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2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport vs. 2021 Nissan Murano: Which Is Better?

The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is a new challenger to the 2021 Nissan Murano in the mid-size, two-row SUV field. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is derived from the three-row Atlas.
  • The Nissan Murano is in its third generation.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Base Price: $32,050 / Read our 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Review

What we like: Roomy interior; lots of luggage space; high-tech cabin; robust towing capacity

What we would change: Fuel economy is not so great; firm ride; expensive top trims

Overview: The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is carved from the larger three-row Atlas, but VW only snipped 5 inches of rear overhang and fitted a lower roofline with a more sloped backlight. Thus, the Atlas Cross Sport is among the biggest in its field of two-row mid-sizer SUVs. As a result, passenger space is especially generous with over 40 inches of rear-seat legroom, and luggage space is, too, both behind the rear seats and with the seatbacks folded. Cabin materials are somewhat wanting, however. Like its bigger brother, the Cross Sport offers a 253-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four or a 276-hp 3.6-liter V6, both paired with a well-mannered 8-speed automatic and a choice of FWD or AWD. Either engine is fairly thirsty, with the 2.0-liter averaging 22 mpg and the 3.6-liter managing just 20 mpg with FWD or 19 with AWD. Both deliver adequate acceleration, but the V6’s notable advantage is in towing, where it’s rated at 5,000 pounds. The Atlas rides firmly, but overly light steering makes it not so sporty to drive.

What’s new for 2021: Not a whole lot. The available adaptive cruise control now features lane-centering and is called Travel Assist. The infotainment system has been updated.

Features and technology: The 2021 Atlas Cross Sport in available in S, SE, SE with Technology, SE with Technology R-Line, SEL, SEL R-Line, SEL Premium, and SEL Premium R-Line. The R-Line variants get sporty-looking visual accents. All Cross Sports come standard with forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Lane keep assist is standard on the SEL and higher trims, which also get Travel Assist. While the base S uses a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the rest of the lineup has an 8-inch unit with a newly upgraded operating system. More impressive is the 10-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster that’s sharp-looking and highly customizable. It’s standard on SEL and higher variants. Wireless smartphone charging is standard on all but the base car.

What does the future hold: The Atlas Cross Sport may be due to a mid-cycle update next year. See 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport models for sale near you 

2021 Nissan Murano

Base Price: $33,605 / Read our 2021 Nissan Murano Review

What we like: Ritzy interior; powerful standard V6; standard active-safety features

What we would change: CVT dulls accelerator response; not much off-road capability; no choice of powertrains

Overview: The Nissan Murano makes its case on comfort and style in a field now crowded with competitors. The Murano’s expressive exterior design might not appeal to everyone, but it stands out against boxier rivals. The interior, particularly in upper trims, can get fairly luxe with available quilted leather, and all Muranos have soft, cushy front seats. Room for five is good and ingress/egress is easy. Cargo space is only moderate, however. The Murano’s chassis delivers a cushy ride (no sporting version is offered) and limited off-road capability. The standard, and only, engine is a stout 260-hp V6. It’s paired with a CVT transmission, which unfortunately dulls accelerator response, although this is less noticeable when driving gently. Fuel economy is good for an engine of this size, at 23 mpg combined for either the front-wheel-drive or AWD version.

What’s new for 2021: The Murano ups its safety game this year, as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear auto-braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams are now standard on all trims. A new Special Edition package replaces the previous SV Premium package and includes a panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree-view monitor, heated front seats, 20-inch wheels, and synthetic leather upholstery.

Features and technology: The 2021 Nissan Murano is offered in S, SV, SL, and Platinum trims. All versions get an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation is included on the SL and Platinum. Adaptive cruise control and an auto-dimming mirror arrive with the SV trim, while the SL also adds a hands-free power liftgate and Homelink. A 360-degree-view monitor and parking sensors are standard on the top two trims and optional on the SV. Some competitors have larger infotainment screens, and the Murano is also missing wireless smartphone charging and wireless smartphone mirroring, which have begun appearing elsewhere.

What does the future hold: The Murano has been around for a while, so the time for a redesign is likely drawing near. See 2021 Nissan Murano models for sale near you

Atlas Cross Sport vs. Murano: Strengths comparison

Atlas Cross Sport Benefits: Roomier interior; greater luggage capacity; longer warranty; available digital instrument cluster

Nissan Murano Benefits: Luxe interior; comfy seats; smooth ride; stylish exterior

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport vs. 2021 Nissan Murano: Which is better?

The Nissan Murano is more highly styled and can be more luxurious, but the Atlas Cross Sport has more practical virtues on its side, including a more spacious cabin, the ability to tow more, and a longer warranty. The Murano, though, balances the ledger with its standard V6, better mileage, and more standard active-safety features, making these two fairly evenly matched. See 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport models for sale or See 2021 Nissan Murano models for sale

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2021 Nissan Murano
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.0-liter I-4 turbo 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower 235 hp  at 4,500 rpm 260 hp  at 6,000 rpm
Torque 258 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm 240 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic CVT
Fuel Economy 22 mpg (21 city/24 highway) 23 mpg (20 city/28 highway)
Also Available 3.6L V6; AWD AWD
Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 117.3 inches 111.2 inches
Overall Length 195.5 inches 192.8 inches
Width 78.4 inches 75.4 inches
Height 67.8 inches 67.8 inches
Turning Diameter 40.5 feet 38.7 feet
Headroom, Front 39.4 inches 39.9 inches
Headroom, Rear 37.8 inches 39.8 inches
Legroom, Front 41.6 inches 40.5 inches
Legroom, Rear 40.4 inches 38.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 61.5 inches 59.5 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 60.6 inches 58.9 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 112 cubic feet 108.1 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 40.3/77.8 cubic feet 32.1/67.0 cubic feet

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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