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2021 Subaru Ascent vs. 2021 Chevrolet Traverse: Which Is Better?

Three-row, medium-sized SUVs are today’s family cars of choice. Two of the leading contenders are the 2021 Subaru Ascent and the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse. Let’s see which is better.

Quick Facts

  • The Subaru Ascent is the brand’s first three-row entry since the Tribeca.
  • The Chevrolet Traverse is one of the largest models in this class.

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: 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 space for a standard third-row seat. Passenger room in all three rows 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 sole engine is a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer four that provides gutsy acceleration and good fuel economy. But 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

2021 Chevrolet Traverse

2021 Chevrolet Traverse

Base Price: $30,995 / Read our 2021 Chevrolet Traverse Review

What we like: Class-leading cargo space including behind the third-row seat, third-row seat roomy enough for adults, standard 3.6-liter V6 with 310 horses

What we would change: Make the Chevy Safety Assist features standard—or at least optional—on lower-spec trims, expand the convenient Smart Slide second-row seat from the curbside seat to the drivers-side one as well

Overview: The Chevrolet Traverse stretches the definition of mid-size—its 120.9-inch wheelbase and 204.3-inch overall length are the largest in its class. That translates to plenty of passenger space, including in the third row. Total capacity is seven or eight, depending on whether you get a second-row bench or captain’s chairs (availability varies with trim level). The right-hand second-row Smart Slide seat can scoot forward and tilt to allow access to the rear even with certain child seats in place—great, but it’s only on one side. Seats folded, the Traverse has a voluminous 98.2-cubic-foot cargo hold. More significantly, there 23 cubic feet behind the third-row seat, where three-row SUVs often come up short, plus a useful bin below the load floor. A smooth and muscular 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and a nine-speed automatic is the sole powertrain and can be paired with FWD or AWD. With that big engine in a big SUV, fuel economy is only OK, at 21 mpg combined (FWD) or 20 mpg (AWD). We’re more disappointed by the lack of active-safety features in the lower trims—they’re standard on most competitors.

What’s new for 2021: The former Driver Confidence II option package that’s optional on all the LT trims (and standard on RS, Premier, and High Country) has been renamed Chevy Safety Assist. Its content includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, following distance indicator, and automatic high-beams.

Features and technology: The 2021 Chevy Traverse is offered in L, LS, LT Cloth, LT Leather, RS, Premier, and High Country trim levels. The L and LS are sparsely equipped and offer few options. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the LT Cloth with FWD and standard on higher trims. The Chevy Safety Assist package brings more driver aids and is optional on both LTs and standard on the RS, Premier, and High Country. Those top three trims also include navigation, a rear camera mirror, and a surround-view monitor; those items are optional on the LT Leather. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard on the LT Cloth, and below, other models get an 8-inch unit. All models feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fit hotspot, and wireless charging is standard on the Premier and High Country. Adaptive cruise control, power-folding for the third row, and an upgraded leather interior are exclusive to the High Country.

What does the future hold: The Traverse is getting a comprehensive update for 2022. Most significantly, the items in the Chevy Safety Assist package will become standard on all trims. New available features include wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, as well as a larger driver-information center in the instrument cluster. Finally, the front and rear styling is revamped, and there are new wheel designs. See 2021 Chevrolet Traverse models for sale near you

Ascent vs. Traverse: Strengths comparison

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

Chevrolet Traverse Benefits: Cavernous cargo hold, adult-sized third row, robust 3.6-liter V6

Ascent vs. Traverse: Which is better?

Families who regularly max out the seating capacity and cargo hold in their SUV will gravitate to the Traverse, which should suit their needs (provide they don’t need to enter the realm of full-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban). We’d suggest an LT at a minimum, to unlock worthwhile active-safety features. Outside of those who need the absolute largest possible SUV, the Ascent gets our nod. Though not as large as the Traverse, it’s still roomy. It’s more economical turbo-four makes similar torque and can tow the same 5,000 pounds. And its standard AWD and driver-assist features give it a much stronger value story, abetted by what we expect will be solid resale value. Find a Subaru Ascent for sale or Find a Chevrolet Traverse for sale

2021 Subaru Ascent 2021 Chevrolet Traverse
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.4-liter turbo flat-4 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm 310 hp  at 6,800 rpm
Torque 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm 266 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable 9-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 23 mpg (21 city/27 hwy) 21 mpg (18 city/27 hwy)
Also Available AWD
Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 8 8
Wheelbase 113.8 inches 120.9 inches
Overall Length 196.8 inches 204.3 inches
Width 76.0 inches 78.6 inches
Height 71.6 inches 70.7 inches
Turning Diameter 38.0 feet 39.0 feet
Headroom, Front 41.3 inches 41.3 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 40.0 inches 40.0 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 36.3 inches 38.2 inches
Legroom, Front 42.2 inches 41.0 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 38.6 inches 38.4 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 31.7 inches 33.5 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 61.1 inches 62.1 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 60.3 inches 62.2 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 57.2 inches 57.5 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 153.5 cu. ft. 157.3 cu. ft.
EPA Cargo Volume 86.5 cu. ft. 98.2 cu. ft.

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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