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The 10 Best SUVs Under $40,000 - New Subaru Outback And Ascent Outscore 3 Luxury Models

The 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Ascent arrive at retailers this summer. See why Consumer Reports says they outscore three luxury SUVs.

The 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Subaru Ascent models arrive this summer at retailers and get new safety upgrades. The 2020 Outback and Ascent have been picked as Consumer Reports (by subscription) 10 Best SUVs under $40,000 and scores the two mainstream Subaru models superior to three luxury SUVs, two from Lexus and one Audi.

Some argue the Outback isn’t an SUV, but a wagon and CR calls it one, and says it's a “smart alternative” to an SUV. Outback rated high for utility, ground clearance, standard all-wheel-drive, and cargo-carrying ability. Of the 10 Best SUVs, Outback scores higher than the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Lexus UX, Lexus NX, Ford Edge, and Audi Q3.

2021 Subaru Outback, features, specs

Why should I buy a Subaru Outback?

You won’t spend $40,000 on an Outback unless you buy the top-trim Touring XT ($40,705). The base Outback starts at $27,655, and the next to the top Limited XT starts at $38,755. All trim levels come standard will all-drive, which you won’t find in all SUVs.

The Outback offers more of a car-like ride and handling if you don’t want the bulky feel of a larger SUV. The Outback offers 8.7-inches of ground clearance, which is more than some SUVs, and Outback has a superior safety rating from IIHS. Fuel mileage is 26/33 city/highway mpg and 29 combined in the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, also better than many SUVs.

2021 Subaru Ascent, pricing, features, specs

Why should I buy a Subaru Ascent?

The Subaru Ascent base starts at $33,345, and Premium trims begin at $35,845. The upper Limited starts at just over $40,000, with a starting price of $40,645. The top-trim Touring has a starting MSRP of $46,495. Consumer Reports scores the Ascent higher than the Lexus UX, Lexus NX, Ford Edge, and Audi Q3.

The Ascent is the largest vehicle Subaru makes, offering three rows of seats. The Ascent family hauler has a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with as much power (260 horsepower) as the competitor’s V6 powerplants.

The all-new Ascent also has a superior safety rating from IIHS. Fuel mileage comes in at 21/27 city/highway mpg and 23 combined with the 2.4-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine. The big advantage Ascent has over other SUVs is its ground clearance (8.7-inches). All trims come standard with all-drive, and it features X-Mode for improved all-weather performance in mud, snow, and more severe conditions.

What’s new for 2021?

For 2021, all Outback trims now come standard with steering responsive LED headlights, passenger seat belt reminders, and a rear-seat reminder.

The 2021 Ascent comes with advanced adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and lane-keep assist added to the standard EyeSight driver-assist safety technology. Another newly added safety feature is the steering responsive LED headlights that are now standard across all trim levels, and the second- and third-row seat belt reminder is now standard equipment.

Both 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Subaru Ascent roll off the assembly line at the automaker’s U.S. plant in Lafayette, Indiana. There are still some 2020 models left, and new 2021 all-wheel-drive vehicles arrive this summer.

You Might Also Like: The Most Reliable And Fuel-Efficient Midsize SUVs - Subaru Outback And Ascent Score High

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press and the founder of Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Photo credit: Subaru, Competition Subaru


Suzanne A. Pohan (not verified)    August 17, 2020 - 10:51AM

I had planned to buy an Outback or an Ascent until I learned of the class action lawsuit over unintended acceleration affecting the Outback at least through 2019.
What have you been able to find that would ease consumer concerns in re the 2020 and 2021 models of both the Outback and the Ascent?
Thank you.
Suzanne A. Pohan
Strongsville, Ohio

Teresa Kongable (not verified)    August 17, 2020 - 2:01PM

I have a 2017 Outback Limited would like to know the answer to the above question also...we were considering trading our Outback for an Ascent Limited until we started comparing and the Ascent weighs 1200 more pounds then the OutBack but has the same engine with a Turbo and get less gas mileage...we have owned a vehicle in the past with a Turbo and we had lots or repairs with that vehicle so we are a little Leery or purchasing another with a Turbo...Any feedback would be appreciated.

Scott (not verified)    August 17, 2020 - 5:12PM

In reply to by Teresa Kongable (not verified)

See my other comment. I personally would avoid any turbo charged 4 cylinder SUV, but especially with Subaru. Their boxer engines are already prone to blow head gaskets (like mine). A turbo charger jamming more air into the engine will give it more horsepower for sure, but it will cause the engine (and automatic transmission) to wear out much faster. Overall, Subaru's are good cars, but their weak areas are very costly to repair. My '06 Outback now has 210,000 miles on it. I've had to replace the head gasket, rebuild the transmission, put a new catalytic converter on, and replace a couple of sets of sway bars on the front. I recently spent $2200 getting it completely tuned up, replacing the front suspension, and fixing a heater core issue. It runs like a dream now, and even after all the expense, I'm glad I got it. I bought it in 2012 with 140,000 miles on it. So, I bought it right at the time the head gasket issue typically arises with boxer engines. My advice for you would be that if you get a Subaru, avoid the turbos, and don't drive them like a maniac. They'll last a long time.

Carey (not verified)    August 17, 2020 - 8:16PM

In reply to by Teresa Kongable (not verified)

The turbo should be good to about 150 to 180.000 kms then it will cost you about 4000 to replace it. I had a 2008 WRX and that was my experience. I now have a 2018 outback 3.6R. I will be pulling a trailer and didn't want a turbo for fear of premature burnout. I definitely won't be keeping my outback as long as I did my WRX though...

Scott (not verified)    August 17, 2020 - 3:16PM

Let's go back over this list in 5-6 years, and see how many of these turbo charged 4 cylinders that Subaru is putting in these SUVs have blown head gaskets. Boxer engines are already problematic for longevity. Add a turbo to them, and that will make them wear out that much quicker. Subaru automatic transmissions wear out quick too. I have an '06 Outback, and I've had to replace the head gasket, and rebuild the transmission. It runs great now, but that was after $3,000 worth of repairs. You won't encounter these kind of problems with a Toyota or Lexus.

Dave Blanke (not verified)    August 18, 2020 - 11:34AM

GOOD GRIEF! Of course a turbo charged engine will wear out faster than a normally aspirated one. The turbo puts more stress on the engine under hard acceleration which is what owners do with turbo engines; they want to feel the thrill of the faster acceleration. Which also stresses the transmissions. Vehicles used to be done at 120K miles and were considered amazing to go past that mark. Now engines are lasting longer because manufacturers have to compete in a crowded marketplace of domestic and imported products. No one should be surprised at $3000 repair bills at 180K miles. I always say, either pay a monthly payment on a newer car or large amounts randomly on old car repairs.