Volkswagen arrived stateside back in 1949 with just one product – the beetle, a micro, two-door, rear-engine car officially dubbed “Type 1.” (The moniker “Beetle” wouldn’t go upper-case as an official name until 1998.)
A surprise hit, the little guy proved to be the first import-nameplate vehicle to gain wide acceptance in the U.S. So popular was it, in fact, that by the mid-1960s books were being written about it, including 1965’s “Small Wonder” by Walter Henry Nelson.
But times change.
Flash forward to the 21st century, and Volkswagen has developed other ideas. From focusing on a “small wonder,” the company back in 2018 turned its attention to the pressing question, “What’s the big idea?” The answer was Atlas, a three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV – the largest vehicle VW has ever offered in the U.S.
In 2020, the product evolution continues as Volkswagen blends its big idea with its concept of a small wonder.
Well, slightly smaller.
New for 2020 is the Atlas Cross Sport, a midsize crossover that rides the same platform and shares the same 117.3-inch wheelbase as its larger Atlas source material, but jettisons the big guy’s third row while shaving nearly 3 inches off its overall length. VW then covers it all with sportier styling – a more aggressive grille flanked by techy LED headlights, a more sharply sloping roof, and a sassy, lean-forward rear glass – and, voila!, you have a sporty five-seat crossover that’s a tad smaller while boasting copious interior room for five.
In fact, that cabin room, compared to the big Atlas, actually grows in one respect. With no need to accommodate a third row, Cross Sport’s rear leg room grows 3 inches compared to the mid-row leg room in Atlas.
The other big change: Atlas Cross Sport, which shares its greasy stuff with Atlas, is more generous with all-wheel-drive availability. While four-corner-traction in Atlas (for now) is available only with the platform’s 276-horsepower V-6, AWD in Atlas Cross Sport can be had with both that six-pack and the base, 235-hp inline 4-cylinder.
Regardless of cylinder count or the number of tractive wheels, every Cross Sport is managed by an eight-speed automatic.
Cross Sport is available in a dizzying array of iterations, including S, SE and SEL trims. Those three can be modified further with subset trims, depending on the trim in question, that include “With Technology,” “R-Line,” “With Technology R-Line,” “Premium” and “Premium R-Line.”
We drove a Cross Sport V-6 SEL Premium with all-wheel drive (“4Motion” in VW-speak), so we’ll stick with that.
As expected, room in the well-bolstered front buckets is generous while, as noted, rear-seat room is impressive. Regarding cargo duty, the 40.3 cubic feet behind the second row can expand to more than 77 cubes with that 60/40-split rear seat folded.
On the road, Atlas Cross Sport feels wide as a runway, but its cabin is quiet, its ride civilized and its handling surprisingly athletic. Our SEL AWD boasted drive modes of Snow, Eco, Normal, Sport, Off-road and Off-Road Custom.
No hot rod, acceleration to 60 mph with the V-6 was in the high 7’s, but fuel-economy was notable. We got 21 mpg in 130 miles of mixed city/hwy motoring – a couple mpg’s better than the EPA expected.
Throw in all the expected 21st-century safety stuff – blind spot monitoring, pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and more – along with such infotainment features as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto talent, plus the availability of the optional Fender Premium Audio we had, and Cross Sport makes its case as a fine family companion.
In this age of GPS navigation, digital maps and turn-by-turn smartphone guidance, the good ol’ paper-map book may be antiquated. But VW figures you can still use a road Atlas – now in a handy take-along size.
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