2020 Volkswagen Atlas Sport SUV front

The new Atlas Cross Sport—a “concept” version of which was unveiled at the New York Auto Show—is part of Volkswagen’s “serious SUV strategy.”

The Atlas Sport will replace the long-in-the-tooth Volkswagen Touareg, which was dropped from VW’s U.S. lineup after the 2017 model year. The concept version we saw is a preview of an upcoming production model. 

The Sport is a two-row version of the three-row Atlas, which impressed us in our testing. But despite a high road-test score, Volkswagen’s iffy brand reliability held down the Atlas’s Overall Score.

Volkswagen promises big things with this SUV: a plug-in hybrid system; a mild-hybrid system; and abundant passenger and cargo space.

Advanced powertrains notwithstanding, a two-row Atlas Sport would mainly face competition from the similar-sized Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Nissan Murano

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport (concept version)

What it competes with: Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee

What it looks like: A sporty, aggressively styled Volkswagen Atlas with a coupe-like profile

Powertrains: Plug-in Hybrid: 276-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine, 54-hp front electric motor, and 114-hp rear electric motor, and an 18.0-kWh lithium-ion battery (355-hp combined). Mild Hybrid: 276-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine, 54-hp front electric motor, and 114-hp rear electric motor, and a 2.0-kWh lithium-ion battery (310-hp combined); six-speed automatic transmission.

Expected price: $40,000-$50,000

Onsale date: 2019

Outside

The Atlas Sport is the latest “coupe-ified” vehicle to hit the auto-show circuit. Rather than the boxy lines of the seven-passenger Atlas, the Sport concept has a lower, swoopier roofline. It is 190.8 inches long and 68.3 inches tall; in comparison, the seven-passenger Atlas is 198 inches long and 70 inches tall. While the Sport is shorter than the regular Atlas, it has the same 117-inch wheelbase.

The Sport’s windows look smaller, and the rake of the rear window is steep. The large wheels sit inside big fenders with pronounced wheel arches, giving the Atlas Sport a muscular appearance, with white LED headlights on each side connected by two rows of LEDs across the nose. In the rear, a silver strip runs the width of the rear hatch, creating a visual cue with the door handle seam on each side of the SUV. 

Inside

Information from Volkswagen describes a front cockpit dominated by large display screens. A 10.1-inch touch screen uses gesture and proximity controls for operation. In our experience, VW’s current touch-screen infotainment system is a model of clarity. The navigation system offers two- and three-dimensional displays, and it shows the position of the vehicle with varying levels of information. A separate touch screen is used for the climate control settings.

A 12.3-inch version of the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit sits in front of the driver, inside the traditional gauge cluster. It displays the various drive modes, as well as navigation and any driver-assistance functions.  

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Sport SUV rear

What Drives It

Volkswagen chose to use hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains with the Atlas Sport, at least for for the concept car. This is partially because they plan an aggressive rollout of electrified vehicles as a result of “Dieselgate,” their diesel emissions scandal.

Both powertrains use VW’s 276-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The full plug-in hybrid powertrain on the concept is the V6 along with two electric motors: a 54-hp one up front, and a 114-hp one in the rear. When combined with the 18.0-kWh lithium-ion battery, the full system makes 355 hp.

A second powertrain that VW could offer is the same engine and dual-motor setup but with a smaller 2.0-kWh battery, for a total of 310 system horsepower. Both powertrains would give the concept a top speed of 130 mph.

The PHEV version has five driving modes, including an all-electric E-Mode that will give 26 miles of range. The rear motor provides all power for driving, and the gas engine is shut off, re-engaging when the range is exhausted.

In Hybrid mode (standard mode on the non-PHEV version), the V6 and/or rear motor will drive the SUV, with both electric motors engaging to charge the battery under certain conditions.

The GTE mode uses the engine and both motors for sporty driving, while the Off-Road mode changes the concept into an all-wheel-drive vehicle, with the two motors and V6 working in conjunction to power all four wheels.

Both Battery Hold and Battery Charge modes are selected when the driver wants to maintain charge level or charge the battery while driving.

CR’s Take

We expect that the production version of the Atlas Cross Sport will offer the standard V6 engine, and the two hybrid powertrains will follow at a later date. It’s possible the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that is also found in the seven-passenger Atlas will be available.

It will certainly be a roomy vehicle, and the hybrid powertrains have the promise of both power and fuel economy, and could be a lower-cost alternative to the Lexus RX 450h.

For now, we’ll wait until 2019 rolls around and more solid information is available on the production version. 

VW Atlas concept at NYIAS

Check out CR's complete coverage of the 2018 New York Auto Show.