Sport shares most components with the freshened 2021 Atlas — which will arrive in dealerships in April — including a much-improved interior and infotainment system.
Indeed, from the front seats forward, it’s difficult to tell the two crossovers apart. However, behind the front seats, the Atlas Cross Sport offers additional legroom and a huge cargo area, despite the sharper downward rake of its rear pillars and its shorter overall length.
The result is Volkswagen’s first direct attempt to take on two wildly popular vehicles in the U.S.: the Edge and Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s also part of the German automaker’s overall strategy to gain market share by further expanding its crossover offerings, which last year accounted for more than 53 percent of its overall sales.
“We have taken the things that we have done well with the Atlas to go and take on this big part of the rest of the [midsize crossover/SUV] segment,” explained Serban Boldea, director of product planning at Volkswagen of America.
Like the larger Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport is powered by either a standard turbocharged 235-hp, 2.0-liter I-4 or a 276-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine, each mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard front-wheel or available all-wheel drive.
The Atlas Cross Sport crossover will be available in five trim levels, with the top three trims also receiving optional R-Line appearance packages.
On the road, the Cross Sport drives very similar to the Atlas, though it does feel less bulky. Visibility is good, though the sharply sloped rear window does pinch the view somewhat out the rear.
Pricing will hue closely to that of the Atlas at various trim levels, Boldea said, with only about $1,000 difference in sticker prices between similar trim and option levels of the more-expensive three-row Atlas and less-expensive Atlas Cross Sport.
Pricing for the base model begins at $31,565, including shipping, with a top range that can cross the $50,000 level, depending on options.
In 2019, Volkswagen sold 81,508 three-row Atlas crossovers, up 37 percent over the previous year.
Next year, VW plans to expand its crossover lineup with a subcompact crossover to slot below the Tiguan.
In addition, the automaker this year will begin offering the first of at least three battery-electric vehicles in the U.S., a five-seat crossover to be called the ID4.