Car Comparison Tests Car Reviews

March Mayhem Quarterfinal: 2019 Chevrolet Traverse vs. 2019 Subaru Ascent

It’s not a minivan if the doors don’t slide

It’s not a minivan if the doors don’t slide

The utility of a minivan is never questioned, but its coolness? Absolutely. The original tough-looking, truck-based SUVs offered image-conscious buyers an alternative that combined most of the space of a minivan with a truck’s off-road and towing capabilities—and also a truck’s jarring ride quality. But because most families prefer the go-anywhere image over actual abilities, less capable but more functional car-based crossovers have risen to the top of the market. For the family that most needs what a minivan can do but doesn’t want to be seen in one, three-row crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and Subaru Ascent offer a rugged-image alternative.

MotorTrend’s March Mayhem is here! As part of our quest to find the best family car, we invited eight vehicles to compete in a winner-take-all bracket. Representing full-size crossovers in the first round are the 2019 Chevrolet Traverse AWD RS and 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring AWD.

Although they arrive in the same place, these two entrants take very different routes getting there. Both offer a standard turbocharged four-cylinder of similar power and torque, but Chevrolet requires an upgrade to an optional V-6 to match the Subaru’s tow rating. All-wheel drive is also standard on the Subaru and optional on the Traverse. Chevrolet does offer more configurations, but it will cost you more to match the Subaru’s standard equipment and capability.

Likewise, Subaru’s EyeSight suite of active safety features is standard on every Ascent, but Chevrolet reserves some safety features for the more expensive trims. As tested, our Ascent and Traverse were similarly priced, but we would need to spend several thousand dollars more on a higher-trim Traverse to get the lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance the Subaru has standard.

The trend continues into the aesthetics. Black is the standard interior color for both vehicles. Subaru does offer light and dark brown alternatives on higher trims, but if you want anything but a black or gray uniform with the Traverse, you’ll have to buy the $55,000 USD High Country trim. As a result, the Ascent in our test feels richer, warmer, and more inviting than the more utilitarian Traverse.

On top of that, the Ascent gets Subaru’s latest Starlink frameless infotainment screen with sleeker, modern graphics—the Traverse makes do with Chevrolet’s previous-generation MyLink infotainment system and its aging graphics.

Functionally, though, the Traverse claws back an advantage. Simply put, if you need space, the Chevrolet has it. Longer and wider, the Traverse provides substantially more cargo space with the third-row seats up or down. It also offers more space in the third row for older kids and teenagers. We appreciated Subaru’s placement of grab handles on the inside shoulders of the second-row seats to ease your exit from the way back, however.

Both our test vehicles were equipped with second-row captain’s chairs that recline and slide forward and back. We found them equally easy to load child seats and children into and out of, but older children loading themselves will have to climb up a bit more getting into the Traverse. Buckling a child seat into the LATCH points on the Traverse is substantially easier, as the Ascent’s are covered by leather flaps that are difficult to pull out of the way. The Chevrolet’s additional width and space between the captain’s chairs suggest seating a parent or grandparent between two child seats on a second-row bench seat would be less of a squeeze than in the Subaru.

The two remain evenly matched when it comes to the driving experience. For a vehicle without sporting pretensions, the Traverse handles with surprising confidence and response. The Ascent is slightly taller and feels it, not quite the corner-carver the Traverse is but nearly as good. The sporty Traverse has a firmer ride, but both handle bumps and broken pavement very well for their size and weight. Combined with quiet cabins, they’re equally comfortable at home or on long road trips for away games with the grandparents. The Ascent’s larger windows offer marginally better outward visibility, and like the Traverse it offers an optional video rear view mirror that lets you see around passengers and cargo, an occasionally useful feature when you have a packed house.

Both powertrains offer plenty of torque and easy freeway on-ramp performance with excellent assistance from smartly tuned transmissions. The Ascent’s superior city and combined fuel economy, however, is compelling.

With such similarly performing contestants, we returned to value, where the Subaru’s greater standard feature list gives it the edge. We also valued its welcoming interior more than the Chevrolet’s additional space. The Ascent advances as the better representative of the three-row SUV class.

2019 Chevrolet Traverse AWD RS 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring AWD
BASE PRICE $46,495 $45,670
PRICE AS TESTED $46,890 $45,670
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/310-hp/266-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 2.4L/260-hp/277-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve flat-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,541 lb (57/43%) 4,566 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 120.9 in 113.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 204.3 x 78.6 x 70.7 in 196.8 x 76.0 x 71.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.7 sec 7.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.1 sec @ 93.6 mph 15.6 sec @ 91.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 125 ft 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg) 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.0 sec @ 0.65 g (avg) 27.2 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/25/20 mpg 20/26/22 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 198/135 kW-hrs/100 miles 169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.98 lb/mile 0.87 lb/mile