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The Atlas Cross Sport is the five-seat, sportback version of the larger Volkswagen Atlas crossover sport utility. Introduced last year, the Atlas Cross Sport aims for an audience that wants a large, spacious crossover-SUV, but don’t really need the third row of seating. The Cross Sport is a bit nimbler in handling than its slightly larger sibling and for the 2021 model year, it gains VW’s new infotainment system and some driver’s aids.

The 2021 VW Atlas Cross Sport focuses on interior space and comfort, both of which it excels in. Compared to most rivals, the Atlas Cross Sport has more interior usefulness and roominess. It’s not off-road-centric like some rivals, but it does offer excellent on-road comfort and driving appeal.

There are no fewer than eight trim levels for the 2021 Atlas Cross Sport, which may be a bit much for some buyers to dig through to find a match. The top-end SEL Premium and SEL Premium R-Line packages are not quite as luxurious as their prices would suggest, so we think most buyers will be happier in the mid-level SE with Technology and SEL packages instead. The Atlas Cross Sport comes pretty well-accoutered from the get-go, with the base model featuring LED headlamps, heated side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and VW’s Car-Net remote services. The 6.5-inch touchscreen and six-speaker audio are a little disappointing, though. Forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitoring are also standard in the Atlas Cross Sport.

Going to the SE with Technology gets simulated leather upholstery, wireless connectivity for App-Connect (which includes CarPlay/Auto), more USB ports, a wireless charging pad, voice-activated infotainment controls, dual-zone climate, heated front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, remote start, adaptive cruise control, a household power outlet, a power liftgate, and an option for the V6 engine upgrade and towing. The SEL has all of that plus adaptive front lighting, a panoramic sunroof, ambient interior lighting, a digital instrument cluster, integrated navigation, and several advanced safety features like lane-keeping assistance and road sign display.

The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that outputs 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This is just about adequate for the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. But only just. The upgrade engine is a 3.6-liter V6 that outputs 276 HP and 266 lb-ft. The longer, smoother power curve of the V6 is much more well-suited to the Atlas Cross Sport’s size than is the turbo four. Both engines mate with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.

The interior of the 2021 Atlas Cross Sport is spartan, as is true of most Volkswagen vehicles, but has a bit of flair in its plainness. Technology is generally the “bling point” for any VW interior and it’s definitely what makes the Atlas Cross Sport most appealing. Seating comfort is very good, even in the middle of the second row, and everyday driving is pleasant in the Atlas Cross Sport.

Maneuverability is surprisingly good for such a bulky SUV and comes mostly thanks to the responsive steering and squared edges of the Atlas Cross Sport that allow intuitive movement. Visibility for the driver is good in this VW.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the big 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. It’s stylish, much sportier in look and feel than most square-bodied SUVs, and practical in both comfort and design. Pricing for the 2021 VW Atlas Cross Sport starts at $30,855 with our recommended SE with Technology starting at $36,245 or $47,645 with the V6 upgrade. The SEL begins at $41,725.

This review originally appeared on CarNewsCafe.com.

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The Mazda CX-5 entered its second generation in 2017 and for 2021, that generation gets some updates to include better infotainment and an option for a smartphone app for remote monitoring. The 2021 CX-5 still retains the excellent interior and fun drive quality of its predecessors, though, and is one of the more upscale-feeling SUVs in the small crossover market.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is also one of the best-looking rides in its class. This is the sport sedan ride in crossover-SUV format its competitors wish they could be.

There are seven trim levels for the CX-5, each of which builds on the last to add more and more convenience and comfort. There are also two engines, either of which is a good match for the CX-5, but we’d go with the turbocharged option if  fun factor is also something you want. Every 2021 CX-5 comes with forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. The CX-5 gets excellent crash test ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Powering the CX-5 is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that outputs 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. A turbocharged version of that engine is available on some models (usually named Turbo at the end), boosting power to 227/250 horsepower and 310/320 lb-ft of torque, depending on your gasoline’s octane grade.

For our money, we’d recommend either the Carbon Edition Turbo or the Grand Touring Reserve models for the price vs accoutrements value. Both have the turbocharged four as well. The Carbon Edition Turbo includes a 10-speaker Bose audio system, leather upholstery, a power liftgate, and 19-inch black-painted aluminum wheels. The Grand Touring Reserve comes with the 19-inch wheels and other stuff from the Carbon Edition, but also adds adaptive headlamps, heated mirrors, paddle shifters, a larger driver information display, power-folding mirrors, a head-up display for the driver, heated steering, heated rear seating (outboard), and ventilated front seats.

Pricing for the 2021 Mazda CX-5 starts at $25,370 for the base model, $30,760 for the Carbon Edition Turbo, and $35,385 for the Grand Touring Reserve.

The 2021 CX-5 is very nice to look at and its interior is next level comfortable. We love the front seating and the outboard rear seats are very well done. The middle position is still only for occasional use, but all three back seat positions have overhead tethers for child safety seat installation and the outboard positions have LATCH anchors that will require a little pushing to get the seat to connect. Cargo space is a little cramped in the CX-5 compared to some of its rivals at only 30.9 cubic feet, but it will accommodate most needs. With the rear seats folded (mostly) flat, the CX-5’s cargo space expands to 59.6 cubic feet.

Infotainment in the CX-5 gets a big upgrade this year, with a bigger 10.25-inch touchscreen and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay now standard. This display has a faster response time and is easier to use than its predcessor, making it a big step up for technology in this Mazda.

In every way, the 2021 Mazda CX-5 hits the mark for just about everything in the small crossover-SUV segment. This is a top choice for shoppers who want an engaging, comfortable drive on the everyday.

Fusion TIFF File
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The Lexus LX is, at this point, quite aged, having been introduced in 2008. This year, however, the LX 570 gets a bit of a facelift, some added technology, and a new LX Inspiration limited edition model.

The LX 570 is based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, which explains its extreme off-road capabilities and strong engineering. This SUV is the flagship of the Lexus lineup and as such it carries most of the hallmarks that make the brand what it is. From the huge hourglass grille to the plush interior, the LX has it all. And yes, it also has that ridiculously clunky touchpad interface for the infotainment. But this year, the 2021 LX 570 gets Amazon Alexa compatibility too. To make up for not having Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

There are both two- and three-row versions of the 2021 Lexus LX 570. The aptly-named Two-Row model has seating for five and all of the basic equipment expected on the LX 570 to include full-time four-wheel drive, leather upholstery, an adaptive suspension, wood trim, ambient interior lighting, four-zone climate control, a 12.3-inch infotainment screen, and navigation. The Three-Row model adds power-folding third row seating to that list, but is otherwise the same. It’s worth noting that the third row impedes on the cargo space for the LX 570 quite a bit as the third row seats fold up and to the side rather than down into the floor.

Several options packages can be added to both the Two-Row and Three-Row models to include things like premium leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seating (first and second rows), larger wheels, and a black headliner. The LX 570 Inspiration Series model is new this year and will be produced in limited numbers, adding blacked out exterior trim and wheels, black premium leather inside with red accenting, and special floor and cargo mats to the Three-Row model.

Powering the beefy 2021 LX 570 is a 5.7-liter V8 that produces 383 horsepower to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is full-time and includes low gearing. Fuel economy is an agonizing 16 mpg on the highway and 12 mpg around town.

On the road, the LX is surprisingly composed and well-mannered, thanks in no small part to that adaptive suspension. It’s bulky and tall, of course, and that cannot be avoided without losing the legendary off-road prowess it’s built upon, but the 2021 Lexus LX 570 is relatively quiet and smooth in highway driving. The engine produces a smooth, even power output throughout the band and a quick downshift via a push on the throttle will create a satisfying growl as the big eight produces its torque for speed.

Off the road, there are few SUVs capable of giving the LX a run for its money. Most, especially in the luxury market, don’t have the kind of muscle, suspension clearance, and strong 4WD capability that the LX 570 has. It’s that good, even without serious off-road tires.

All in all, the 2021 LX 570 is dated and not very fuel efficient, but it’s a beautiful Lexus that provides a luxurious interior experience and that carries series off-road credibility.

This review originally appeared on CarNewsCafe.com.

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A few changes in the 2021 model year for the Volkswagen Tiguan keep it updated for today’s market. The Tiguan saw a full remodel in 2018, improving its interior space, cargo room, and overall demeanor. This year, it gets a larger infotainment screen option and some content updates at lower trim levels. All while keeping its third row and turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

The 2021 Tiguan is nice to look at, with simple, non-aggressive lines and bodywork. This no-nonsense exterior design carries to the interior, VW style, with an austerity that, while often praised in luxury vehicles, is a bit plain for the commoners in the Tiguan’s market. It’s a love or hate thing and my household is split on whether they fall to one side or the other of that fence. But at least there are colors other than red or blue on that ballot.

What is most liked about the VW Tiguan, though, is its road appeal. It’s neither sporty nor a “driver’s car” by any means, but it’s engaging to drive nonetheless. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine displaces 2.0 liters and produces a relatively modest 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That latter number is a good one, though, coming early in the RPM range to give the Tiguan a punchier feel than might be expected. Nothing too pushy, but definitely tingly at least. An eight-speed automatic transmission translates all of that power to the wheels. The Tiguan is front-wheel drive by default and all-wheel drive as an option.

The aforementioned third row of seating is also an interesting touch. Most of the smaller crossover-SUVs on the market have dropped the third row as it is usually cramped and largely useless in a vehicle this size. Volkswagen has figured out how to make it usable, however, even if just for kids. The third row is standard in FWD models and optional in AWD ones. We’d opt for it, even if it’s only rarely used, as it does little to impede on overall cargo capacity and a lot to add versatility to the Tiguan.

There are five trim levels for the 2021 VW Tiguan, starting with the baseline S and its rather impressive list of standard features. LED running and tail lamps, heated side mirrors, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired) and a six-speaker sound system, plus 17-inch alloy wheels and a towing kit. All standard. Not to mention forward collision warning and mitigation (braking) and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts. And it only goes up from there.

The SE trim is our favorite in terms of value, with a price tag just slightly above the base model and with a lot of added stuff like the new 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment, wireless Auto and CarPlay, a wireless smart phone charger, more USB ports, simulated leather upholstery, dual-zone climate, heated front seating, and adaptive cruise control. All happy, real-world-useful, daily use items. Those looking for a little more bling can take the SE and add the R-Line Black edition option with 20-inch wheels, blacked out exterior decals, and more.

From there, it’s the SEL and SEL Premium R-Line trims, which add even more stuff and more price to the tag. Still, if near luxury with a fairly austere VW interior is your thing, those packages are there for the taking.

Overall, the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan is a well-sized, nice-driving, smart SUV. There’s a lot to like about it and it remains competitive with rivals in the fierce small crossover market.

This review originally appeared on CarNewsCafe.com.

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The previous generation Toyota Venza, a wagon-like crossover that was not exactly well received, was discontinued in 2015. But for the car buying public, six years is long enough to forget the past and see a new model with fresh eyes. Or so Toyota hopes. The 2021 Venza has some similarities with its previous-gen sibling, but it improves on many of the things that the older model fell short with. 

For starters, the 2021 Toyota Venza comes standard as a hybrid and with all-wheel drive. This means it’s an efficient all-weather option. Compared to the previous version, the new Venza is also more SUV-like and less wagon-ish, though it does still clearly aim for the Subaru Outback as its primary competitor. 

For that goal, the 2021 Venza also has a much-improved, premium-level interior matched by a quiet and comfort-oriented ride quality. This second-generation Venza is far ahead of its predecessor and all the better for it.

Styling 

Like the old Venza, this new model Venza sticks with wagon-esque styling. Unlike the old version, though, this one adds more SUV to the mix with a larger ground clearance, bigger wheel wells for more aggressive gaps between tire and fender, and a sturdier set of plastic lower guards. 

The front fascia of the 2021 Venza is sharply tapered vertically, with the upper portion showcasing the blue Toyota marque to indicate the hybrid powerplant behind. The lower portion is angled sharply back, deemphasizing the size of the intake vents for the car. Tall side slits give the appearance of brake coolers, housing LED fog lamps as a primary function. 

The bodywork along the sides of the 2021 Toyota Venza is simple, but well-done, with a thick beltline shelf thinning towards the rear to cap off the tail lamps. The rounded roofline adds to the sporty car-like design quality of the almost saloon-appearing overall silhouette of the Venza.

It’s a pleasing look overall, but does give the impression that the Venza has less interior room than it has and it’s not likely that Subaru shoppers will see this Toyota as design competitive with their beloved Outback.

Interior 

There are few mid-size SUV entries, outside of the premium segments, that can rival the 2021 Venza’s interior. Upscale materials, roomy seating, and smart appointments are all found inside the new Venza. The bright accents to bring bling to the interior are well-placed while the contrast stitching and easy-to-find controls are all nice touches. It’s no wonder the Venza has often been compared to a Lexus for its interior. It’s not a stretch to see that comparison.

Cargo room is the Venza’s weakest point, however. It offers only 28.7 cubic feet behind the second row and 54.9 with the second row folded. That’s far below most in this category and is more akin to the compact category below. 

For taller folks, we’d recommend foregoing the optional panoramic glass roof, as it impedes on interior space by a couple of inches. The interior of the Venza is otherwise accommodating to tall people in most seating positions.

Performance 

The 2021 Venza is not athletic, but it’s certainly not sluggish either. The hybrid powertrain consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors which combine to provide 219 horsepower. Because a portion of that is from electric motors, the starting pace of the Venza is better than that found in most Toyota vehicles. With all-wheel drive as standard, grip is also good, aiding that early acceleration’s appeal. 

When pressed, the Venza will not throw any heads back with G forces. The goal of the Venza’s powertrain is to deliver smooth power over a long curve, making it comfortable and predictable to drive. One has to focus almost entirely on the shifts to feel the transition from electric to engine power, clean as they are.

MPG is where it’s at with the Venza, though, the hybrid system delivering excellent numbers in most situations. The EPA rates the Venza at 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. At high altitude, we tested the Venza on the highway, under a judicious right foot, and returned close to 40 (39.7) MPG. So gaining the listed fuel economy is not difficult and should be easy for most.

Practicality 

The Venza offers all of the practicality of an all-weather crossover along with easy entry and exit thanks to its car-like design. It’s greatest miss is in cargo capacity, which is less than nearly all of its competitors. A high load height also impedes the cargo’s usefulness. The Venza otherwise checks all of the expected boxes of a mid-size crossover.

The most obvious high point for practicality in the 2021 Venza is in its hybrid powertrain. The combined engine and electric motors mean far less stops at the fuel pump without the sometimes complicated requirement of finding a plug. The Venza’s MPG ratings are much higher than most of its competitors.

Comfort 

The interior of the 2021 Toyota Venza is at the premium level. Even the base model has more upscale accouterments and materials than some entry-level luxury rides. Seating in the front is beyond well done while the back seats, at the outboard, are much better than average. The middle of the back seat is OK, but like most middle seats, it’s where whoever lost the rochambeau ends up.

Ride quality in the Venza is equally as good. The drivetrain is smooth, the road absorbs into the suspension well before entering the cabin, and the interior is quiet. 

Tech 

Technology in the new Venza is a new high point for Toyota. Standard features are plentiful and include a wireless device charger, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate, an 8-inch touchscreen interface, four USB ports, a WiFi hotspot, and more. The infotainment screen can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch touchscreen with navigation and a JBL audio system is also an option.

The new Toyota Entune infotainment interface is easy to use, though its capabilities don’t run very deep. The large icons and easy to access menus respond quickly and do well, however, and most will find the learning curve to be small. We note that the larger screen foregoes many of the physical hot buttons around the smaller screen, making it a little less easy to quickly access common items like radio tuning or apps. 

The connected services for the 2021 Toyota Venza are limited mainly to the safety systems on board and wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The standard WiFi hotspot is a plus, though, and connectivity there is usually steady. 

Active Safety 

Nearly every driver assist and safety system available from Toyota is standard in the 2021 Venza. A high-definition rear view camera matches the screen well and includes rear cross-traffic alerts. Blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, and traffic sign recognition are also standard features in the Venza. Most of these are part of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system. 

Additional features such as a head-up display, surround-view cameras, and added front and rear parking sensors for better sensitivity are also available in the Venza.

Value 

The value proposition for most Toyota vehicles is high and that’s definitely the case with the Venza. At a price tag between about $30,000 and $40,000 between each of the three trim levels, there’s a lot of variance for the budget minded despite the large amount of standard features the lower-end Venza includes. The high resale value Toyota vehicles (especially hybrids) have should also translate to the Venza, further upping its value.

Summing Up

Most buyers will find the 2021 Toyota Venza to be an excellent fit for small families or those who need a second family vehicle. Its MPG ratings are through the roof for the segment and aside from its smallish cargo space, the Venza has everything one could want in a mid-size crossover-SUV. The lower stance means easier access to roof racks for extended storage on long trips while interior comfort is equal to the large array of standard features to be found. 

On long road trips, the Venza proves steady and quiet for the driver and conversations or music are greatly enjoyed as a result. Though it lacks sportiness and fun factor, the Venza does deliver a luxurious experience without the lux price tag normally associated with that.

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