2020 Honda Pilot vs. 2020 Subaru Ascent: Compare Crossovers


No two families are the same, but the list of requisites from any three-row crossover is familiar: good space, quiet ride, safety features, and a flotilla of USB charge ports. 

The 2020 Honda Pilot and 2020 Subaru Ascent count between them a baker’s dozen USB chargers, seating for more than 15, and more cupholders than our bladders can stand. 

So which crossover is best for your family? We’re glad you asked because the answer is a long one and, as always, we’re compelled to show our work. 

MORE: Read our 2020 Subaru Ascent and 2020 Honda Pilot full reviews

Both crossovers start with the same idea: three-rows of seats with space in the back for cargo. The Ascent and Pilot offer tall ride heights families want, and they both offer standard active safety features that families should demand. From bumper to bumper, their lengths are within a half an inch. 

From there, the Pilot and Ascent diverge. The Honda is curvier, with organic shapes on the outside that read big on the road. The Subaru is similarly big, but it’s a dead-ringer for an Outback that’s been pressed into Silly Putty and stretched at the rear. 

2020 Subaru Ascent

2020 Subaru Ascent

2020 Subaru Ascent

2020 Subaru Ascent

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

In LX trim, the Pilot’s plainer interior can be boring; in top trims, the Subaru’s interior isn’t convincingly luxurious. In the goldilocks spot for both—Pilot EX and Ascent Premium—they get hard-wearing cloth seats and wash-and-ready interior surfaces. Neat. 

Under the hoods of all Pilots is a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a 6- or 9-speed automatic transmission, depending on trim. Front-wheel drive is standard, although all-wheel drive is a popular option for most Pilots (except Pilot Elites, where it’s standard). The Pilot is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, and its power is adequate for nearly every circumstance. Six isn’t better than nine in this case; Pilots equipped with a 6-speed automatic are nearly as fuel-efficient as their counterparts with nine forward gears, and we think the 6-speed is more refined and hunts less. 

The Ascent’s 2.4-liter turbo-4 is paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that doesn’t hunt for the right gear, it’s constantly varying gear ratios to keep the big crossover efficient or powerful. The 260-hp turbo-4 is just fine everywhere too, and its fuel-efficient as long as drivers aren’t racing from stoplight to stoplight. The Ascent’s ace is standard all-wheel drive and an 8.7-inch ground clearance, which gives it more than just a little off-roadability. 

Both manage about 22 mpg combined, according to the EPA, and ride comfortably. Flip a coin. 

2020 Honda Pilot

2020 Honda Pilot

Both crossovers seat up to eight with available captain’s chairs in the second row. Subaru offers the captain’s chairs as a no-cost swap on most trims, and Honda does too, just on top trims. The Pilot’s third row is more accessible than the Ascent’s, but both crossovers allow access to the third row with a baby seat in the second-row captain’s chairs. 

The Pilot’s front seats and third-row seats are more comfortable, according to our rear ends. The Subaru’s second-row captain’s chairs and eight available USB ports keep warring teenagers separated with their eyes planted firmly on their iPhones all the way home (the Pilot offers up to five USB ports). The Ascent has a smidge more cargo room: 17.0 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in place vs. the Pilot’s 16.5 cubic feet. That kind of difference is mostly academic, although the Ascent opens up for more cargo with the second and third rows folded down: 86.5 cubic feet vs. 83.8 cubic feet. 

Both Subaru and Honda offer top-notch safety equipment as standard equipment on all of their crossovers: automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Most Ascents and Pilots will be equipped with blind-spot monitors, too. The IIHS rates the Ascent a little higher than the Pilot; the Subaru earned a top “Good” score in the passenger-side small overlap crash test (the Pilot earned an “Acceptable”) and the Ascent earned top “Superior” scores for its front crash prevention with vehicles and pedestrians (the Honda isn’t rated for pedestrian safety). 

2020 Subaru Ascent

2020 Subaru Ascent

The Ascent is also fitted with better standard equipment across all models. Base Ascents get cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto compatibility, and 18-inch wheels—among other things. The Pilot LX skips a touchscreen altogether, but still offers cloth and 18-inch wheels. Both crossovers cost about $32,000 in base configurations, but Subaru’s the only one to offer standard all-wheel drive. 

On the strength of that value and a slightly better safety scorecard, the Ascent edges the Pilot in our TCC Rating: 6.8 to 6.5. That lead evaporates once mid- and higher-trim crossovers are considered, where we don’t see a bad pick in the bunch.