The new Subaru Ascent takes on the tried and true Honda Pilot in a battle of practical SUVs.
The SUV segment is more popular than any other today. It’s so sought after that automakers have begun filling up every nook and cranny of it with niche crossovers of different flavors. Two of the SUVs that make the entire segment so popular are the Honda Pilot and it’s more recently created rival the Subaru Ascent.
This pair for SUVs might not look too similar when parked next to one another but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that they’re pushing the bar higher. Today, we’re going to break down the matchup to find out which is best for you and your family. We’ll compare specs, driving performance, interior comfort, features, and trims, and then we’ll pick a winner.
The 2022 Subaru Ascent is priced starting just a hair below $40,000 and its most expensive trim starts at around $47,000. Across that pricing spectrum are four trim levels that all share the same drivetrain. It consists of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It sends that power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission. The EPA estimates that the Ascent will get 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. When properly equipped, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds. As a whole, this is a pretty complete package.
Honda isn’t slacking though. The 2022 Pilot can also tow 5,000 pounds thanks to a 280 horsepower V6 that develops 262 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive is optional but most Pilots will feature front-wheel drive only. Buyers can select a six-speed or nine-speed automatic transmission. The EPA says that the Pilot will get about 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. Honda prices the base trim level at $39,375 and the top-of-the-range Black Edition at $53,165. Warranty coverage for each SUV is identical and their safety scores are just about the same as well.
Subaru is one of the best in the business when it comes to driving engagement. The Ascent features excellent steering, good pedal feedback, and confidence-inspiring behavior on the road. It might not have as much horsepower as the Honda but it has more torque and it weighs less.
We were totally let down by the continuously variable transmission. Not only is it somewhat buzzy and loud, but it’s just numb compared to every other aspect of the driving experience. Sure, you can get an Ascent with paddles but that doesn’t amp up the enjoyment in our eyes. Thankfully, it’s unobtrusive under most driving circumstances, and let’s face it, that’s how the Ascent is meant to be driven.
The Honda Pilot is a different animal altogether. Firstly, it’s easy to feel its additional weight on the road. It makes for a very quiet and smooth ride too. This is the kind of car that nobody will ever complain about being a passenger in. The Ascent isn’t loud or jittery but it’s also not as composed. We also really enjoy both automatic transmissions available in the Pilot.
If we had to pick one transmission for the Pilot, it would be the nine-speed because it’s a bit smoother and offers a little more flexibility. Our only issue with the Pilot is that at higher speeds the steering is too light and can feel uncomfortable considering the size and heft of this SUV. The Ascent steers and changes direction better but overall the Honda is slightly better to drive.
Subaru has imbued the Ascent with a near-premium level interior treatment. The surfaces across the dash, the seats, and the center console feel fantastic. They’re only met in quality by the very top-end Pilot trims which cost thousands more. The seating is comfortable and supportive without being overly stiff.
The third row is tighter than in the Pilot or other 3-row SUVs like the Kia Telluride. Still, we love the flexibility of the cabin space overall. Storage space is a very small victory for the Ascent though as it has more cubic feet behind the third row and isn’t bound by some of the limitations placed on the Pilot.
Buyers who choose the seven-seat configuration in the Pilot will be stuck with an immovable center console between those seats. That can make storage a little trickier but it’s not a deal-breaker. When people are in those second-row seats they’ll be glad to have the additional storage and features that come along with the console.
In addition, the Pilots front seats offer similar levels of comfort to the Ascent and what feels like more robust controls and switches than in the Subaru. Finally, if you’re a person who prioritizes space near the top of your list, the Pilot is sure to impress. All three rows are spacious and comfortable.
The base Subaru Ascent is called exactly that, Base, and it comes with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, tri-zone climate control, a 6.5-inch infotainment system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, six speakers, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and seating for eight people.
Above that is the Premium trim which adds a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, a larger 8-inch infotainment system, blind-spot monitoring, upgraded upholstery, and a 5,000-pound towing capacity. Buyers can also select captain’s chairs for the second row if they please. An Onyx Edition package builds onto the Premium trim with black 20-inch wheels, LED fog lights, faux leather upholstery, and black exterior trim.
The Limited trim adds unique 20-inch wheels, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, driver’s seat memory settings, folding mirrors, and a power-adjustable passenger seat.
The top trim is the Touring with its ambient interior lighting, ventilated front seats, integrated navigation, panoramic sunroof, 180-degree forward parking camera system, and a 14-speaker premium audio system.
The Honda Pilot starts with the EX-L which gets 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, tri-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, seven speakers, satellite radio, four USB ports, a sunroof, heated mirrors, a power liftgate, and remote engine start. Lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision mitigation are all standard.
The SE or Special Edition adds roof rails, a wireless charging pad, a hands-free liftgate, 20-inch wheels, and black exterior trim.
The Touring tacks on sound-reducing windows, heated second-row seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, a cabin intercom system, 10 speakers, integrated navigation, ambient interior lighting, parking sensors, and a 115-volt household-style outlet.
The Elite trim includes automatic wipers, a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, second-row captain’s chairs, and power-folding side mirrors.
At the top of the pile is the Black Edition with its black interior and exterior accents but no content changes from the Elite trim.
While there’s a lot to love about each of these vehicles we think we’d rather live with the Honda Pilot. It’s just a tick better to drive, it’s more spacious, it’s available with AWD, it has more technology, more features, and a wider range of trims to choose from. Still, don’t get us wrong, we don’t think that either SUV is a bad choice.