In-Car Tech

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport challenges VW audio system norms

Volkswagen has worked with Panasonic and Fender to offer premium audio systems in their vehicles since 2011.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

You think about the price, number of seats, cargo space, fuel efficiency, and drivability. Then, somewhere down in the lower half of the list of considerations, for the average consumer, is the setup of the vehicle's sound system.

Volkswagen, like many other automakers, has teamed up with audio system companies to engineer sound solutions that provide high-quality sound in their vehicles.

In 2011, the first Fender Premium Audio System debuted in the Beetle, Passat, and Jetta GLI. It delivered 400 watts of sound from eight speakers. Panasonic sound systems were added to the mix in 2015 delivering a concert-quality experience and since then, the company has offered available premium audio equipment on most of its model.

With that system, "we're able to put concert-quality sound inside a vehicle," said Tom Dunn, Director of Global Audio Solutions at Panasonic. "The emotion of a live performance is something we were all familiar with, but it was not something anyone expected to feel while driving their car."

Volkswagen's Atlas, introduced for the 2018 model year, presented unique acoustic challenges because of its size.

"The Atlas has three rows and seven seats, which gives the vehicle a large cabin space," said David Ernst, Panasonic's Senior Acoustics Engineer. "The Atlas Cross Sport has two rows and five seats, so we had to pare down the design of the Fender Premium Audio System for the smaller model without taking away any of the quality."

When VW decided to add the Atlas Cross Sport to its lineup, the move wasn't as simple as lowering the roofline and updating the grille.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross SportLowering the roofline as part of the creation of the Atlas Cross Sport presented unique challenges for Volkswagen and Fender engineers.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

According to Volkswagen, "To adapt the original Atlas audio system for the size of the Atlas Cross Sport, Ernst and his team tested the system with focus groups and people at events and concerts. The team even had musical artists sit in the Atlas Cross Sport and listen to their own music on the system to see how well it matched in quality and expectation."

"We did a lot of fine-tuning to make sure the product would be perfect for passengers, wherever they sat inside the vehicle," Ernst said.

The Atlas Cross Sport ended up with a 12-speaker Fender Premium Audio System. It has a 80-mm front-center channel speaker, two 200-mm dual voice coil woofers in the front doors, four 60-mm soft dome tweeters in the first- and second-rows, two 168-mm speakers in the rear doors, and two 80-mm wide frequency speakers in the D-pillar. A 168-mm subwoofer sits in a 12-liter enclosure in the back. All told, the system delivers 480 watts of power.

After spending months optimizing the Atlas Cross Sport, Ernst says he's proud of the "concert feeling" passengers have when listening to the final product.

"This partnership is not just about the hardware of the audio system," said Dunn. "It's an opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level. And Volkswagen has always recognized the importance of this connection."

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The Hemi Orange package brings unqiue style to the Durango.

Dodge

The Dodge Durango isnt the newest or most refined SUV on the market, but it offers great comfort, good tech, and a handful of raucous powertrian options. The long-running family hauler is due for an update, but in the meantime, Dodge has given it a new Hemi Orange package with unique styling touches.

Dodge already offers the Hemi Orange package fo the Challenger and Charger, and now it's available for the three-row Durango. The package is available for the R/T trim, which comes with a 5.7-liter V8.

Dodge Durango Hemi OrangeDodge offers four exterior colors with the package. Dodge

Much of the Orange package's content comes on the outside, where Dodge adds orange and gunmetal hod stripes, black taillights, and grey/orange badging. The SUV rides on black 20-inch wheels, and Dodge offers different black "Lights Out" 20-inch wheels. Four exterior colors are available: Destroyer Grey, Diamond Black, Octane Red, and White Knuckle. Inside, the Durango gets orange sticthing and unique patterns in the upholstery. Dodge says the stitching extends throughout the interior, including to the gauge cluster, armrests, console lid, and steering wheel.

Two upgrades are available for the Hemi Orange Durango. The first is the Orange Plus Package, which adds a power sunroof, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and a load of driver aids. The Tow N Go package is available for four-wheel drive models, and brings the 20-inch Lights Out wheels, orange brake calipers, and a Bilstein high-performance suspension system.

The Durango R/T Hemi Orange is available now. It carries a price tag of $1,995. The Orange Plus package costs $4,500 and the Tow N Go package costs $5,095.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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