A forest green 2020 Telluride, which wins when comparing the 2020 Kia Telluride vs 2020 Subaru Ascent, is driving over rocks on a dirt trail.

SUV Face-Off: KIA Telluride vs Subaru Ascent


There may be plenty of SUVs out and about on the road today, but two are near the top in terms of utility, power, tech, and value like the 2020 KIA Telluride vs 2020 Subaru Ascent. These are two full-sized, three-row SUVs that are both in steep competition, offering a similar engine spread and driving experience. On the one hand, you have the KIA Telluride, the largest in a lineup of top-ranking SUVs that have earned praise worldwide. On the other, you have the Subaru Ascent, a vehicle developed by an automaker that has earned a reputation for incredible reliability and safety. The 2020 KIA Telluride and the 2020 Subaru Ascent are a pair of well-match contenders, however, only one ought to be considered the superior three-row SUV. Continue reading to learn what both of these SUVs have to offer, and which we think should be considered the better choice.

A Bird’s Eye View

At a distance, both the 2020 KIA Telluride and the 2020 Subaru Ascent offer up plenty of curb appeal depending on your preference. If you have a taste for something modern that is still rooted in the classic SUVs of old, the 2020 KIA Telluride might be your ideal choice. One part rugged adventure vehicle, two parts family-car, the 2020 KIA Telluride is bound to draw a diverse crowd to its driver’s seat. KIA’s largest SUV can be purchased in either the LX, S, EX, or SX trim levels. With an entry cost of $33,000 MSRP, the KIA Telluride is moderately affordable, especially when you consider how much is offered in the base model.

Turn to the 2020 Subaru Ascent, and you’ll find a vehicle that is entrenched in its brand styling. More or less, the Subaru Ascent looks like an oversized Crosstrek or Outback, which may not be a problem for Subaru fans, but is polarizing for those who are not big fans of what Subaru brings to the table style-wise. Much like the KIA Telluride, the Subaru Ascent provides drivers with four trim options to choose from, those being the base model Ascent, the Ascent Premium, the Ascent Limited, and the Ascent Touring. The base model Ascent is a little more affordable than its competitor, pricing in at around $31,995 MSRP. That said, this lower price doesn’t automatically designate more significant value, so we’ll need to dig a little deeper to determine that.

A side view of a 2020 KIA Telluride towing a horse trailer with large rock hills in the background.

Full-Size Power for a Full-Size SUV

Unlike competitor models, both the KIA Telluride and the Subaru Ascent come with a single-engine build across all trim options. This is hardly an issue for some drivers, who care more about things like safety and interior comforts than engine specs. However, for the SUV driver who likes the option of having something a little more robust, this single lane of engine design can be a bit disheartening.

Let’s remain consistent and start with the KIA. Every model of the 2020 KIA Telluride speeds off of the factory floor with a 291 horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 engine that promises 262 lb-ft worth of torque. Using an 8-speed automatic transmission as a sidekick, the 2020 KIA Telluride can be fitted with either a front-wheel or all-wheel drivetrain. When put to the test, the engine beneath the hood of the KIA Telluride can haul up to 5,000 pounds without missing a beat. With the option of either 18-inch or 20-inch wheels, you can expect a smooth ride from beginning to end. And to no surprise, the all-wheel-drive system found onboard certain models makes for some great handling even when tasked with chewing through dirt or snow.

How does the Subaru Ascent compare? Well, Subaru decided to fit their only large-sized SUV with a 2.4-liter turbo-4 engine, which wouldn’t be an issue in something half of its size, but the 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft worth of torque that the engine is responsible for does feel a little inadequate. Operating on a CVT (continuously variable transmission) is another polarizing characteristic of the Subaru Ascent, as some critics and gear-heads may find this to be a deal-breaker. That said, the smaller engine can still offer up quite a performance, even matching the KIA Telluride at a rating of 5,000 pounds. Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system is also hard to compete with, although the lack of a front-wheel-drive option furthers our understanding that the Subaru Ascent is catered toward Subaru fans.

On the subject of fuel economy, both vehicles’ base models come in at 23 mpg combined, which is as to be expected from SUVs of this size.

Interior Comforts

Speaking of size, both of these vehicles offer a max seating capacity of eight passengers, however, only one offers a riding experience. At 197 inches from bumper to bumper, the KIA Telluride and the Subaru Ascent are roughly the same size, and yet the KIA Telluride offers far more cargo space. With all three rows up and filled, drivers will still be able to utilize 21 cubic feet of cargo space. Drop the second and third-row seats, and that number expands to about 87 cubic feet. When the Subaru Ascent is filled, drivers will only find 17 cubic feet, and even when every inch of cargo space is utilized, you’ll only be able to fit 86 cubic feet worth of luggage.

A side view of the grey leather interior of the 2020 KIA Telluride is shown.

Both models offer plenty in the way of interior luxuries, but yet again, the KIA Telluride gets the advantage. In base models of the Telluride, drivers will find synthetic leather upholstery, power features, keyless ignition, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that is, of course, compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2020 Subaru Ascent struggles to keep up, offering only a 6.5-inch infotainment touch screen and basic cloth-upholstery.

As can be expected, though, the Subaru Ascent manages to pick up the slack with its offered safety features. Every Subaru comes with the EyeSight package at no extra cost to the buyer. This package comes with active safety features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. You can even upgrade this package, by adding a front-view camera, and an interior rearview mirror.
While the Subaru Ascent manages to pick up the pace, it still doesn’t outperform the KIA Telluride in terms of active safety features. Each model of the Telluride is fitted with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors. You can even add automatic high-beam headlights, forward parking sensors, surround-view monitors, and a heads up display, most of which is nowhere to be found in the Subaru Ascent.

Which is the Superior Full-Size SUV

When you boil it down, both the Subaru Ascent and the KIA Telluride are highly competitive vehicles, offering plenty of value beneath either ‘well-styled’ chassis. That said, there are some stark differences between both vehicles, differences that put the 2020 KIA Telluride well ahead of the 2020 Subaru Ascent. Sure, the Subaru Ascent does a pretty solid job in some areas, it simply cannot outpace the KIA Telluride with its larger cargo size, larger engine, and more extensive safety package. While you can take our word for it, we suggest that you test both vehicles out to see for yourself, as both KIA and Subaru have designed a brilliant SUV that is worth checking out first hand.