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2022 Toyota Highlander vs. Subaru Ascent: Which One Is Best For Me?

At first glance, the 2022 Toyota Highlander and the 2022 Subaru Ascent appear to be very similar. They are both available for a similar price, they both seat eight people, they both have the same gas mileage, and they are both trying to appeal to the same audience. Most people are more familiar with Toyotas than they are with Subarus, but Subaru has a great reputation and strong brand loyalty for those who take the plunge. Both the Highlander and the Ascent are comfortable SUVs aimed at families looking for a safe and comfortable ride around town.

So, which one is better? Is the Highlander or the Ascent a better fit for you? This article aims to provide typical buyers with all of the information they need to make an informed decision and choose the right SUV for them.

car and road divider

At a Glance

2022 Toyota Highlander
  • Base Price (MSRP): $35,405
  • Fuel Mileage: 21 city/29 highway
  • Cargo Volume: 16 cubic feet
  • Passenger Volume: 141.3 cubic feet
  • Horsepower: 295
  • Base Engine: 5L V6 engine
2022 Subaru Ascent
  • Base Price (MSRP): $32,295
  • Fuel Mileage: 21 city/27 highway
  • Cargo Volume: 17.8 cubic feet
  • Passenger Volume: 153.5 cubic feet
  • Horsepower: 260
  • Base Engine: 2.4L 4-cylinder SUBARU BOXER

Overview of 2022 Toyota Highlander:

The Toyota Highlander is the most affordable version of Toyota’s three-row SUVs. The Highlander joins the Toyota 4Runner and Sequoia in this category but comes in comfortably cheaper than either one of its siblings. The Highlander brings a lot of Toyota’s useful and practical design choices to a large SUV. Three-row SUVs used to be reserved for the wealthiest buyers but Toyota has moved to create a Highlander model for a reasonable price that can still seat eight people.

The Highlander is powered by a good-sized V6 engine which puts out nearly 300 horsepower. The Highlander does not struggle with power or speed. With the tow package the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds and it will do it with a smile. Other SUVs with token tow packages often struggle to pull their loads but the engine in the newest models holds its weight. The 2022 Highlander is available in a hybrid model as well which is a nice touch. For an extra $5,000 buyers can upgrade to a hybrid that offers superior gas mileage. The hybrid boosts expected MPG from the low 20s to the mid-30s.

Inside, the Highlander is effective but not spectacular. The interior feels nice, but it doesn’t feel particularly luxurious or modern. Everything works well and looks okay but don’t expect over-the-top luxury in the Highlander. The Highlander is reminiscent of a RAV4 with a third row tacked on. When fully loaded at capacity the Highlander also feels a tad cramped. The interior could have been a bit roomier for maximum comfort.

Pros
  • Great performance
  • Affordable three-row SUV from Toyota
  • Hybrid option available
Cons
  • Basic interior
  • Could be roomier

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Overview of 2022 Subaru Ascent:

The Subaru Ascent hit the market in 2018 and it has slowly been building into something great ever since. The Ascent is a three-row SUV made for families. The Ascent is extremely roomy and can comfortably seat eight passengers with their personal belongings in certain configurations. In fact, that space is the biggest highlight of the Ascent. It is easily one of the most comfortable SUVs on the market. The interior never feels cramped and there is more than enough room for suitcases and groceries in the trunk. The Ascent manages to maximize passenger capacity without sacrificing comfort and cargo space. Not many SUVs can make that same claim.

The Ascent has a lot of different levels and options including advanced safety packages, beautiful paint jobs, and a panoramic moonroof. The mid-range and upper-range models will easily surpass $40,000 so if you get queasy about paying for upgrades you might want to shy away from some of the Ascent’s pricier packages.

The Ascent’s biggest downside is Subaru’s base engine. The engine for this sized car feels underpowered. The acceleration is sluggish, and the SUV absolutely struggles when towing its max load of 5,000 pounds. It will get the job done but you are not going to be getting anywhere in a hurry. Once the car is up to speed the Ascent offers a smooth and quiet ride that is nearly unmatched. But the engine could be beefier.

Anyone looking for a solid, dependable, large SUV with plenty of room for the kids, extended family, local soccer team, or tons of luggage will find plenty to love with the Subaru Ascent. The undersized engine and methodical handling are the only things holding this SUV back from true greatness.

Pros
  • Super spacious
  • Looks great
  • Seats eight
  • Reasonably priced
Cons
  • Engine performance could be better
  • Stiff handling

How Do They Compare?

Performance

Edge: Highlander

Subaru is known for a lot of things, but powerful performance engines are not one of them. Like many Subarus, the Ascent feels sluggish, and the 4-cylinder engine feels undersized for a car of this weight. The Highlander’s beefier V6 looks and feels the part better. Both cars come with a listed towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, but the Highlander is going to pull its weight better. The Ascent is going to feel very slow when towing at max capacity.

Due to the larger engine size and better horsepower, the Highlander takes the edge in terms of overall performance. The Ascent gives a smooth ride, but it is not always a fast one.

Price

Edge: Ascent

Surprisingly, the Subaru Ascent is slightly cheaper than the Toyota Highlander. Subaru has a reputation for being a little more expensive than the average vehicle, so the pricing here was unexpected. The Ascent is not much cheaper than the Highlander, but each model is about $2k less expensive than the Toyota equivalent. That price difference carries upwards through the luxury models as well. While the Highlander does have a better engine and better performance metrics, the Ascent is a little roomier. If you are looking to save a few bucks, you will get a great deal with the Ascent over the Highlander based on MSRP prices.

Fuel Economy

Edge: Highlander

The Highlander and Ascent have nearly identical MPG ratings for their base models. Both the Highlander and the Ascent can expect to pull in 21 miles per gallon in the city and right around 28 miles per gallon on the highway. However, Toyota takes the edge for a couple of reasons. First, the Toyota engine is a bigger 3.5L V6 so it gets more performance with the same fuel mileage as the Subaru. Second, Toyota offers the Highlander in a hybrid.

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid can get up to 36 MPG on the highway and in the city. That is a significant boost over the base model. The hybrid version is a lot more expensive than the base model, but it is an option. As of right now, there is no hybrid variant of the Ascent. If gas mileage is important for your choice, you can shell out the extra money for a hybrid Highlander, which gives Toyota the edge over Subaru in this case.

Durability

Edge: Ascent

Subarus are known for their longevity and durability. While Subarus are slightly more expensive to maintain over the long run compared to Toyota, Subarus also last longer. Subaru has more cars on the road after ten years than any other brand on the market. If you are looking for a car that will last you a decade or more, you can’t go wrong with the Subaru Ascent. Toyotas are cheap to maintain, but they fall just a little short compared to Subaru’s legendary reputation.

Size

Edge: Ascent

The Ascent beats out Highlander in almost every size metric. The Ascent boasts a full 12 cubic feet more passenger space than the Highlander. That is a lot of extra room, especially if you plan on having a full car. Those extra few feet are going to feel great when the whole family is along for the ride. The Ascent does not sacrifice cargo space for passenger space either. The Ascent’s cargo capacity behind the third row is 17.8 cubic feet, which is nearly 2 feet roomier than the Highlander. If you are looking for an SUV with a lot of room, the Ascent easily beats out Highlander.


What the Users Say

Toyota Highlander

Drivers seem to love the number of standard features that come with the Highlander. The amount of standard features means you do not have to upgrade to a more expensive model to enjoy everything Toyota has to offer. The standard features include Toyota’s latest safety tech and best engine. Everyone also raves about the hybrid option. Not everyone can afford to get a brand-new hybrid but having the option is welcome.

The things that people seemed to complain about the most include a cramped third row. When we said the Highlander feels like a RAV4 with a third row stapled on we weren’t kidding. Some people also complained about how much was happening on the dash while driving with a few people opting for a simpler dashboard configuration.

All in all, the Highlander is a well-liked car and a perfect SUV for families.


Subaru Ascent

People love how the Ascent rides. Drivers rave about the comfort and the space that the Ascent offers. The second row has plush captain’s seats that are a joy to ride in for long distances. The cabin is quiet and never feels cramped even when a lot of people are on board.

However, drivers say the Ascent is sluggish. When it is fully loaded getting up to speed and passing on the highway is a chore. The engine strains so much at points that it ruins the cabin’s quiet envelope. While the engine is a noted question mark on this model drivers have confirmed that it is ponderous at high speeds and can struggle to accelerate.

Despite those downsides, owners say that if you are looking for a comfy and cozy SUV for your family the Ascent is a joy to ride in.

Related Read: Toyota 86 vs. Subaru BRZ: Which One’s Best For Me?


Conclusion

There is a lot to like in both the 2022 Toyota Highlander and the 2022 Subaru Ascent. The choice between the two will come down to whether or not you prefer performance or comfort. The Subaru Ascent is supremely comfortable. It is quiet, smooth, and feels spacious. The Highlander is a bit more cramped but the engine performs well and it handles much better than the Ascent. Both SUVs are capable of hauling around a large family on their daily business. Honestly, there probably is no wrong answer between the latest models of these excellent SUVs.


Featured Image Credit: (Left) Piqsels (Right) Subaru Ascent (Kevauto, Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 International)

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