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2021 GMC Acadia vs. 2021 Subaru Ascent: Which Is Better?

Three-row, medium-sized SUVs are today’s family cars of choice. Two of the leading contenders are the 2021 GMC Acadia and the 2021 Subaru Ascent. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The GMC Acadia is related to the Chevrolet Traverse.
  • The Subaru Ascent is the brand’s first three-row entry since the Tribeca.

2021 GMC Acadia

2021 GMC Acadia AT4

Base Price: $30,995/ Read our 2021 GMC Acadia Review

What we like: Plenty of drivetrains to choose from; available AT4 off-road version

What we would change: Larger cargo area and more active safety features on lower trims

Overview: The GMC Acadia rides on a smaller version of the same platform that underpins the Chevrolet Traverse. Most variants seat six in a 2-2-2 configuration except for the base SL that gets a middle-row bench and the off-road-themed AT4 that skips the third row. Passenger space is adequate, but luggage space behind the third row is minimal at 12.8 cubic feet. With all the seats folded, you can eke out 79 cubic feet. Three different engines are offered: a 2.5-liter four, a 2.0-liter turbo-four, and a 3.6-liter V6. The 2.5-liter can be paired only with FWD and has little to recommend it beyond low price; with 193 horsepower, it tows just 1,000 pounds, and it’s less efficient than the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo. The 230-hp turbo four is offered only on the SLT and AWD SLE and gets the best mileage: 25 mpg (FWD) and 24 mpg (AWD). The V6 is standard on the AT4 and Denali. It delivers 310 hp and tows 4,000 pounds, at a loss of 3 mpg versus the 2.0 turbo. Adaptive dampers available on the Denali and SLT-3 smooth the ride and improve handling.

What’s new for 2021: A new Elevation trim package for the SLE and SLT brings a blackout look to the wheels, grille, roof rack, and other exterior elements. All Acadias get the wireless versions of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as standard.

Features and technology: The Acadia is offered in five varieties: SL, SLE, SLT, AT4, and Denali trims. The off-road-themed AT4 gets a sophisticated AWD system, hill-descent control, and all-terrain tires. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard. The SLT, AT4, and Denali additionally have forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic high-beams. Those items are optional on the SLE but are not available on the SL. Adaptive cruise control is part of the Technology Package along with a head-up display, a surround-view camera, and a Rear Camera Mirror. All trims get a user-friendly infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

What does the future hold: The Acadia is getting a bit long in the tooth and hasn’t been fully updated since 2017. It may get a redesign in the next few years. See 2021 GMC Acadia models for sale near you

2021 Subaru Ascent

2021 Subaru Ascent

Base Price: $33,345 / Read our 2021 Subaru Ascent Review

What we like: Great outward visibility, standard AWD, lots of driver aids included, IIHS Top Safety Pick+

What we would change: Make the accident-avoidance tech less annoying, and smooth out the throttle response.

Overview: The Subaru Ascent features many of the brand’s traditional elements, including standard AWD, boxer engines, good visibility, and strong value, in a larger form. Compared to the Outback, the Ascent is 5.5 inches longer in wheelbase and overall, allowing space for a standard third-row seat. In all three rows, the passenger room is good, and luggage space is, too, although the 17.6 cubic feet aft of the third row is merely average. Big windows provide a good view for the driver and keep passengers from feeling claustrophobic. The Ascent only gets one engine, a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer four that provides gutsy acceleration and good fuel economy. Sadly, it’s paired with a CVT, and accelerator response can be non-linear. The AWD system includes X-Mode with hill-descent control, which combines with an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance to let the Ascent wander far off-pavement.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, Subaru adds steering-responsive LED headlights with automatic high-beams to all trims. A standard rear-seat reminder function is also new.

Features and technology: The 2021 Subaru Ascent is offered in base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels. All models include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering. That’s a strong list, but their excessive bleating might tempt some drivers to switch them off. The base car also includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, four USB ports, roof rails, and a bench second-row seat. The Premium adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It also upgrades the infotainment system from a 6.5-inch touchscreen to an 8-inch unit. Second-row captain’s chairs can be had here, and further options include a panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, and navigation. The Limited’s niceties include leather, a heated steering wheel, heating for the front and rear seats, and a memory function for the power driver’s seat. The Touring exclusives include a rear camera mirror and a front-view camera, plus unique exterior trim.

What does the future hold: The Ascent is only in its third model year, but we could see Subaru porting over the extra-large 11.6-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen from the Legacy/Outback at some point. See 2021 Subaru Ascent models for sale near you

Acadia vs. Ascent: Strengths comparison

GMC Acadia Benefits: Low base price; wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Subaru Ascent Benefits: Long list of standard active-safety features; good fuel economy; standard AWD; IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating

2021 GMC Acadia vs. 2021 Subaru Ascent: Which is better?

In most cases, we’d opt for the Subaru, mainly because it is slightly larger and offers more usable seating in the third row. We also like that it has a high safety rating from NHTSA. In both vehicles, third-row seats should only be used by kids or tiny adults. Find a Subaru Ascent for sale or Find a GMC Acadia for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 GMC Acadia 2021 Subaru Ascent
Engine 2.4-liter I-4 2.4-liter turbo flat-4
Horsepower 193 hp  at 6,300 rpm 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 188 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission 9-spd automatic Continuously variable
Fuel Economy 23 mpg (21 city/27 highway) 23 mpg (21 city/27 highway)
Also Available 2.0T i-4; 3.6L V6
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 8
Wheelbase 112.5 inches 113.8 inches
Overall Length 193.6 inches 196.8 inches
Width 75.4 inches 76.0 inches
Height 66.0 inches 71.6 inches
Turning Diameter N/A feet 38.0 feet
Headroom, Front 40.0 inches 41.3 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 39.6 inches 40.0 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 37.2 inches 36.3 inches
Legroom, Front 41.0 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 39.7 inches 38.6 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 29.7 inches 31.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 59.4 inches 61.1 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 58.7 inches 60.3 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 54.3 inches 57.2 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 143.8 cubic feet 153.5 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 79.0 cubic feet 86.5 cubic feet


Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is a freelance journalist based in L.A. and she's covered automotive topics for a variety of well-known outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CNN and Motor Trend. She's also a television and video host and regularly covers breaking news, social justice, technology, health and wellness, and science in addition to her car coverage. When she's not working on her next project she's... Read More about Abigail Bassett

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