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2020 Subaru Ascent vs Volkswagen Atlas

2020 Subaru Ascent vs Volkswagen Atlas

2020 Ascent vs Atlas - How do they stack up? Which is Better?

Third-row SUVs seem like they're a dime a dozen these days, don't they? Every automaker has jumped on the bandwagon, trying to find ways to craft the perfect third-row SUV. But nailing down a great design is tricky, to say the very least. Third rows tend to be cramped, and even cargo space can suffer. Oh, and it takes a pretty strong and capable engine to get these big ol' vehicles up and moving.

Just how well do the 2020 Subaru Ascent and 2020 Volkswagen Atlas do overall? Surely you have come across their names in your search for a brand-new SUV. And, if you haven't, here is your chance to learn all about them.

These two third-row SUVs get a lot of things right and a few things wrong. It is clear that crafting the 'perfect' (if there is such a thing) third-row SUV is downright tough. From the Ascent's finicky continuously variable transmission (CVT) to the Atlas' heavy steering and handling, there are things that clearly require some refinement on each vehicle. However, they both do well with providing space and comfort.

So, which of these SUVs should you buy? Is one really better than the other? Read on through to the end of this trim level comparison. We will go over powertrains, drivability factors, and safety features and ratings. Then, we will let you know which vehicle we think has the most value and represents the best overall buy.

The Powertrain

Let's dig our heels in and get started with the different powertrain options. On the 2020 Subaru Ascent, you get a standard 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine that is paired with a CVT. Together, this powertrain works at getting the vehicle 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Note that, as this is a Subaru, all-wheel drive (AWD) comes standard. It's just something that Subaru does since so many people prefer AWD. The vehicle gets 22 mpg combined per its EPA estimates (with 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway), and real-world tests show this to be relatively accurate with numbers ranging from 23.6 to 25.2 mpg combined. Oh, and bonus! You don't need to load it with premium fuel.

The CVT is a bit touchy, as we already mentioned above. You need a real light tap for it. Even just a moderate amount of throttle will send this bad boy into a surging acceleration. In other words, just be careful how much pedal you put to the metal. The engine feels refreshingly powerful though, and you can definitely go off-roading in the Ascent. It has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, plus that standard AWD and hill descent control come in handy for off-roading or while driving in hazardous weather conditions.

Now, about the 2020 VW Atlas - it gives you a few powertrain options to choose from. The base S trim, the SE, SE with Technology, and SEL come with a standard 2.0-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It gets 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but if that isn't enough, you can equip the V6 that come on the higher trim levels. This 3.6-L V6 engine gets 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard while AWD remains optional on the V6s (save for the SEL Premium, on which it is standard). An 8-speed automatic transmission gets paired to every engine option. While this engine does not have as much hp as the competition, it does feel pleasant enough for its size.


With that all being said, you are going to need to consider all factors that impact drivability. How sporty is the SUV? Is it comfy inside? Well-designed? Loaded with technology that works? It's time to find out how the Ascent and Atlas stack up.

The 2020 Subaru Ascent is impaired by that touchy CVT, sure, but the interior itself is pretty cozy. The third row has seats that are somewhat firm, but kids likely will not mind them too much. The climate control system is superb at pumping out air, especially due to its rear ceiling mounted vents. You will hear some tire noise as the vehicle rolls over cracks in the road surface. Also, the engine growls a bit as you increase your RPMs. The quality itself is not exactly floaty, but it does not feel as sporty and engaging as other vehicles in its class.

Overall, the interior is user-oriented, as signified by its clearly labeled and sensibly arrayed controls. They do have a few odd acronyms that will prompt you to check the owner's manual though. Outward visibility is vast on all sides, and the high-definition rear-view camera will come in handy for the rear. The hood does slope in a way that makes gauging where the front end sits a bit difficult.

Technology is a front on which the Ascent does well. The Starlink infotainment system is very user-friendly with its responsive touchscreen. The menus are all laid out in an intuitive way, and smartphone app integration will easily take care of navigation for you.

As far as cargo space goes, the 17.6 cubic feet you get with all seats in place is good for this segment. You can fold the seats down to get 86 cubes in all. There is not a lot of small item storage areas, but the ones that exist are well-sized for holding things like cell phones and tablets. Also, you get a max towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, which is typical for a third-row SUV with AWD equipped.

Now, just how does the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas compare? Well, to start off, the vehicle gets good acceleration from the V6, but it is not quite so capable at merging on the highway. Its 0 to 60 mph acceleration speed of 8 seconds lags behind what you will find from the Atlas' competitors. It is not a sporty ride, but handling grip is quite solid, much more so than its rivals. While this vehicle is not meant for winding mountain roads, it is quite suitable for in-town driving.

The cabin is comfy enough for most people. It holds up well on long road trips. However, the front seats aren't too adjustable, and the bottom cushions feel elongated and flat, making them a tad uncomfortable for shorter drivers. The back rows both recline though, and the second row is able to slide and has a middle seat that is a good deal firmer than the outboard seats. Overall, the ride quality is cozy, never feeling floaty and smoothing over bumps with ease. Some road noise gets in, as does wind noise from the large side mirrors when going at higher speeds. Nothing a small crank of the audio's volume won't take care of! The V6 has a pleasant growl when revving, never becoming obnoxious.

Space, space, space! That's the name of the game inside the cabin. The second row is nice and wide, easily accommodating three adults. In the third row, three smaller adults (at least, those under 6 feet tall) can fit comfortably enough. Normally, this is just where you relegate your children in an SUV, but the Atlas is spacious enough for adults. Oh, and outward visibility? It is excellent for the driver thanks to some slender roof pillars and wide windows and a windshield.

Technology is a mixed bag. The VW Digital Cockpit has a moderate learning curve to it, but once you get used to it, you're all good. The touchscreen does require you to look at it longer than you might like, which can be distracting while driving. The SEL Premium has an optional Fender audio system with a massive amount of bass that is worth the upgrade if you're a music fanatic. Unfortunately, voice control does not recognize normal speech patterns like it should, so its functions are limited. You can't even try to request switching to a satellite radio station on it.

Utility is a shining point for the Atlas. Its 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space can be expanded into 96.8 cubes when you fold the two back rows down. This, folks, is a leader in its class. The seats show great flexibility while folding, and the hands-free tailgate makes it easy to access the cargo area. There some quirks with small item storage space though; you might not find a good place to stash your sunglasses, for example. However, you can easily fit a rear-facing car seat in the back, so that's a big bonus for parents of infants.

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Time to talk safety since that is probably one of the top things on your mind as you shop new vehicles. You want the utmost in features as well as crash test scores, right? Right. So, let's see how the Ascent and Atlas compare.

The 2020 Subaru Ascent comes with the standard Eye Sight bundle of driver aids. This means you get pre-collision mitigation, advanced adaptive cruise control on top of adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist with sway warning. The 2020 Volkswagen Atlas gives you standard blind spot monitoring, forward collision mitigation, and rear cross traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control maintains a tiny gap, and lane keep assist is unobtrusive but useful. You also get a crystal clear image on the touchscreen from the rear-view camera.

Features are all well and good, but how does each vehicle hold up in a crash? The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test new vehicles every year to find out.

For 2020, the IIHS labeled the Ascent a Top Safety Pick. It earned "Good" scores on al but the halogen headlights, which got a "P" for showing excessive glare. The LATCH system remarkably got a "Good Plus" score! NHTSA gave the Ascent a full 5-star rating, but one star was lost on the rollover assessment. A 17.00% rollover risk was noted. At the time, there are no recalls, but a few serious complaints exist. First, there is the failure to start. Second, many people have had random windshield cracking while driving, which is definitely a potential hazard.

The Atlas did well on its IIHS tests, but it got an "M" for the SEL Premium's LED reflector headlights and a "P" for the headlights on the lower trim levels. The LATCH system got an "M". NHTSA gave the vehicle a 5-star rating, but it only got 4 stars on the front driver side crash test. A 15.90% rollover risk was noted. There are currently no recalls or complaints made to NHTSA.

Which Has the Best Value?

What gives a vehicle value? Just about everything, to be honest. You should get what you pay for, but sometimes, with certain vehicles, you get either more or less than you should receive. The 2020 Subaru Ascent is sensible, and the base trim is well-packed with standard features for its price. The engine isn't as powerful as some of the others in this segment, but it is sufficient. The warranty is just kind of average too, and the materials used inside the cabin are nothing to write home about.

With the Atlas, you get higher trims that are pricier than rivals, and the lower hp isn't really worth that cost. The cabin materials are also kind of uninspiring. You get some luxury up front, but it's all geared toward kids and their destructive tendencies in the back. Also, the previously lengthy and generous warranty coverage has been reduced. But it still manages to be better than what you will find on other vehicles in this segment. So, yes, the Atlas gets a slight advantage in terms of value.

Which is Better?

This is a pretty stiff competition here, but the 2020 Subaru Ascent is the slightly better buy if you go for one of the lower to middle trim levels. While the Atlas has better overall value, it is really hard to justify buying anything higher than the base trim. Those who require AWD get it from the Ascent, and, unlike the Atlas, you can take the Ascent off the beaten path with you.

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