Volkswagen may have originally made its name with the Beetle, but like virtually every automaker today, its SUVs are leading the way.

That includes the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport – a slightly shorter five-seat version of the three-row Atlas that’s among the biggest sport utilities of its kind. The Atlas Cross Sport comes in four trim levels, starting at $38,995 plus a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,950. All-wheel drive is standard. My top-trim Execline started at $52,095 and received an optional V6 engine and R-Line Appearance Package, bringing it to $57,935 before taxes.

Styling: 8.5/10

The Cross Sport’s exterior styling is a blend of rugged off-roader and city cruiser, although the vehicle itself is far less of the former and more of the latter. The base Trendline trim includes 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, and roof rails. The next-up Highline adds 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and chrome window surround, while my Execline topped it with a unique wheel design, and power-folding door mirrors that tip down when in reverse.

My optional R-Line package added 21-inch wheels, stainless steel door sill plates, a unique steering wheel, and interior and exterior styling cues.

Volkswagen generally goes for timeless styling rather than cutting-edge angular, which I prefer. That includes the interior, with its simple but functional look. It’s not going to impress those who prefer a tech-heavy centre stack, but its simplicity helps reduce distraction.

Safety: 9/10

The Cross Sport gets the highest five-star rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also gets the highest “Good” rating in all crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

All trim levels include blind-spot monitoring, emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, tire pressure monitoring system, and the mandatory back-up camera the federal government requires these days. Moving up the trim ladder gets you adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, front and rear parking sensors, and, on my Execline, a 360-degree camera, road sign display, and a self-parking feature.

Features: 8/10

All trim levels include all-wheel drive, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rain-sensing wipers, tinted windows, and automatic LED headlights. The Cross Sport’s lights bear an intriguing “IQ.LIGHT” logo, but alas, it’s just for looks, referring to a matrix headlight that’s not available in Canada.

However, most buyers will start with at least the Comfortline, one up from the base trim, which adds a larger centre touchscreen (8.0 inches versus 6.5), navigation, wireless phone integration, voice control, satellite radio, power tailgate, dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, and heated steering wheel. The next two trims top up those features, adding such items as a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and premium stereo.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

Buttons and dials don’t look high-tech, but they tend to get the job done with less distraction than finding and tapping a screen icon. Climate functions are handled with hard controls, along with items like the heated seats and drive modes. There are also hard buttons to bring up the menus on the centre screen.

It was easy for me to find a good seating position, but that’s also thanks to my tester’s power seat that’s missing on the base trim. Volkswagen’s manual seats, while offering lots of adjustment, can be a pain to set up, especially if two differently sized drivers are always re-adjusting them. At the rear, the liftover height is relatively low, making it easy to stash cargo inside.

Practicality: 8/10

In addition to generous passenger space, the Cross Sport offers 1,141 L of cargo volume, and as much as 2,203 L when the second-row seats are folded. It’s a simple one-lever design, and the seatback falls flat. A cubby under the cargo floor hides the space-saver spare tire, and the subwoofer for the Execline’s stereo sits atop it.

Small-item storage up front isn’t quite as generous as some, but includes a centre-stack cubby, large door pockets, and a centre console. Towing capacity is a maximum of 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) when properly equipped.

Comfort: 9.5/10

The Atlas Cross Sport is only 131 mm (5.2 in) shorter than the Atlas, but unlike its larger sibling, it doesn’t have three rows of seats stuffed inside. Without the need to accommodate more than five folks, the Cross Sport has more front and rear legroom than the Atlas. Headroom is also generous.

Like most European automakers, Volkswagen designs its seats to be supportive rather than just soft. There’s a bit of cushiness to the Cross Sport’s chairs, but they primarily sustain your spine. I went on a round-trip drive of some four hours and they did an excellent job of keeping me comfortable and refreshed.

Power: 8/10

The base engine in all trim levels is a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder that makes 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. My tester was upgraded to the optional 3.6L V6 that makes 267 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Both engines use an eight-speed automatic transmission. The V6 isn’t available on the base Trendline trim.

The bigger engine doesn’t feel quick, but it’s smooth and linear as it gets you up to speed, and it’s a very pleasant performer. I also tend to prefer a non-turbo engine for its simplicity, especially if I’m planning on keeping my vehicle for a long time.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

With its light but quick-and-accurate steering, the Cross Sport feels smaller than it is. The ride is quiet and smooth, and it’s a great highway hauler. It’s a lot of vehicle to park, but its tight turning radius and good visibility makes it a fairly easy task.

It’s well-balanced around corners, considering its size and height, and the brakes feel confident. Overall, the Cross Sport is simply a very nice and very pleasant driver.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

Nothing’s an absolute fuel-sipper at this size, but the Cross Sport tends toward the higher end of the scale. The V6 is officially rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 13.8 L/100 km in the city; 10.4 on the highway; and 12.3 in combined driving. I did a little better in my week with it, racking up 11.9 L/100 km with a lot of highway driving. Both the four- and six-cylinder engines are rated for regular 87-octane fuel.

By comparison, a Chevrolet Blazer with all-wheel drive and 3.6L V6 is rated at 10.5 L/100 km in combined driving. With a V6, the Honda Passport and Jeep Grand Cherokee are both rated for 11.3, and the Ford Edge, with its optional 2.7L turbocharged engine, sits at 11.1 L/100 km.

Value: 7.5/10

The Atlas Cross Sport starts at $38,995 for the base Trendline, but most buyers will start their journey at the next-step-up Comfortline at $43,495. My top-trim Execline with V6 was $54,295, and was topped up with its R-Line package for $1,690 to a total of $55,985. Add in the $1,950 freight charge, and the asking price settled at $57,935 before tax.

You can certainly price a Jeep Grand Cherokee well past $50,000, but many of the Cross Sport’s competitors can be had for less. For example, a Chevrolet Blazer with V6 and AWD runs from $39,898 to $49,398; a Honda Passport from $43,670 to $50,670; a Ford Edge from $36,399 to $49,499; and a Nissan Murano from $34,098 to $46,898. None of those prices include their respective freight fees.

The Verdict

Despite that price spread, when it comes to the Atlas Cross Sport, I’d likely buy with my heart instead of my head. I usually finish up a test and then look forward to the next one, but I was reluctant to give this one back. It’s a lovely driver, its controls are easy to use, and while it’s bigger than I personally need, that translates into impressive comfort. When you’re mapping out vehicles for your test-drive decisions, don’t leave out the Cross Sport version of Volkswagen’s Atlas.

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