A niche model in a not-so-niche class. Crossovers are the new family vehicle, and it's been that way for many years. So, to call any crossover a "niche" model may seem like an oxymoron. Well, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is just that, as its upright nose, forward-leaning backside, and two-row seating mean it fits a narrow niche in the large SUV segment.

Despite being a niche model in a not-so-niche class, the Atlas Cross Sport has endearing qualities, like a huge rear seat, ample cargo space, and a long list of desirable options.

Business in the front, party in the rear. The VW Atlas Cross Sport features the same design as the Atlas up front and from the doors downs, but the roofline gives it a more youthful look with its swoopier design and forward-leaning rear glass. This look is sure to attract the younger crowd, but not all shoppers will appreciate it.

The Atlas Cross Sport is also shorter than most large SUVs, making it easier to manage on the road and park in smaller garages. Despite its sawed-off proportions, it still offers a whopping 40.3 cubic feet of cargo behind the second-row seats. So, for buyers who want large crossover cargo space but don't need the third row, the Atlas Cross Sport is a solid option.

While its exterior is a lesson in style, its cabin isn't. The Atlas Cross Sport's interior is notably timid and lacks any unique styling. Some buyers may appreciate its simplicity, but it borders on boring.

The interior makes up for its drab design with a massive second-row seat that offers 40.4 inches of leg room – 0.8 inches more than the Honda Passport.

Solid engine options, but not quick or efficient. The Atlas Cross Sport has a pair of powertrain options: a 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a 276-hp 3.6-liter V6. While these are adequate for the Atlas Cross Sport's size, there are plenty of competitors with better performance, namely the 400-hp Ford Explorer and the 360- to 707-hp Jeep Cherokee.

If it’s not about performance, then the Atlas Cross Sport must be efficient, right? Wrong again. At just an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon combined with the four-cylinder and 19 mpg combined with the V6, it falls well behind the 23-mpg-combined Honda Pilot and Kia Telluride, and the 28-mpg-combined Explorer Hybrid.

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Great available features, but base trim is lacking. The VW Atlas Cross Sport has a slew of optional features, including an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, tri-zone automatic climate control, a premium Fender audio system, remote ignition, a panoramic sunroof, and a 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster. This rivals nearly anything in the class.

Unfortunately, those are all options. The most advanced equipment in the base S trim is its tiny 6.5-inch touchscreen that looks lost amid the massive, featureless instrument panel. Buyers seeking a larger base touchscreen can look to the Grand Cherokee's 7-inch unit, the Explorer's 8-inch screen, or the Chevrolet Traverse's 7-inch standard touchscreen.

At least the base infotainment system keeps up with the class with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That's more than we can say for the Pilot, which comes standard with a 5-inch non-touch display and no smartphone integration.

Final thoughts. The 2021 VW Atlas Cross Sport is a niche crossover that’s just right for a family with five or fewer members but still needs gobs of cargo room. It's also an excellent option for buyers who can't stand the typical upright crossover's vanilla looks, but doesn’t want anything too dramatic.

The Atlas Cross Sport requires some compromise, though. First, it lacks big time in range-topping power and speed. Buyers who crave this will want to check out the Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Durango, or Ford Explorer. And despite its limited power, the Atlas Cross Sport still struggles to match the Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride, and Explorer in fuel economy.

Also, buyers who want a stylish cabin won't find this in the Atlas Cross Sport. It's simple and borders on uninspired, especially compared to its sharp exterior.

Check prices for the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport »