The representation of a neutral atmospheric flow over roughness elements simulating a vegetation canopy is compared between two large-eddy simulation models, wind-tunnel data and recently updated empirical flux-gradient relationships. Special attention is devoted to the dynamics in the roughness sublayer above the canopy layer, where turbulence is most intense. By demonstrating that the flow properties are consistent across these different approaches, confidence in the individual independent representations is bolstered. Systematic sensitivity analyses with the Dutch Atmospheric Large-Eddy Simulation model show that the transition in the one-sided plant-area density from the canopy layer to unobstructed air potentially alters the flow in the canopy and roughness sublayer. Anomalously induced fluctuations can be fully suppressed by spreading the transition over four steps. Finer vertical resolutions only serve to reduce the magnitude of these fluctuations, but do not prevent them. To capture the general dynamics of the flow, a resolution of 10 % of the canopy height is found to suffice, while a finer resolution still improves the representation of the turbulent kinetic energy. Finally, quadrant analyses indicate that momentum transport is dominated by the mean velocity components within each quadrant. Consequently, a mass-flux approach can be applied to represent the momentum flux.