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2021 Kia Telluride vs. 2021 Subaru Ascent: Which Is Better?

If you need to carry seven passengers or more, the 2021 Kia Telluride or the 2021 Subaru Ascent might be right for you, but which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The 2021 Kia Telluride was an all-new vehicle for 2020. It remains unchanged for 2021.
  • The Subaru Ascent is the brand’s first 3-row entry since the Tribeca.

 2021 Kia Telluride

2021 Kia Telluride Front Right Side
Above: The 2021 Kia Telluride in Dark Moss Green

Base Price: $31,990 / Read our 2021 Kia Telluride Review

What we like: Roomy and upscale cabin; available self-leveling suspension; standard safety and driver-assist systems are ample; 4-wheel lock on all-wheel drive (AWD).

What we would change: Add another engine choice.

Overview: The Telluride debuted just last year as the biggest and boldest SUV to date from Kia. This 3-row family crossover wasted no time pitting itself against established rivals like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander. And by many counts, the Telluride comes out on top. The 2021 Kia Telluride has seating for eight passengers (or seven when fitted with second-row captain’s seats), is filled with technology, comes standard with a full suite of active safety and driver-assistance features, and does it all at a price below that of its rivals. Throw in a standard V6, brawny yet handsome looks, one of the most spacious cabins in its class, and an unbeatable warranty covering 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain, and it’s little wonder Kia dealers have trouble keeping the Telluride in stock. The Kia Telluride also was named one of our Best New Cars for 2020. Whether it serves as a family SUV that offers a lot of great-looking metal for the money or as an amenity-laden road-tripper that could pass for a luxury SUV inside, the 2021 Kia Telluride is one of the most recommendable midsize crossovers around.

What’s new for 2021: For its second year on sale, the Kia Telluride offers the Nightfall Edition on EX and SX trims, giving this SUV a more aggressive look with blacked-out exterior aesthetics. The Kia Telluride Nightfall Edition is available in several colors, including the exclusive Wolf Gray. The towing trailer harness has been upgraded from 4-pin to 7-pin, and a remote engine start button has been added to the key fob. LED headlights are now included in the EX Premium Package. 

Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Telluride is available in four grades: LX, S, EX, and SX. AWD is a $2,000 option on all trim levels. The prices listed are before the $1,170 destination charge. Adding AWD is $2,000, except for the topline SX model, in which it’s $1,900.

The 2021 Telluride LX comes with Sofino synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear-passenger air conditioning, keyless entry with push-button start, one-touch sliding and folding middle seats, sound-absorbing windshield glass, rear occupant alert, leather-wrapped tilt, and telescope steering wheel, 6-way manual-adjustable driver’s seat and seating for eight. The standard infotainment system bundles an 8-inch touchscreen, 6-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and five USB inputs. A bevy of safety features comes standard (see Safety section below). Like all new Kia vehicles, the Telluride has a warranty that includes 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain. Beyond AWD, the LX has no factory options.

The 2021 Telluride S has all of the LX’s standard equipment plus 20-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, seating for seven with second-row captain’s chairs, and a leather-wrapped shift knob. Options for the S include seating for eight via a second-row bench and second-row armrest with cupholders.

The EX adds S standard features plus the second-row center armrest as standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, ventilated front seats, seating for eight with a split-folding second-row bench seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic defog system, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, a wireless phone charger, six USB ports, a smart hands-free liftgate, LED taillights, power-folding outboard mirrors, acoustic front side windows, an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Factory options for the EX include a towing package with self-leveling rear suspension, LED headlights, 20-inch wheels, and a heated steering wheel. The new Nightfall Edition is also available beginning on this trim.

To the EX’s standard features, the 2021 Telluride SX ($42,190) adds 20-inch black alloy wheels, LED projector-style headlights, LED fog lights, reverse tilt-down outboard mirrors, a dual sunroof with power front tilt/slide, a 7-inch color gauge cluster, 64-color cabin mood lamp, stainless-steel pedals, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, memory for driver’s seat and outboard mirrors, an upgraded 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, front parking sensors, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor. SX factory options include EX’s options plus rain-sensing wipers, a premium cloth headliner, premium Nappa leather seating, second-row heated and ventilated seats, a 110-volt power outlet, and a head-up display. The SX can also get the new Nightfall treatment.

You get all this plus an impressive amount of active safety and driver-assistance features, including lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. On the EX and SX models, you get Highway Driving Assist to recognize speed limits and adjust speed appropriately.

What does the future hold: The Telluride is only in its second year of production. We expect small trim changes over the next few years but nothing significant. See 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale near you.

2021 Subaru Ascent

2021 Subaru Ascent Front Driver Side in Metallic Red
Above: The 2021 Subaru Ascent in Crimson Red Pearl

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: Re-program the accident-avoidance tech to be less annoying; 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 a standard third-row seat. The passenger room is good in all three rows, and luggage space is, too, although the 17.6 cubic feet aft of the third row is just average. Large windows provide a good view for the driver and keep passengers from feeling claustrophobic. The sole engine is a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer 4-cylinder providing gutsy acceleration and good fuel economy. But it’s paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (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 get off the 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 constant noise 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. You can opt for second-row captain’s chairs, 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

Telluride vs. Ascent: Strengths Comparison

2021 Kia Telluride Interior vs 2021 Subaru Ascent Interior
Left: The 2021 Kia Telluride interior in white leather               Right: The 2021 Subaru Ascent interior in brown leather

Kia Telluride Benefits: Lux interior; tons of safety and technology; great warranty.

Subaru Ascent Benefits: Good fuel economy; standard AWD; IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.

2021 Kia Telluride vs. 2021 Subaru Ascent: Which Is Better?

2021 Kia Telluride Rear vs 2021 Subaru Ascent Rear
Above: The 2021 Kia Telluride in Dark Moss Green Below: The 2021 Subaru Ascent in Blue Pearl

Both the Ascent and the Telluride are great buys if you need to haul many people in relative comfort and style. In this comparison, however, the Kia Telluride edges out the Ascent because of its solid warranty and the availability of tech across the entire line. See 2021 Kia Telluride models for sale or See 2021 Subaru Ascent models for sale

Popular Powertrains 2021 Kia Telluride 2021 Subaru Ascent
Engine 3.8-liter V6 2.4-liter turbo flat-4
Horsepower 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic CVT
Fuel Economy 23 mpg (20 city/26 hwy) 23 mpg (21 city/27 hwy)
Also Available AWD
Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 10 years/100,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 8 8
Wheelbase 114.2 inches 113.8 inches
Overall Length 196.9 inches 196.8 inches
Width 78.3 inches 76.0 inches
Height 68.9 inches 71.6 inches
Turning Diameter 38.8 feet 38.0 feet
Headroom, Front 40.9 inches 41.3 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 40.2 inches 40.0 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 38.1 inches 36.3 inches
Legroom, Front 41.4 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 42.4 inches 38.6 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 31.4 inches 31.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 61.6 inches 61.1 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 61.2 inches 60.3 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd Row 55.3 inches 57.2 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 178.1 cubic feet  153.5 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 87.0 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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