Battle of Titans: Subaru Ascent vs. Toyota Highlander

Are you looking for a four-wheeler to get you from one place to another with style, safety, and all the creature comforts your family needs? If so, here’s a comparison of two top contenders in the family SUV category – Subaru Ascent vs. Toyota Highlander. Let’s dive into these popular rides and discuss which features set them apart or bring them together.

Subaru Ascent vs Toyota Highlander – Who Has Slicker Exterior Design?

While both SUVs are relatively similar in terms of size, there are some key differences in the design that set them apart. Starting with the Ascent, this stylish family four-wheeler features a bold, boxy design with a wide grille that is sure to turn heads while cruising down the streets. In addition, this vehicle offers standard roof rails, which add a rugged look and the ability to carry extra gear. 

On the other hand, the Highlander is more refined in its design and also slightly less aggressive than the Ascent while still managing to exude confidence and power in the looks department. A large, trapezoid grille with chrome accents, a panoramic roof that covers all three rows, and a wider, more sporty look are the key points that set this SUV apart from other contenders in this category.

Pros and Cons of the Design Features

As with any kind of design, which comes out on top depends on your preference. You might fall in love with Ascent’s boxy and muscular look, while for some people this design might be unappealing. Aside from the design itself, here are some features that might just make this four-wheeler the perfect choice for you:

  • The elevated hood design provides a commanding presence on the road, 
  • Standard roof rails bring a touch of practicality to the vehicle, 
  • The modern appearance of LED headlights and tail lights

The same scenario plays out for the Highlander – while some appreciate the elegant yet sporty look and feel it’s worth it no matter how high the car’s price is, others might find it less adventurous and not what they’re specifically looking for. However, that panoramic sunroof is surely a distinctive design feature many won’t be able to resist. 

Woman's hand give the car key and blurred background.
Both offer quality design but are very different – the choice should be subjective

Interior Design and Comfort: Who Would Win? – Toyota Highlander vs. Subaru Ascent

When it comes to interior design and comfort, both the Ascent and Highlander are strong contenders in the midsize SUV category. Both four-wheelers have a well-designed interior with plenty of room for passengers and cargo – the three-row seating arrangement is perfect for any larger family that plans to embark on a road trip through the famous routes in the USA once in a while. 

Before we get into the pros and cons of these SUVs, let’s compare their main dimensions:

Measurement2023 Ascent2023 Highlander
Length196.8 in194.9 in
Height71.6 in68.1 in
Ground Clearance8.7 in8 in
Width76 in76 in
Cargo Space17.8 cu/ft16 cu/ft
Seating Capacity88

*For the metric system, an inch is 2.54 cm

Pros and Cons of the Interior Features

As you can see, when it comes to available space, the Ascent takes the top place. The difference might be only a few inches, but if comfort and generous interior space is your top priority, this might be a deal-breaker that helps you make that final decision. 

However, one thing to keep in mind is the fact that the Highlander, although it’s smaller, has a better-crafted interior cabin, including leather upholstery and heated seats. So, if you’re willing to sacrifice some space for a more luxurious feel, Toyota’s SUV contender might be the perfect choice for you. 

Cincinnati - Circa February 2023: Subaru Ascent display at a dealership. Subaru offers the Ascent in Base, Premium, Onyx and Limited models.
If big interior space is your top priority – Ascent takes the crown in this category

Performance and Capability

Up until now, we’ve discussed features that are a matter of personal preference at the end of the day. However, when it comes to performance and capability, the numbers paint a clearer picture in terms of which vehicle is better in which aspect. But, before I make the final verdict when it comes to performance, let’s take a look at a comparison of the main specifications of these SUVs:

Specification2023 Ascent2023 Highlander
Type of EngineTurbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engineTurbocharged 2.4-liter inline-4 engine
Engine Power260 hp at 5,600 rpm265 hp at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque 277 ft/lbs at 2,000 rpm310 ft/lbs at 1,700 rpm
DrivetrainAll-wheel drive (AWD)Front-wheel drive (FWD)
TransmissionContinuously variable-speed automatic8-speed shiftable automatic

Pros and Cons of the Performance Features 

As you can gather from the table above, both SUVs offer solid performance, and the Highlander has a more powerful engine that generates slightly more horsepower and torque. On the other hand, the Ascent comes with a standard all-wheel drive, offers a more responsive steering experience, and we can’t overlook that higher ground clearance that makes it the perfect choice for an off-road driving adventure once in a while. 

It seems like there’s no clear winner in the performance category – once again, it comes down to your personal priorities. But, if you’re looking for a plug-in option, your research on Toyota Highlander Hybrid vs. Subaru Ascent is cut short by the simple fact that Subaru discontinued their hybrid line as of now. While you might stumble upon some used vehicle options or even ones with a salvage title, the 2023 Highlander Hybrid still takes the top spot. 

Toyota Highlander on a parking lot
The Highlander has a more powerful engine and an updated line of hybrid vehicles

Safety and Technology – Who Would Win?

Obviously, every car manufacturer should put safety first when designing their products, especially if we’re talking about family SUVs. Both Subaru and Toyota understood the assignment – these vehicles come packed with safety tech and other infotainment features that will surely help you overcome any driving anxiety you may have, no matter if you’re driving through one of the cities with the worst drivers or cruising during the night

First, let’s take a look at the safety and standard infotainment features of the Ascent:

  • Vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen display, 
  • Color LCD display. 
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 
  • Standard EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, 
  • Standard rearview camera, 
  • Available blind-spot monitoring, 
  • Available reverse automatic braking, 
  • Available rear cross-traffic alert, 
  • Available 180-degree front-view camera. 

Here are the safety and infotainment features of the Highlander:

  • 8-inch touchscreen display, 
  • Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth, 
  • Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa,
  • Standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+,
  • Standard rearview camera, 
  • Available blind-spot monitoring system, 
  • Available rear cross-traffic alert, 
  • Available front and rear parking sensors, 
  • Available surround-view camera system. 

Pros and Cons of the Safety and Technology Features

The lists above clearly show that the Ascent and Toyota Highlander are quite comparable when it comes to safety and infotainment features. Ultimately, when comparing the two, there are pros and cons to both, depending on the individual’s preferences and priorities. 

For example, the Highlander offers the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ as a standard feature at no extra cost. In contrast, the Ascent comes with a standard all-wheel drive which provides better traction no matter if you have your summer or winter tires installed. The same goes for the infotainment – one SUV might lack in a certain aspect but make it up in another. This comparison is turning out to be a real head-scratcher – once again, it comes down to what you’re looking for. 

Happy young couple with a map in the car. Smiling man and woman using map on roadtrip.
A good safety and infotainment package can go a long way in easing your stress

Fuel Efficiency and Maintenance Costs 

How good is the new Subaru Ascent vs. Toyota Highlander? Every gearhead that knows a thing or two about the cost of owning a car knows that this question largely depends on how much these four-wheelers will cost you in the long run. In this category, we finally have a clear winner – it’s the Highlander with an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. In comparison, the Ascent has 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. 

When it comes to maintenance costs, both SUVs have lower average annual costs for repairs than other vehicles in the midsize SUV category. However, there are a few common problems reported for each – the Highlander is prone to problems with oil leaks, while the Ascent might have transmission issues, as well as problems with windshields cracking with no impact. 

Toyota Highlander on a road in a forest
City or highway – the Highlander has the superior fuel economy

Who Would Win When it Comes to Pricing and Value 

While it’s important to consider the long-time fuel consumption and maintenance costs, one of the deciding factors should also be the starting price of the vehicle you’re interested in. Both the Ascent and the Highlander offer six different trim level options with a wide array of performance, safety, and infotainment features. The Ascent comes in Standard, Premium, Onyx Edition, Limited, Onyx Edition Limited, and Touring trim levels, while the Highlander offers L, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Platinum. 

When it comes to entry-level options, Subaru offers a more affordable MSRP of around $34,000, while the Highlander L starts at somewhere around $36,500. If you’re interested in the highest trims, you’re probably wondering – which is better Toyota Highlander vs. Subaru Ascent Touring price? Even in the highest trim levels, Subaru comes on top as the more affordable option – Ascent Touring has an MSRP of $48,000, while the Highlander Platinum can be bought for about a thousand bucks more. 

Keys of a Subaru car
Subaru takes the top spot when it comes to affordability in any trim level option

Final Verdict: Which One Is Better – Subaru Ascent vs. Toyota Highlander?

After comparing these two midsize SUVs, it’s clear that both cars have similar engines and performance. While the Ascent has a slight edge in many areas like cargo space, passenger capacity, and the standard all-wheel drive, the Highlander has a more powerful engine and better fuel economy. 

At the end of the day, the final verdict should boil down to your own preferences, so interested buyers should take the time and test drive both of these models to see which one they’ll fall in love with. After all, when it comes down to choosing between quite comparable options, there’s no better person to trust than yourself.