Comparison: 2019 Subaru Ascent vs Honda Pilot vs Toyota Highlander

We had a good long-look at the 2019 Subaru Ascent during the LA Auto Show and dug deep with 15 fast facts about the new three-row family SUV. It certainly looked competitive in person and today we have an even better idea of what it delivers on paper, as full pricing was announced today, joining a full set of specifications.

To the surprise of no one, we’ve fired up the old spreadsheet comparison generator to see how the all-new 2019 Ascent compares to the 2018 Honda Pilot and 2018 Toyota Highlander. Besides being two of last year’s best-selling three-row SUVs, the Pilot and Highlander are also the closest in general concept to the new Ascent. They should also cater to similar buyers. There are of course numerous other worthy contenders, including the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9 and the best-selling Ford Explorer, so if you want to see their specs, check out the Autoblog compare tool.

Performance and Fuel Economy

The Subaru, as is so often the case, is the oddball. It has a 2.4-liter turbocharged horizontally opposed four-cylinder (aka boxer-4) that produces a comparatively modest horsepower rating, but a greater amount of torque. That’s typical for turbocharged engines (for further comparison, the Mazda CX-9’s turbo-4 produces 227 hp on 87 octane and 310 lb-ft of torque). The Honda and Toyota, meanwhile, go about it the old-fashioned way, with naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engines. As you can see, the Highlander has a clear advantage in the power department over both the Ascent and Pilot. The Honda weighs less, though, so their acceleration should be comparable. It’s hard to imagine the Subaru being anything other than the slowest in a straight line.

Fuel economy, however, goes to the Ascent. Despite coming standard with all-wheel drive, it gets 23 mpg combined – matching most front-wheel-drive Highlander trims and the 9-speed front-wheel-drive Pilot Touring and Elite trims. Other drivetrain variations aren’t much different at 21 or 22 mpg combined.

As previously mentioned, the Ascent comes standard with all-wheel drive, whereas you’ll have to pay extra for it in the Pilot and Highlander. The three also have a rogue’s gallery of transmissions: the Ascent has a CVT, the Highlander an eight-speed automatic, and the Pilot features a solid six-speed automatic on lower trims and a widely panned nine-speed automatic on the top two trims.

Passenger and Cargo Space

This is quite literally the big one when it comes to family friendly SUVs, especially this group that caters to more functionality-minded buyers. In short, the new Ascent is biggest on the outside and biggest on the inside. It’s still closer to the Honda and Toyota than the jumbo Chevy Traverse, but it does have functional advantages.

Most of that advantage can be seen in cargo space. As we suspected at the LA Auto Show, Subaru’s initial cargo space estimates were incorrect (it said the Ascent had less space than the Outback). In reality, it tops the Pilot and Highlander with its 86.5 cubic feet of maximum space and 47.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row. It’s also the best behind the raised third row where every extra cubic foot could mean an extra bag not left behind, sitting on someone’s lap or strapped to the roof.

The difference is closer in terms of passenger space, with the Ascent largely similar to the spacious Pilot. In particular, note third-row legroom. To put those legroom figures into perspective, a tall adult can fit in the Ascent and Pilot’s aft-most seat whereas the Highlander’s is a tight squeeze.

How they compare in pictures

2019 Subaru Ascent


These three family crossovers obviously have differences, but as you can see, they’re awfully similar. If you’re wondering what Subaru benchmarked while designing the Ascent, I think you have your answer. Given these similarities and with competitive pricing that undercuts these key rivals, the 2019 Subaru Ascent certainly looks like it’s a must-drive for those looking for a three-row family SUV.

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