The Honda Pilot is a segment veteran that’s built a fine, well-earned reputation for itself over the years. Spacious, reliable, practical and not too greedy at the pump, it dominates the midsize SUV category.
Subaru is back in the game in this segment after an earlier failure a few years ago. The new Ascent looks like a station wagon, a family vehicle for a family of Sumo wrestlers. It looks at first glance like a Forester that’s been injected with growth hormones. Will this second attempt in the segment be the right one?
Subaru, as mentioned, miffed on its first attempt at a midsize people-mover. The Tribeca presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 2003 left many automotive experts puzzled. The integration of the Subaru grille that looked on the Tribeca like a toilet seat? That just didn’t work at all. That grille was in fact subjected to a number of tests and was shown to have a bunch of faults, and Subaru finally withdrew the model for good in 2014.
Five years later, Subaru returns with the Ascent, which at first glance looks like a big five-meter-long Forester. Built on the company's most recent global platform at the Subaru plant in Lafayette, Indiana plant, the Ascent is infused with the brand's core values, for instance symmetrical full-time AWD, hill descent control and the flat H engine, so dear to the company.
Read our Review of the 2019 Subaru Ascent
A little more technology
To introduce its new model on even terms with the competition, Subaru includes in the Ascent the usual features such as an intelligent backup camera, front camera, standard tri-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 20-inch wheels (optional), integrated rear-door sunshade, third-row USB ports, panoramic sunroof, driver's seat extension and ventilated seats.
The base model starts with an eight-passenger configuration, but buyers can opt for a seven-passenger configuration with second-row captain's seats, available in Touring and Limited edition ($ 500), or standard in the higher range.
Keep it simple, said Subaru. And so it’s going with a single 2.4L, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. This unit offers the not-to-be-underestimated advantage of running on regular gasoline – very welcome as gas prices continue to climb week in week out.
The engine is paired with a Lineartronic CVT that can be driven in 8-speed manual simulation with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. There’s one thing, however, that to me is very curious. Subaru’s desire to save a few dollars and be able to make the base version more affordable means that the entry-level Ascent’s towing capacity is greatly reduced. The Convenience model can tow only 908 kg, while the other versions can pull 2,270 kg; it’s an important detail to know when choosing which version you want.
At the wheel, we were delighted by the comfort and quietness of the ride. Road handling is one of the vehicle’s finer advantages thanks the effectiveness of the permanent all-wheel drive, still and evermore one of the great qualities of Subaru cars. However, the steering is much too light to be pleasant and the suspension is too soft, even if road grip is solid. Our week ended with an average of 11.2L/100 km driving the Touring version of the Ascent.
The most recent generation of Pilot dates back to 2016. Honda, not generally a company in any hurry to change the physical aspects of its vehicles, isn’t worried about going three years or more without changing a model, in contrast with many other manufacturers that get nervous when a model hits its second year on the market.
For 2019, the Pilot has contented itself with upgrading the front end in the style of an Accord sedan with LED beams. The product offering includes the same LX, EX, EX-L and EX-L Navi versions, culminating in AWD Touring.
Read our Review of the 2019 Honda Pilot
Generous space and equipment
In all of those versions, buyers get heated front seats, remote starter, tri-zone climate control, audio system with 8-inch screen and USB port, multi-angle backup camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, proximity key with push-button start, remote starter, auto headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors and defroster.
Also included are autonomous emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning, all of which are part of the Honda Sensing Active Safety feature line.
By upgrading models, you add power seats, sunroof, larger screen in EX-L models and more with leather seats, second-row captain seats in the Touring version and more electronic driving aids.
Large enough and practical to be considered a real alternative to the minivan, the Pilot is also quiet, comfortable and less greedy at the pump, plus it can tow up to 2,270 kg.
All models use a 3.5L V6 engine that makes 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque in combination with a 6-speed automatic in most versions (the exception is the Touring, which gets a 9-speed unit). All-wheel drive is standard on all versions.
Advantage Subaru Ascent
Subaru is known for the efficiency of its four-wheel drive system and the drive, which is closer to that of a big car than a truck, leads us to give the Ascent the nod for road handling. There are also USB ports for each of the three rows of seats and no fewer than 19 cup-holders. (Be warned, you may be making pit stops more often). Finally, the base price is more attractive than the Pilot’s.
Advantage Honda Pilot
The Pilot is rightly lauded for its flawless reliability, very generous interior space and the best value in terms of equipment for the price.
The Ascent and Pilot actually sit even on a lot of points. Their overall dimensions are about the same, and they’re equipped with standard seating for eight people but offer seven-seat versions with second-row captain's chairs. The prices of the two vehicles with equal equipment are quite close, the loading capacity is similar and fuel consumption is more or less the same as well.
Because of its proven reliability, its high resale value and its more-generous cabin space, the logical choice is the Pilot, which in our view has yet to come across a competitor good enough to knock it off its perch in the segment.
2019 Subaru Ascent
Comfortable and quiet
Well adapted CVT box
We like less
Small 3rd row seats
Light steering wheel
Convenience version not relevant
2019 Honda Pilot
Generous interior space
As comfortable as your living room recliner
We like less
9 speed box is erratic at times
|...||2019 Honda Pilot||2019 Subaru Ascent|
|Transmission||6-speed auto, 9-speed auto (Touring)||CVT|
|Fuel consumption (city)||13.0L/100 km (12.4 - 9-spd)||11.6L/100 km|
|Fuel consumption (highway)||9.3L/100 km||9.0L/100 km|
|Fuel tank||73.8 litres||73.0 litres|
|Output||280 hp||260 hp|
|Torque||262 lb-ft||277 lb-ft|
|Cylinders||6 cylinders||4 cylinders|
|Cargo capacity||524 l, 1583 l, 3092 l||504 l, 1331 l, 2094 l|
|Towing capacity||2270 kg||2270 kg (908 kg - Convenience)|
|Length||4941 mm||4998 mm|
|Width||1846 mm||1946 mm|
|Height||2029 mm||1819 mm|
|Wheelbase||2820 mm||2890 mm|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Prices||$41,290 to $54,190||$35,995 to $49,995|