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Volkswagen Atlas Versus Atlas Cross Sport: What’s The Difference?

Exploring the differences between Volkswagen’s two biggest SUVs

Aaron GoldWriterManufacturerPhotographer

The Atlas Cross Sport is Volkswagen's new jumbo-sized two-row SUV, and you don't need to be a car fanatic to see that it's closely related to the three-row, seven-seat Atlas. What exactly are the differences between these two SUVs?

Atlas vs. Atlas Cross Sport: Exterior Differences

The Cross Sport is essentially a truncated Atlas. Volkswagen chopped 5.2 inches from the length of the Atlas to make the Cross Sport, fitting it with a lower and more graceful roofline and a more steeply raked back window. The wheelbase remains unchanged at 117.3", an unusual decision that no doubt saves VW money on manufacturing cost. (Both are built on the same line at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN plant.) The lower roofline reduces the height of the DLO (Day Light Opening, fancy designer-speak for the side windows) which gives the Atlas a clear family resemblance to the Audi Q8. The combination of long wheelbase and low roofline has an aesthetic payoff: The Atlas looks muscular and well-planted compared to the matronly Atlas.

While the front and rear fascias differ in 2020 models, Volkswagen announced a refreshed 2021 Atlas at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, with updated styling that looks more like the Cross Sport.

Atlas vs. Atlas Cross Sport: Interior Differences

As the Atlas Cross Sport is intended for a different buyer, either younger or older than family-oriented Atlas shoppers, Volkswagen jazzed up the interior with nicer door-panel stitching and two-tone color schemes, including a rather fetching red and black combination.

Eliminating the third row seat opens up a lot of cargo space, but lowering the roofline has the potential to squeeze back-seat headroom. Volkswagen moved the Cross Sport's back seat slightly rearward, adding nearly three inches of rear seat legroom. Headroom shrinks by 2.6 inches, but it's still spacious enough for most adults, and the ability to stretch one's legs is most welcome.

The shifted rear seat and sloped roofline do eat up cargo space compared to an Atlas with the third row folded. At 40.3 cubic feet, the Cross Sport's trunk is 15 cubes smaller than an Atlas in two-row mode, but it's still massive—the Cross Sport offers more luggage room than most of its competitors, including the Ford Edge, Honda Passport and Jeep Grand Cherokee. There's no need to pack light if you own a Cross Sport.

Atlas vs. Atlas Cross Sport: Mechanical Differences

Mechanically, the Atlas and Cross Sport are virtually identical—or at least they will be once the 2021 Atlas goes on sale and adds the Cross Sport's four cylinder/all-wheel-drive powertrain to the options list. Both vehicles offer a choice between Volkswagen's 235 hp 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and its 276 hp 3.6 liter V6. The Cross Sport is a couple hundred pounds lighter than the seven-seat Atlas, but acceleration is comparable and the ride and handling are nearly identical. We like the way the Atlas drives, so that's fine by us.

Atlas vs. Atlas Cross Sport: Pricing Differences

It's no surprise that the slightly-smaller Atlas Cross Sport carries a slightly smaller price tag than the Atlas (at least for the 2020 model years; VW had not announced pricing for the updated 2021 Atlas at the time of writing). The basic front-wheel-drive Atlas Cross Sport S with the 2.0T engine and front-wheel-drive lists for $31,565, while the low-end Atlas S with the same powertrain lists for $32,565. At the top end, a 2020 Atlas Cross Sport SEL Premium R-Line with the V-6 engine and all-wheel-drive stickers for $50,815. Volkswagen does not offer an R-Line package in the range-topping Atlas SEL Premium, so it tops out cheaper than the Cross Sport at $50,215 with the V-6/AWD powertrain.

So Why Did Volkswagen Bother?

To the uninitiated, it might seem strange to have two different vehicles that are so close in scope, but doing so makes good business sense. The mid-size SUV attracts three major groups of buyers: Families, empty-nesters, and young couples without children. The former group wants a third-row seat; hence the seven-seat Atlas. The latter two groups, though greatly divergent, want the same basic thing: A large-ish SUV that doesn't scream "mommy-mobile"—hence the development of a sportier five-seat version. Other automakers have come to the same conclusion as Volkswagen, leading to several similar pairings, including the Ford Explorer and Edge, Honda Pilot and Passport, and Audi Q7 and Q8. Jeep, meanwhile, is developing a three-row version of the two-row Grand Cherokee, which we should see soon.

For more specifics on living with the smaller Atlas, check out our first drive of the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport specs
ENGINE 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/235 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 20 mpg combined
L x W x H 195.5 x 78.4 x 67.3 in
WHEELBASE 117.3 in
WEIGHT 4,288 lb