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If you are in the market for a well-designed, spacious mid-size third-row SUV, you might have already looked at both the 2021 Subaru Ascent and the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas. But which one is more oriented toward you and your family? Knowing the differences between them could help you make your final buying decision, so let us delve into what distinguishes these two SUVs.
The 2021 Subaru Ascent is, like all other Subarus, equipped with standard all-wheel drive (AWD). With its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Subaru is able to get around off of the beaten path with ease. It also comes with a rather massive list of standard features, including a full suite of driver aids called Subaru EyeSight. This year, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist come standard with this suite. There are also newly standard steering-responsive LED headlights and a seat-belt reminder for the second and third row occupants.
Overall, the Ascent is equipped with some nice interior materials that both look and feel cozy. Luxury is not the objective here, but you still get a finely crafted cabin. The cabin is certainly a user-friendly one that buyers will have no problem getting accustomed to.
On the downside, there is some trouble with tire and engine noise seeping their way into the cabin when the vehicle is moving at higher speeds. The accelerator pedal is also somewhat touchy with inputs, and there is not a whole lot of room in the third row. Second-row shoulder space can also feel a little too limited.
So, what of the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas? How does it compare? We will say that its newly restyled front and rear fascia look more contemporary than the previous iteration. The interior upgrades also make the Atlas look more chic than it used to be. There is plenty of space in all three rows, and you can even fit two adults in the third row seats. Everyday coziness and precision handling are strikingly well balanced in this SUV. Everything inside of the cabin seems easy to use and is smartly placed for accessibility.
There are some drawbacks to the new Atlas though, the most prominent of which is both a lackluster performance from each the base and optional V6 engines. Even the V6 takes about 8.5 seconds to get from 0 to 60 miles per hour - a slow time by this segment's standards. These engines also put forth lower fuel economies than many of their rivals. the V6-powered Atlas has an EPA estimated 18 miles per gallon combined, which is anywhere from 2-5 mpg below the Atlas' rivals. If you are looking to save a little bit of money at the fuel pump, the Atlas might not be the vehicle for you.
Which one is the right choice for you? Let's go over their respective powertrains, drivability factors, and safety features. Then we will let you know which one has the best value and is the top purchase for you and your family.
A good powertrain can make the driving experience a true delight. A bad powertrain can make it a nightmare. A boring one, well, that's just somewhere in between. At any rate, the powertrains on these SUVs deserve some examination.
Let us start with the 2021 Subaru Ascent. This SUV is powered by a standard 2.4-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that has a power output of 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. This is the sole engine option, so keep in mind that you cannot opt for anything more powerful. A continuously variable automatic transmission (or CVT for short) directs the power to all four wheels. This powertrain is pretty punchy, but you need to have a mindful foot with a fine touch to make the CVT run smoothly.
As for the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas, you do get a couple of choices. Unfortunately, neither one of them is really that capable. The base 4-cylinder engine puts forth 235 hp and comes standard on the base S and SE trim levels, as well as the SE with Technology's front-wheel drive (FWD) and the AWDs of the SEL and SEL Premium. Everything else is powered by a V6 that generates 276 hp. FWD is standard on all trim levels, but AWD is an option.
Drivability is more than just a powertrain's performance. It is a term we use that encompasses how a vehicle accelerates, brakes, steers, handles, how much ride comfort it offers, and just how well its standard and optional tech features work. Knowing how well-rounded a vehicle is can help you determine which SUV to buy.
Take the 2021 Subaru Ascent. This third-row SUV has a powerful initial thrust, which is something that you cannot always find in this segment. A moderate throttle input will lead to a big burst in acceleration, which can be a bit too jolting for some passengers. The standard AWD, hill descent control, and traction control all make for a strong handling performance. Along with those 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Ascent is aptly-named - a perfectly capable off-roader that can handle basically any road surface. Dirt and snow are no problem for this SUV.
For the most part, the Ascent's cabin is quiet and comfortable. Some of the passenger seats could be a bit softer, and driving over some cracks in the road will result in tire noise making its way into the cabin. While this is by no means a floaty ride quality, the Ascent could be a bit more finely tuned.
This SUV is user-friendly, which is a huge selling point for families. The controls are smartly laid-out up front and are all easy to read. Most everything works as expected too. The high-definition rear-view camera provides you with a clear view out of the back. The hood does have an awkward slope, which makes it hard for drivers to guess exactly where the front bumper is in location to curbs and other vehicles in parking lots.
The Subaru Starlink system is a true gem when it comes to technology. The responsive touchscreen is easy to integration with your smartphone, using either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There are multiple USB ports throughout the cabin, so almost everyone can charge their device when needed. If you do opt up for the built-in navigation system, you will get a clear and responsive touchscreen display. However, smartphone pairing works just fine for navigation too.
So, how does the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas compare? As we already mentioned, it has two engine options that are both disappointing when it comes to power. You do not get that strong initial burst of power like you do with the Ascent. Whichever engine you choose, you will have to plan your maneuvers on the highway and will need to think twice about trying to pass other drivers. That being said, the standard 8-speed automatic suspension shifts smoothly, and even though there is a lot of body roll, the wheels still stay planted. Automatic engine start-stop is somewhat of an annoyance too, as it sometimes fires up a few seconds after stopping without any reason.
Comfort is a highlight for the Atlas. The front seats are padded for lumbar and lateral support and are well bolstered. The long seat bottoms provide plenty of comfort for taller occupants. However, the second row's seats feel somewhat flat, and the headrests will smack passengers in the back. The cabin does remain well muted from sound, and the engine only emits a pleasing growling sound when pushed to full throttle. The upper trim levels have a lot of creature comforts. The roomy cabin does give the Atlas a bit of an edge. It also has a commanding outward view for a vehicle of its size. Some of the buttons are on the smaller side though.
Tech features include smartphone app integration and a slew of USB ports. There is an optional Fender premium sound system that sounds phenomenal even at higher volumes, as it does not experience any distortion. The built-in navigation system does not impress as much though. You do not get directional info along with the POIs with multiple nearby locations. You also cannot search on the fly because of how the voice command system strictly allows address inputs for the navigation system. It is nothing short of frustrating, so using your smartphone nav app will likely be a lot easier.
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Safety is crucial for any buyer. Getting a vehicle with good safety ratings is certainly important, but since you are investing a lot of money, you should also be getting an impressive list of safety features that are functional.
The 2021 Subaru Ascent is equipped with the Subaru EyeSight bundle of standard driver aids. It reduces the risk of rear-end crashes by up to 85%, according to the automaker. This suite bundles together adaptive cruise control (which works all the way down to 0 mph and keeps a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of the Ascent), lane keep assist with a sway warning (which alerts you if you stay outside of the lane), pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, and an available advanced adaptive cruise control system. The Premium and above come with a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and optional rear automatic braking. A forward parking camera gets added to the line-topping Touring trim level.
On the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas, you get a list of similar features that all seem to work well. The Atlas comes with forward collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert system. The SE with Technology adds adaptive cruise control and front and rear parking sensors. Adaptive headlights and lane departure mitigation comes equipped on the SEL, while the SEL Premium adds a 360-degree surround-view camera system and an automated parking system.
Which Has the Best Value?
Between the 2021 Subaru Ascent and the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas, we would venture to say that the former has the most value. It packs more standard driver aids into the price, whereas on the Atlas, you have to pay more to get things like adaptive cruise control. The infotainment system on the Ascent is also far more functional and user-friendly, coming off as high-tech while not overly complex. The Ascent also has the better powertrain option with more fuel efficiency. And, with AWD being standard, you will not feel compelled to spring extra cash for that stability and traction enhancement.
Which is Better?
It should be quite clear by now that we think the 2021 Subaru Ascent is the better of the two vehicles. While it is not quite as generous on space, the Ascent offers more features for your money as well as an engine that blends efficiency and power better than either of the engine options on the Atlas. It is family-oriented and built for comfort as long as you keep the third row for kids only.