Many drivers see crossover SUVs as the ideal vehicle. They are made with a unibody structure for passenger driving comfort like a car but have all the size and space luxuries of an SUV. Toyota helped usher in this new era of SUVs with the Highlander in 2001. When most SUVs were still based on trucks, the Highlander was one of the first vehicles to use a unibody structure.
The starting price of the Highlander is slightly higher vs. Ascent. The 2020 Highlander base trim, the Highlander L, starts at $34,600.
Introduced in 2019, the Subaru Ascent is newer to the crossover trend. The 2020 Ascent base trim starts at $31,995. However, the price advantage shrinks when you consider maintenance and other standard features.
All leases and purchases of new Toyota vehicles come standard with a factory-scheduled maintenance program called ToyotaCare. It lasts for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first. ToyotaCare also includes Roadside Assistance that lasts for two years and unlimited miles. Subaru has a maintenance program but duration and cost depend on the plan you buy.
See how these rivals stack up in categories like safety, performance, and interior.
Publish Date: 06/12/2020
The 2020 Highlander comes with Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0), a suite of active safety features.
The safety features of Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0) are Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Bicyclist Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), and Road Sign Assist (RSA).
The Ascent does have its own suite of safety features called EyeSight®. However, it misses out on some of the safety features of TSS 2.0. The Ascent includes: Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure, Sway Warning, and Lane Keep Assist. High Beam Assist (HBA), comparable to Toyota's Automatic High Beams (AHB), is only available on the Ascent Limited or higher, starting at $39,345 MSRP.
For a more advanced feature like Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert on the Ascent you'll need to get the Ascent Premium or higher. Comparatively, Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) is standard on the Highlander LE or higher.
The Highlander base trim comes standard with Snow Mode to help drivers battle wintry roads. Subaru does not list such a feature on its vehicle specifications page.
On the Ascent, all-wheel drive (AWD) is standard. However, if you prefer front-wheel drive (FWD), the Highlander has both AWD and FWD options to give you more choices.
In this SUV fuel economy head to head, the Highlander pulls ahead. The Highlander’s base trim L has an EPA-estimated 21 city and 29 highway MPG. The Ascent’s base trim has an EPA-estimated 21 city and 27 highway. That isn’t much of a difference, but it adds up during commutes, road trips, and other long journeys.
The Ascent does have a slightly better 277 lb.-ft. torque compared to the Highlander’s 263 lb.-ft. torque. But when it comes to horsepower, the Highlander has the high ground. The 2020 Highlander has 295 horsepower while the Ascent has only 260 horsepower. For the performance minded, they may opt for the 2020 Highlander over the Ascent.
The Highlander Limited and Platinum have Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging. Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging is not listed on any Ascent trim.
The tech touches on the Highlander don’t stop with Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging.
While the Highlander’s base trim has five USB ports the Ascent base trim doesn’t list any. The Ascent Premium does list dual front and second-row USB ports. The Ascent Limited and Touring trims have dual front, second, and third-row USB ports.
While both base trims of the Highlander and the Ascent have six speakers, the Highlander has an 8-inch touch-screen which is larger than the Ascent’s 6.5-inch touch-screen. To get an 8-inch touch-screen on the Ascent, drivers would have to choose the Ascent Premium or higher.
The Highlander also has an upgraded 12.3-inch touch-screen available for the Limited trim which is larger than the Ascent’s available 8-inch touch-screen. The 12.3-inch screen comes standard on the Platinum trim.
Choose the crossover SUV that has all of the features you need at the price that’s right for you. Between the 2020 Highlander vs. Ascent, the competition is pretty fierce. But a few things push the Highlander over the top.
All leases and purchases of new Toyota Highlanders come with a maintenance program called ToyotaCare. ToyotaCare lasts for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first. ToyotaCare also includes Roadside Assistance that lasts for two years and unlimited miles. Subaru also has a maintenance program, but the cost and duration depend on which plan you purchase.
The 2020 Highlander comes with Toyota Safety Sense® 2.0 (TSS 2.0). TSS 2.0 includes: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Bicyclist Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), and Road Sign Assist (RSA).
Subaru offers a comparable suite of safety features known as EyeSight®, but the availability of certain advanced standard features is lacking in comparison to Highlander. Namely, EyeSight® misses out on an Automatic High Beams (AHB)-comparable feature unless you purchase the Ascent Limited or higher grade, starting at $39,345 MSRP.
The Highlander offers more driving options, too. You can get AWD or FWD, whichever suits you best. The Highlander also has more horsepower than the Ascent with 295 vs. 260.
For these reasons and more, our clear winner in this comparison is the 2020 Highlander.