To dig deeper into how it compares to other three-row family crossovers, we've fired up the old Autoblog Comparo Generator 3000 (TM) to see how the all-new 2019 Ascent compares to the 2018 Honda Pilot, 2018 Toyota Highlander and 2018 Mazda CX-9. 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, while the CX-9 also offers a comparable turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain (it's also one of our favorites in the segment).
There are of course numerous other worthy contenders, including the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Volkswagen Atlas, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Santa Fe and the best-selling Ford Explorer, so if you want to see their specs, check out the Autoblog compare tool.
Performance and Fuel EconomyThe Subaru, as is so often the case, is the oddball. It has a 2.4-liter turbocharged horizontally opposed four-cylinder (aka a flat-4 or a boxer-4) that produces a comparatively modest horsepower rating, but a greater amount of torque. That's typical for turbocharged engines such as Mazda CX-9's turbo inline-4 that produces 227 hp on 87 octane and 310 lb-ft of torque (the VW Atlas also offers a base turbo-4). 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 the others. The Honda weighs less, though, so their acceleration should be comparable. The Subaru actually accelerates on par with its V6-powered competitors, probably due in part to its continuously variable transmission.
The fuel economy trophy 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. And yes, the CX-9 is technically tops, but it's best numbers come with front-wheel drive. With all-wheel drive, it's lower than the Subaru, though admittedly, just barely.
And speaking of all-wheel drive, it's standard on the Ascent, whereas you'll have to pay extra for it in the others. The four also have a rogue's gallery of transmissions: the Ascent has a CVT, the CX-9 a six-speed automatic, the Highlander an eight-speed automatic, while the Pilot features a well-sorted six-speed automatic on lower trims and a widely panned nine-speed automatic on the top two trims.
Passenger and Cargo SpaceThis 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. The CX-9 is far behind. The Subaru is 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. The CX-9 is somewhere in the middle, but despite what the numbers say, its more radically sloped roof line can make things a bit claustrophobic in the third row.
How they compare in pictures
2019 Subaru Ascent
2018 Honda Pilot
2018 Toyota Highlander
2018 Mazda CX-9
ConclusionsThese four 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, we 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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