The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe continues to be one of the best mid-size SUVs on the market, but is the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport a better option?
The Santa Fe mid-size SUV has been an automotive staple for Hyundai over the years. It’s one of the best bargains on the market for years now as its jam packed with everything potential buyers may starting right from the affordable base trim. The new 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe received a visual refresh, more powertrain options, and even more technology advancements further establishing the model as a great buy.
So, can the similarly classed 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport compete against one of the best mid-size SUVs right now? The Atlas Cross Sport has nice engine options, plenty of room, nice tech features, and that German engineering behind it. Let’s look over the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe and 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport to see if a lower price tag is really worth it or if the extra cost means a better experience.
Hyundai has moved on from their 2.4L I4 and 2.0L turbocharged I4 engine from last year and instead provided shoppers with 3 options this time around. Under the hood of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe you can find either the standard 2.5L I4 making 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque mated to an 8-speed automatic, a 2.5L turbocharged I4 making 277 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque mated to an 8-speed wet dual clutch transmission, or a hybrid option featuring a 1.6L turbocharged I4 paired with electric motors to make 226 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic. The best option in the lineup is the AWD 2.5L turbocharged engine with the DCT found in Limited and Caligraphy trim levels. This setup allows the Santa Fe to tow up to 3,500 lbs and reach 0-60 times of around 6 seconds.
On the Volkswagen side of things, the Atlas Cross Sport is essentially a sliced-up Atlas, so it carries the same available powertrains. First you have the 2.0L turbocharged I4 engine making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Then the only other option is an available 3.6L V6 engine making 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, which is unfortunately underwhelming in comparison to the Santa Fe’s top engine option. However, where the V6 engine succeeds is the towing department as its capable of towing up to 5,000 lbs. The VW Atlas Cross Sport comes with an 8-speed automatic paired to either engine and comes standard with front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive as an option. Both engine options will reach 60 mph in around 7 seconds.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe has taken some notes from its big brother the Palisade and has made its driving experience much smoother and a lot quieter than previous models. The Santa Fe sits on a new platform that provides a more rigid handling experience and better structural materials, new fillers, and thicker glass components reducing cabin noise. The Santa Fe also received larger brake rotors giving it more stopping power for when you need it. When travelling off-road, the Santa Fe’s 7.3 inches of ground clearance and the optional HTRAC all-wheel drive system does well to get you through the rough patches, but it’s by no means made to venture too far into the wilderness.
The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport has a sportier roof line than that of the larger Atlas it is derived from, but it still sits on the same platform. Its ride is comfortable for the most part, but any bump in the road is made more noticeable than it should be. Another complaint in the Atlas Cross Sport is its lightweight electronically assisted steering can feel almost too neutral for people who want to have a more involved driving experience and the assistance influence is more noticeable at lower speeds. For off-road use, the Atlas Cross Sport has 8 inches of ground clearance and, when optioned with the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, you have active control modes that adjust the drivetrain to different road conditions. But like the Santa Fe, the Atlas Cross Sport is better suited for inner city use.
Inside the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, the 5 seater’s interior is modest in design elements and has a decent build quality, but didn’t go unchanged for the refresh. While the dashboard still resembles previous year models, the control stack and center console have been updated to align with the Palisade’s design. This center control “bridge” adds some extra cargo room underneath, simple infotainment and radio controls, HVAC controls, heated and cooling front seat controls, and a revised push button shifter rather than the traditional shifting assembly.
Also new to the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is the addition of available quilted premium Nappa leather seating and surfaces, ambient lighting, and driver profile settings. The top-of-the-line Calligraphy trim from the Palisade was also brought in and adds a full-color heads-up display, premium door and seat accent trim, an eco-suede headliner, and expanded ambient light themes along with plenty of exterior goodies as well. Cargo space has also expanded half a foot to a measurement of 35.9 cu-ft and a maximum 72.1 cu-ft with the 60/40 split rear seats down.
Looking at the inside of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, you’re met with a utilitarian take on an SUV interior with seating for 5 adults. The inside is modest, simple, and holds plenty of nifty storage spaces for whatever you may bring with you on your travels. The Atlas Cross Sport interior is essentially the same as the larger Atlas aside from having sporty stitched door panels, an updated steering wheel, and missing the third-row seating.
Dual-zone climate control is standard starting with the SE trim along with leatherette seating surfaces and steering wheel. Going farther up the trim line nets you driver profile settings, heated second row seats, and a heated steering wheel. It’s not really unique or refined as the Santa Fe’s new design inside, but the Atlas Cross Sport does win out in cargo room. Cargo space measures out to be 40.3 cu-ft and has a maximum volume of 77.8 cu-ft when the 60/40 split rear seats are down.
For 2021, Hyundai updated the standard infotainment screen in the Santa Fe to be 8 inches right out of the gate. With a starting MSRP of $27,000, all trims have wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, rear view monitor with parking guidance, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, and Driver Attention Warning. Traveling up the trim levels get you the 10.25-inch infotainment system with a navigation system that includes traffic flow and incident data information.
Upper trim levels also gain a 12 speaker Harmon Kardon Premium Audio sound system, the Blue Link Connected Car Service, Surround View Monitor, Blind-Spot View Monitor, wireless device charging, dual climate control, and an industry leading 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Upper trims also gain additional safety features like Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, a parking distance warning, remote smart parking assist, and many more.
The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport starts with the MIB2 6.5-inch infotainment system featuring a capacitive-touch sensor like a smartphone or tablet. Starting at a at a MSRP of $30,855, standard tech includes the addition of Volkswagen Car-Net mobile interaction app, App-Connect, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, and Pedestrian Monitoring.
Travelling up to the top trim levels adds the updated MIB3 8-inch infotainment system, App-Connect wirelessly, remote start, SirusXM, wireless device charging, 12 speaker Fender Premium Audio System, and a 10-inch digital instrument cluster display. Additional safety tech on upper trim levels includes Dynamic Road Sign Display, High Beam Control, Overhead View Camera, park assist, travel assist, lane assist, and emergency assist.
The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is a nice-looking SUV, especially with the optional R-Line exterior update options, but it’s lagging behind in comparison to what Hyundai is able to offer. The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe with all of its new updates just further sets the bar on what you should expect in a mid-size SUV. It has a better interior, better technology, a nicer ride, plenty of standard safety features, and it all comes in at a much better price. Even climbing to the all-new luxury Calligraphy trim with a starting price of $40,750 is a huge bargain, as that comes in at a cheaper price than almost half of all of the Atlas Cross Sports trims. If you need the towing power, the VW Atlas Cross Sport with the V6 is the winner there, but that’s basically its only benefit when comparing to the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.