2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport SEL Premium V-6 R-Line vs. 2020 Toyota 4Runner 4x4 Nightshade V6: A 50-grand trail competition

This week: VW Atlas Cross Sport

Price: $51,210. Red paint, $395. Everything else noted is standard with the trim level. (This is $20,000 more than a base Atlas Cross Sport, which must be a drastically different vehicle.)

Marketer’s pitch: “The bold SUV.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “stylish appearance, spacious interior, abundant cargo space,” but not the “below-par ride quality, thirsty powertrains, shorter warranty than main rivals.”

Reality: For fun in the streets.

The comparison: Let’s say you have around 50 grand to blow on an SUV, and you can’t decide whether you want something sportily rugged or just plain sporty. Two wildly different paths could be the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport R-Line and the Toyota 4Runner.

What’s new: A five-seater version of VW’s largest SUV, the roofline rakes down in the rear a little more than the Atlas.

Up to speed: Thanks to the 3.6-liter V-6′s 276 horsepower, the Atlas gets to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, according to MotorWeek. Car and Driver estimates it would be under 8 seconds, based on its test of the larger Atlas.

The Cross Sport comes with a 2.0-liter four standard, though, so this is a pricier model.

On the road: I had to visit Sturgis Grandma 1.0 up north and swap test vehicles while I was there. It worked out well, because I got to try the Atlas up and the Tacoma pickup on the way back, and that sealed my impression of just how nice the Atlas rode.

Even compared to the 4Runner, the Atlas definitely wins the handling portion of our contest, if you’re looking for an SUV that has fun on the slalom. It takes on country roads — we rode up to Hawk Mountain — with great agility, and puts a little butterfly in the pit of your stomach. It feels like a big-boy version of the Golf R-Line. And I didn’t feel the rough ride that the soft touches at Car and Driver experienced.

Shifty: The 8-speed TipTronic automatic follows Volkswagen’s standard pattern — pull the shifter downward to employ Sport mode or regular Drive mode, or push it to the right for shift capability. All the settings work well; Sport mode took a little getting used to before I could keep the Atlas from peeling out at full bore, but we found a way to work together after a week.

Shifting is OK, but the gearshift requires a lot of force. Steering wheel triggers would make the experience much nicer.

The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport R-Line Premium tested looks just like the upscale Volkswagens inside — and that’s a good thing.
JAMES HALFACRE
The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport R-Line Premium tested looks just like the upscale Volkswagens inside — and that’s a good thing.

Driver’s Seat: The Titan Black and Quartile Leather interior offers the comfort that higher-end Volkswagens are known for (and even more basic VWs are nicely done as well). There’s enough support in the seat and plenty of comfort as well; it almost makes the Volkswagens nicer than more upscale Audis, which I find hard and a little painful. The wide body seats add to the comfort as well.

The gauges and controls are thoughtful — easy to read and follow, and the design geek in me loves the VW typeface. Volkswagen really offers a nice setup throughout its lineup of cars.

Friends and stuff: While a third row comes in most Atlases, the Cross Sport stops at two. That means the rear-seat passengers get the limousine treatment — seriously, Mr. Driver’s Seat can cross his ankles comfortably back there — while cargo space is cavernous as well. The rear seat itself is a little too flat and hard, though, to be comfortable. I’m reminded of the Microbus.

But for unMicrobusness, the rear passengers can get their tushies warmed, and not just by the engine exhaust.

Cargo capacity is 77.8 cubic feet with the seat folded, and whopping 40.3 with the rear seat up.

Play some tunes: The Fender Premium Audio System delivers some of the clearest sound I’ve heard recently, an A.

Controls are simple as well, with dials for volume and tuning. More advanced sound controls are fairly deeply nested but getting there is not too difficult. The 8-inch touchscreen seems smaller than it is. Attractive ebony buttons around the side get users from place to place.

Keeping warm and cool: A pair of dials control the temperature and another maintains the fan speed. Buttons control the source of the air.

Seats and heated and cooled with buttons underneath the HVAC controls.

Fuel economy: I averaged a sad 14 mpg in a close-to-home set of drives on mostly country roads. This went up to 17 mpg after some time riding through the countryside to Hawk Mountain. Feed the Atlas whatever in the V-6 (the four takes premium).

Where it’s built: Chattanooga, Tennessee.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Cross Sport reliability to be a 1 out of 5.

Next week: Toyota 4Runner.