Mountain Wheels: VW’s five-passenger Atlas Cross Sport is one roomy ride
No matter what I do nowadays, there are some cars I drive that just get me into trouble — and not just because they go too fast, or look too flashy, or have some color scheme that sets off a psychotic reaction in my fellow drivers.
I can’t really tell you what made everybody so angry about my 2022 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport — it had pretty benign Michigan plates, it was the ever-popular cement grey in color and I was driving it in a pretty normal fashion. Did I look like a police vehicle or something?
But man, are people bad drivers, and angry, and dangerous, all at the same time, and it’s not even snowing yet. You know that on all of your own drives this year. The poor old VW just seemed to get the brunt of it on that outing.
My ride this time was a Cross Sport V6 SE with the Tech package and the R-Line appearance package, as well as standard 4Motion all-wheel drive. For the new 2023 models, all of that will start at about $41,730, with a front-wheel-drive version priced at $33,910. There are five trim levels available, and 2023 models of my Cross Sport also get the new 10.25-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit Pro package — more on that in a second.
As I’ve mentioned several times in recent years, the Atlas Cross is marginally shortened, five-passenger-only version of the larger VW Atlas, but it’s still a big car. It’s 195.5 inches long and 68.2 inches high, with 77.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the front seats. It sits on 20-inch wheels, with 21-inch wheels also available on higher models.
That space means an ultra-roomy interior, with so much rear passenger foot room you could literally sleep on the floor, and the rear cargo space is so robust it seems you might be able to fit a canoe inside.
And some of the spaces in the vehicle just seem to have been designed for spaciousness’s sake, including the carpeted console box. There’s bigness all around; I cannot imagine how European drivers would react to this Tennessee-built machine. It eats up an entire parking spot, and parked next to a 20-year-old Jetta, it looks like a school bus.
Power is prodigious, when it wants to be, with the 276-horsepower, 3.6-liter VR6 often chirping the tires as I took off, like pretty much all the time. It’s got an eight-speed automatic transmission and, in non-icy conditions, all that power was going to the front wheels.
Volkswagen also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 235 horsepower, and for life at elevation, that might be the better route, as the 3.6-liter really, really needs to be coaxed to put everything out in thin air. Messing with the sport mode, an additional on-road mode contained within the “active control” knob, helped a bit in that regard. There were also no shift paddles, so I had to use the actual shift knob to reel in the speed on my downhill trips.
My ride quality varied greatly, with pretty manageable work on the Keystone shooting range road, solid and sticky cornering on Loveland Pass and occasional terror on Interstate 70. I believe that Cross Sport may be a bit too tightly tuned for some drivers.
I have to truthfully report a total electronic failure of my navigation system on my drive home, and I repeatedly had issues waiting as the system tried to connect to Apple CarPlay. The fully digital dash is nice, however, and infotainment still requires some training, as … well, I couldn’t naturally intuit it, once again. The infotainment system also completely locks you out of adjustments as simple as trying to scan for a radio station while you’re driving, which was as fun as the entire system crashing and restarting.
With bulky looks outside, the indoors are perhaps a little plain, though it turned out mine had blue seats and blue door inserts, with every other possible surface a variation of black on black. Most surfaces are nice enough, but the molded plastic in the doors is very, very plasticky indeed. R-Line gives you additional badging and unique bumpers, a leather steering wheel and stainless steel caps on the pedals.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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