2024 VW Atlas Cross Sport Interior Review: Steps Forward and Back

By | March 15, 2024

Volkswagen interiors are a controversial concern these days. The company went all-in on a new, minimalist theme that eschewed buttons, fully embraced an all-new infotainment system, and generally looked like futuristic. As you probably already know, it was not met with praise, to say the least. From the annoying unlit temperature and volume sliders to a slow and poorly laid out touchscreen user interface, the cabin controls were poor enough to be a dealbreaker for many. Fortunately, Volkswagen has now returned and is making major, largely successful changes by reintroducing buttons and other “illuminating” updates in its quest to make the new interiors user-friendly. Now you might think that since the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas and its two-row Atlas Cross Sport sibling were significantly updated for 2024, they would receive the same course-correcting updates. That would be a no, as the Atlas was launched before the first new VW introduced with its new interface, the ID.7. Still, it is a shame that other VWs from the 2024 model year will receive the new system, especially the ID.4, and the 2024 Atlas will not.

It’s true that the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport get a new interior design with fewer buttons, larger screens and a modern, minimalist style that’s clearly related in concept and similar to what you’ll find in the ID.4 and GTI. As you can see below, the result is a noticeably different cabin, both for better and for worse. The “worst” part relates to the fact that the previous cab was significantly easier to use, even with older technology and a smaller touchscreen. Crucially, the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport also don’t get the same updates that improved the ID.4. In fact, Volkswagen is preparing for yet another update, hopefully sooner or later.

When you settle into the SEL Premium R-Line’s quilted leather seats – they look really nice and stylish – the centerpiece is the 12-inch widescreen infotainment system that sits on the dashboard and virtually floats. Unlike the first versions of this system, it boots quickly and is responsive. However, it doesn’t get the new software, home screen and permanently linked array of climate controls at the bottom and customizable menu shortcuts at the top that you’ll find in the ID.4. The difference between the two can be seen below, with the Atlas on the left and 2024 ID.4 on the right.

However, I would argue that the biggest sin was the damn climate and radio controls integrated into the panel below that screen. They are not illuminated, so you can’t really see what to run your finger over at night. The ID.4, the updated 2025 GTI and the new ID.7 get those alleviated, but that doesn’t change the fact that trying to change the cabin temperature or quickly use the sliding volume is a huge pain, even if you can see them . It’s still quite hostile to the user to have them move their finger back and forth over a small touch target, especially while moving. You’ll quickly notice that unintentional input happens much more often than it should. Even the heated and cooled seat controls aren’t great, as they’re always tucked away in the lower left portion of the touchscreen (not convenient for the passenger) and tend to get left behind when you first start the car. This has been corrected with the updated system, but again, the Atlas doesn’t have that.

Oh, and if you were wondering where the defrost buttons were, just look at the touch headlight controls (because of course they are) to the left of the steering wheel. Again, that placement is just unnecessarily difficult to find, especially if you’re driving and need defrost power quickly. To make it a touch control, the driver has to physically look at the control panel to press it, for fear of bumping into the headlight controls. I could almost forgive this placement if it was a button that was easy to find just by touching, but as is…, no thanks. Oh, and if you’re also wondering if these defrost controls will return to where they belong in the updated infotainment system: they won’t.

The Atlas’s new center console is a huge upgrade in design, to say the least. Eliminating the tall gear lever for a small shift knob has led to several usability improvements, most notably the cavernous storage space beneath the floating console. It looks perfect for a bag, a small takeout order, or some items you might not want flying through the car. The other amenities, like a secure wireless phone charger, fast-charging USB-C ports (45 watts), and good-sized cup holders are all great to see, too. Unfortunately, the space just below the touchscreen, previously used for useful buttons, is now only for air vents and quick-toggle touch controls to display menus on the touchscreen.

Speaking of vents, the front vents on the Atlas are certainly a nice upgrade as well. They are double-stacked vents that allow you to direct air to multiple locations, such as one to the window and one to your face, or whatever configuration you prefer.

Another big plus is the steering wheel, the Atlas’s course-correcting update did get – in fact, VW avoided the problem altogether, as the Atlas never offered VW’s touch-sensitive steering wheel controls. It features an abundance of real buttons that are both tactilely easy to use and compensate for some of the drawbacks of the infotainment controls. For example, any owner will likely use the steering wheel controls exclusively for volume and search purposes. The controls for the 10.25-inch digital cluster are also on the handlebars, and while they take a second to get the hang of, they’re easy-going once you get the hang of them. I really like the customizations VW allows for both the gauges and infotainment system – the ability to choose from what feels like an unlimited number of color themes is something we should see more often now that most new cars are filled with at least two huge screens.

For fans of faux wood finishes, that’s gone, but it’s been replaced by a nice backlit piece (top, bottom right) on the dash that really shines at night. All the piano black plastic splashed around both the center console and across the dash is a real dampener on long-term durability, but when clean it does make for a glossy look and nice photos.

Interfaces aside, the Atlas Cross Sport is still the funky and functional SUV it was before the refresh. This means that it has an exorbitantly large rear seat with a handy reclining function for even more comfort. The fully loaded model I had even came with heated rear seats, and the black/white two-tone leather is a nice combination when paired with this tester’s Aurora Red Metallic paint. There is an interior option with blue accents on the seats (seen above, top row) that would also look good paired with the blue paint option.

This duality of good and bad also summarizes the interior of the Atlas Cross Sport in a nutshell. There’s a lot of good in the new design, but there’s just as much frustration in spoiling what could be a rather tempting option. The outside looks fantastic; the turbo four-cylinder is strong and it’s generally a fun SUV to drive around. Unfortunately, the internal control issues could very well be deal breakers, just like they were with the ID.4. It seems likely that the Atlas update was already well underway when Volkswagen started hearing such strong complaints about the new interior direction, let alone when it came up with the first wave of fixes. Yet it’s still disappointing that the 2024 Atlas shows up and is in some ways worse than not only the pre-refresh version, but also several other 2024 VWs.

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