The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas begins its third year as VW‘s entry into the highly competitive three-row family crossover segment, but also spawns a stylish new five-seat variant known as the Atlas Cross Sport. While it’s the product of a European automaker, the Atlas was designed and developed in the US for the US market. Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Atlas appeals to American sensibilities with regard to space, equipment and overall demeanor.
The 2020 Atlas offers two different powertrain options, room for up to seven passengers and a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty, which is among the best in the industry but not as good as the 6-year/72,000-mile warranty VW offered in 2018 and 2019. Altogether, the Atlas is a competitive offering, even if it isn’t class-leading in any particular category.
What’s New for 2020?
A new two-row Atlas Cross Sport joins the three-row Atlas for 2020. While it loses 2.8 inches of overall length along with its third row of seats, the Cross Sport offers sportier styling throughout, with a sleeker profile, unique front and rear fascias, and new headlight and taillight designs. Inside is more of the same, as the Cross Sport comes with a new steering wheel design and unique elements like an available red interior. Additionally, the Atlas Cross Sport debuts Volkswagen’s redesigned ‘VW’ and R logos here in the United States. Altogether, while the regular Atlas is oriented toward families who need a third row and room for lots of stuff, the Cross Sport is meant to compete with other sporty midsize five-passenger SUVs like the Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, and Nissan Murano.
As far as the regular Atlas goes, the vehicle gains the next-generation of VW’s Car-Net telematics system and wi-fi capability. There’s some slight re-shuffling of features, with an easy-open liftgate and parking sensors now standard on the SE w/ Technology R-Line. SE w/ Technology models and above now come with standard 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, while SEL Premium models get new 21-inch wheels. See the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas models for sale near you
What We Like
- Lots of space for people and things
- Great feature content
- Sliding second-row seats that also tilt, even when there’s a child’s seat attached
- Still offers a reasonably generous 4-year/50,000-mile warranty
- New Cross Sport offers something for buyers who don’t want three rows
What We Don’t
- No more 6-year/72,000-mile warranty
- Neither engine is particularly punchy
- Cross Sport offers nothing in the way of added performance
- Active safety features that are offered as standard on competitors are limited to upper trims
- Sacrifices VW charm for mainstream appeal
At the entry level is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This connects to an 8-speed automatic transmission. When fitted with this engine, the regular Atlas is front-wheel drive only, while the Cross Sport can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive.
EPA figures for the regular Atlas with the four-cylinder put consumption at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg in combined driving.
The more powerful alternative is a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 developing 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. It has the same transmission but gives buyers the option of adding all-wheel drive, which VW brands “4MOTION.” Again, looking at the larger three-row Atlas, the EPA’s fuel economy figures are 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined for FWD models and 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined for models with AWD. While official figures for the Cross Sport have yet to be released, expect them to be about the same.
Standard Features and Options
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport are available in S, SE, SE w/Technology, SE w/Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line and SEL Premium trim levels. The Cross Sport gains one extra trim, which combines elements of the SEL R-Line and SEL Premium trims to make an SEL Premium R-Line model.
Worth noting – the trim levels and prices shown below are for three-row Atlas models; pricing for the new Cross Sport has yet to be released at the time of this writing. We expect feature content of each of the Atlas Cross Sport’s trims to largely mimic that of the three-row model, but likely with a few small changes.
S ($32,465; 2.0T, FWD) starts with the 4-cylinder engine, 18-in alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and headlights, roof rails, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a rearview camera, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a 6-in infotainment touchscreen, voice control, Bluetooth, a USB port, an SD card slot, Wi-Fi capability, a 6-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability and an AM/FM radio.
SE ($35,615; 2.0T, FWD) adds the V6 engine, keyless entry/ignition, simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, second-row center armrest, heated windshield washer nozzles, rear sunshades, an 8-in touchscreen, four USB ports, an 8-speaker audio setup, HD/satellite radio, CD player and an auxiliary audio input.
SE w/Technology ($37,965; 2.0T, FWD) gains 20-in wheels, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, remote start and a powered lift gate.
SE w/Technology R-Line ($41,565; V6, FWD) adds unique 20-in alloy wheels, an easy-open lift gate, parking sensors, stainless-steel pedal caps and some extra cosmetic additions.
SEL ($41,715; 2.0T, FWD) has a panoramic sunroof, LED taillights, driver’s-seat memory settings, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, a 12-in configurable digital driver information display (VW Digital Cockpit), navigation, a hands-free tailgate opening, a 115-volt power outlet, and front and rear parking sensors. The V6 version also gets a trailer hitch.
SEL R-Line ($42,215; V6, FWD) again adds 20-in black-finished alloy wheels, stainless-steel pedal caps and some more cosmetic touches.
SEL Premium ($50,115; V6, AWD) comes with the V6 engine and AWD as standard, 21-in wheels, power-folding side mirrors with puddle lights, ambient LED cabin lighting, leather seating surfaces, ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, navigation, a semi-automated parking feature for parallel and perpendicular spaces, automatic high beams, an overhead-view camera setup and a 12-speaker/480-watt Fender-branded upgraded audio system.
SEL Premium R-Line (Pricing TBD) trim is only available for Atlas Cross Sport. Applies R-Line cosmetic elements to top-spec SEL Premium trim.
Options for the regular Atlas include second-row captain’s chairs (SE level and up, turning the Atlas into a 6-seater) and a towing package. Where it isn’t standard, AWD is an extra $1,800.
Cargo space behind the Atlas’ third row is a generous 20 cu ft. Behind the second row in the regular Atlas is 55 cu ft. When both rows are folded flat, maximum cargo area is 96 cu ft. Given its shorter overall length and steeper roofline, the Atlas Cross Sport offers 40 cu ft. behind its second row, and 78 cu ft. with its second row folded flat.
Towing capacity with the 2.0-liter engine is 2,000 pounds. The V6 can pull 5,000 pounds. And in case anyone was curious about possible off-roading abilities, ground clearance is a fairly useful eight inches while the Atlas’ AWD system has various settings, including off-road and snow.
The Atlas comes standard with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection as well as blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Features like adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, a surround-view camera system and a parking assist system are reserved for upper trims, which seems a little stingy on VW’s part when competitors like Toyota offer many of these as standard.
The Cross Sport gains two new available driver-assistance features in Traffic Jam Assist, which really just means radar cruise control that can function in stop-and-go traffic, and what VW calls ‘Dynamic Road Sign Display’ which recognizes road signs in Atlas Cross Sport models equipped with navigation.
Other basic safety equipment includes full-length side airbags, stability control and disc brakes at each corner — the usual. The Atlas also comes with a post-collision braking system that engages as soon as the airbags go off and helps to reduce the severity of the impact in a collision.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the three-row Atlas a full five stars overall. In testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Atlas earns top marks for crashworthiness and for its standard accident avoidance tech but misses out on a Top Safety Pick+ award for poor headlights and a difficult-to-use LATCH child seat anchoring system. While the Atlas Cross Sport has yet to be crash tested, we expect it to achieve virtually identical results to the regular Atlas, while potentially rectifying its shortcomings with regard to headlights.
Behind the Wheel
Comfort and serenity are the hallmarks of the Atlas’ driving experience. Driving manners are stable and composed, and the high driving position will please many. The main downside to the Atlas is that neither of its available engines has much muscle. Hauling a full load of family and vacation gear is going to require patience. This is one of the roomiest vehicles in its class but also one of the slowest.
Those in the front will see cabin materials that are almost premium quality, while the kids behind get the less classy stuff that’s harder to damage and capable of taking more punishment. Third-row seating in many crossovers is a cramped and awkwardly-accessed affair. Not in the Atlas. There are more than 33 inches of legroom in the back seat, which is remarkable. It isn’t just for kids back there — even a couple of lanky teenagers will find it bearable (whether you’ll find the lanky teenagers bearable is another matter).
While we’ve yet to drive the Atlas Cross Sport, we expect it to offer largely the same driving experience as the regular Atlas, although with a smaller footprint and without the added heft of the Atlas’ third row, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Cross Sport feels ever-so-slightly more athletic.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Toyota Highlander — A segment leader, the Highlander is all-new for 2020. The latest active safety features, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are only some of the additions. A revamped Hybrid model will likely offer the best fuel economy in the segment.
2020 Kia Telluride — The Telluride is arguably the most chiseled and attractive entrant into the three-row crossover segment. Given that it’s brand-new, it’s loaded with great technology and all of the latest features.
2020 Mazda CX-9 — Like the Atlas, the CX-9 offers an elevated experience relative to more mainstream three-row family SUVs. It’s somewhat tight in the third row but it’s stylish and a genuine pleasure to drive, which is unusual in this category.
2020 Honda Passport — As the Atlas Cross Sport is a truncated version of the Atlas, the Passport is a shortened version of the Pilot. The Passport offers room for five, loads of storage space, and comes standard with an excellent six-cylinder powertrain.
2020 Hyundai Santa Fe — Another Cross Sport competitor, the Santa Fe was recently redesigned and comes with Hyundai’s industry-leading 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Used Audi Q5 — A certified pre-owned Q5 is a good alternative to a brand-new Atlas Cross Sport. A CPO Q5 will offer a more upscale experience, and there’s even a performance-oriented SQ5 that should be plenty appealing to anyone bemoaning the Cross Sport’s lack of power.
As far as the regular three-row Atlas goes, the SE w/Technology trim hits that balance of worthwhile equipment at a reasonable price. It also gets you the more powerful V6 engine and leaves the option of adding AWD. When looking at the new Cross Sport, we’d be tempted by any of the R-Line models, as they stand to accentuate the vehicle’s already stylish profile. Find a Volkswagen Atlas for sale