Trucks & SUVs

2021 Subaru Ascent vs. Volkswagen Atlas: Which SUV Is a Better Buy?

The search for a perfect three-row SUV can be tricky business. Models that aren’t overly expensive are often clunky and difficult to handle. However, having that extra row for growing families or extended cargo space is incredibly alluring to some buyers. With a crowded midsize SUV market, it can be even more challenging to assess which model would be best for your needs. This is where the 2021 Subaru Ascent and 2021 Volkswagen Atlas come into play. 

Three-row SUVs have been a mainstay for many automakers for years. With segment leaders like the Kia Telluride and the Hyundai Palisade getting all the hype, it may be easy to just go with the crowd. While this would certainly be easier, overlooking the Ascent and Atlas would undoubtedly be a mistake, as both offer a unique take on the class. But do these models provide enough value? 

Let’s take a closer look at the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas and 2021 Subaru Ascent to help you make a better buying decision.

What we love about the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas 

A blue 2021 Volkswagen Atlas driving down a highway road
The 2021 Volkswagen Atlas in action | Photo via Volkswagen

One thing that is crucial when searching for the perfect midsize SUV is affordability. Making sure you get all the features you want at a price you can afford is paramount. Since these massive machines take up so much real estate, it can sometimes be challenging to find a model that fits your price range. 

Thankfully, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas has a relatively low starting MSRP, beginning at $31,555. Meanwhile, the 2021 Subaru Ascent is a little more expensive, starting at $32,295.

The new VW Atlas’ standard powertrain seems a little lackluster at first, especially since Volkswagen notes that it requires premium fuel to make 235 hp. However, this 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes up to 258 lb-ft of torque, helping it deliver lively acceleration.

Those who want a bit more power can outfit their 2021 Atlas with its available 3.6-liter V6. This potent powertrain kicks out 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Meanwhile, the 2021 Subaru Ascent only has a single four-cylinder engine, leaving some buyers underwhelmed. 

What we love about the 2021 Subaru Ascent 

A white 2021 Subaru Ascent parked in front of a house
The 2021 Subaru Ascent on display | Photo via Subaru

RELATED: The Ascent Is the Most Hated Subaru, According To KBB Customer Ratings

While the Atlas offers advantages when it comes to price and engine options, the Ascent provides more practicality. Subaru’s biggest SUV can seat seven or eight occupants, depending on trim level. Meanwhile, the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas maxes out at seven people.

Additionally, the 2021 Subaru Ascent offers some performance advantages. Its 260-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine is more fuel-efficient than that of its rival. The Ascent gets an EPA-estimated 23 MPG city/highway combined. In comparison, the VW Atlas gets 22 MPG combined with its standard engine and 19 MPG combined with its available V6.

Drivers who want the added capability of an all-wheel-drive system may lean toward the 2021 Subaru Ascent, as well. This drivetrain comes standard on all Ascent models, while Volkswagen charges extra for the feature.

Which three-row SUV is worth the test drive?

RELATED: Buying the 2021 Subaru Ascent Over the Ford Explorer Makes Too Much Sense

This battle of midsize SUVs is closely contested. However, the edge goes to the 2021 Subaru Ascent. While both models offer a wealth of driver-assistance technologies, experts have named the Ascent the safest midsize SUV of 2020. Its standard AWD system doesn’t just save you money. It also gives you peace of mind that your vehicle can handle driving in inclement weather.