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A red 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is shown parked near a lake after winning a 2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2023 Subaru Ascent comparison.

The Battle for Three-Row Supremacy: The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs. the 2023 Subaru Ascent

In George Orwell’s classic parable Animal Farm, a group of farm animals rebel against their farmer and take over. They come up with a slogan, “Four legs good! Two legs bad!” This is in honor of the fact that all of the animals walk on four legs. If Orwell had ever decided to write about vehicles, he’d have looked at SUVs and said, “Two rows good! Three rows great!” This is because no other vehicle gives you the drivability and ruggedness of an SUV, while three-row models also allow you to seat up to eight passengers.

Try that in a sedan, crossover, or pickup truck! You can’t do this because the current models offered by the various brands don’t accommodate more than six passengers in any of these vehicle types. You could get a minivan to seat up to eight passengers, but these just don’t compare to SUVs. For one thing, minivans lack the ground clearance of three-row midsize SUVs; this is why, if you are looking for a three-row model that can seat up to eight, it’s worth looking at two notable models, like the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder vs 2023 Subaru Ascent. But which model offers the most? Let’s take a closer look.

A blue 2023 Subaru Ascent is shown parked near a barn.

How Did We Get Here?

These two midsize models had very different lineages. The Nissan Pathfinder was first introduced back in 1985. After several generations and design improvements, Nissan began offering a Pathfinder with an optional third row in 2012. The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is part of the fifth generation of this model, which was introduced last year. Today, all Pathfinder models have three rows of seats, as this version proved more popular than the two-row model; perhaps Orwell would be pleased with this.

Meanwhile, the Subaru Ascent is a relatively new model. Up to 2019, Subaru did not have a model in its lineup that could accommodate more than five passengers. With the debut of the Ascent in the 2019 model year, Subaru joined the ranks of automakers that featured a three-row midsize SUV in its lineup.

There is a key difference between the two models. The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder comes with your choice of front-wheel drive and intelligent four-wheel drive. This gives drivers options, as their local climate may not necessitate the need for the improved traction afforded by four-wheel drive. The 2023 Subaru Ascent has standard symmetrical all-wheel drive. This is a full-time all-wheel drive system. Motorists should keep in mind that the intelligent four-wheel drive system offered on the Pathfinder makes it more off-road capable than the symmetrical all-wheel drive on the Ascent. This is because four-wheel drive delivers horsepower to each wheel, while all-wheel drive is about delivering torque.

A tan 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is shown driving on a city street.

What Is the Difference Between Six Cylinders and Four Cylinders?

In comparing the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder with the 2023 Subaru Ascent, we can see the difference the engine configuration will make on performance. Nissan has gone with a V6 engine on the 2023 Pathfinder, while the 2023 Ascent has a four-cylinder BOXER engine. You can see the effects of these choices across a number of different categories.

The Nissan Pathfinder has a 3.5-liter V6 gas engine with a 9-speed automatic transmission. It has a dual overhead camshaft configuration (DOHC) with 24 valves for its 9 cylinders. The transmission has paddle shifters, so you can emulate a manual transmission without the hassle of working a clutch. The engine uses direct fuel injection to deliver 284 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. The performance-oriented Rock Creek model has a boost in output, giving you 295 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. If you are looking to do some trailering with your SUV, the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is capable of towing up to 6,000 lbs.

Subaru has given the Ascent a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder BOXER gas engine with a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine also has a DOHC configuration with 16 valves, with the addition of an intercooled turbocharger, and the CVT also has paddle shifters to emulate manual transmission control. The engine also utilizes direct fuel injection, providing an output of 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. The 2023 Subaru Ascent has a maximum towing rating of 5,000 lbs.

The black and brown interior of a 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is shown.

Which Model Has Better Speed and Acceleration?

Interestingly, the use of a turbocharger with a higher torque output might lead one to believe that the Subaru Ascent will have better acceleration than the Nissan Pathfinder. However, that is not the case. The front-wheel drive 2023 Pathfinder will get you to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, while opting for the available intelligent four-wheel drive will reduce this slightly to a still impressive 6.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. In contrast, the 2023 Ascent, with its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, will take a full 6.9 seconds to get up to 60.

We see the same thing when we look at the standing quarter mile. The front-wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder will complete the quarter-mile in just 15.2 seconds at 93 mph. Choosing Intelligent Four-Wheel Drive on the Pathfinder reduces this figure to 15.5 seconds at 94 mph, showing that this model is slightly slower but can hold the road slightly better at speed. The 2023 Subaru Ascent can also complete the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds, but its top speed on this track length is only 91 mph.

Which Model Provides Better Fuel Economy?

The top market for three-row midsize SUVs is drivers with a family. Most are looking to save money on gasoline, as this is an important part of any family’s budget. Therefore, fuel economy becomes an important factor whenever a family driver chooses their next vehicle. Choosing the 2023 Pathfinder with front-wheel or four-wheel drive will get you a combined fuel economy of 23 MPG. This is slightly more than the 22 MPG in combined fuel economy for the 2023 Ascent. This is somewhat surprising since Nissan has chosen to go with a larger engine than Subaru.

The tan and black interior and dash of a 2023 Subaru Ascent is shown.

Which Three-Row SUV Is Roomier

Both Nissan and Subaru have done a good job of providing substantial interior passenger space inside their respective models. The 2023 Subaru Ascent has slightly more passenger volume than the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder, with 153.2 cu.ft., compared to 148.5 cu.ft. As a result, both vehicles have room for eight passengers on models with a second-row bench seat and seven in models with second-row captain’s chairs. However, the third row of seats is slightly roomier in the Pathfinder. While the Ascent has 31.7 inches of legroom in the third row compared to 28 inches on the Pathfinder, the Pathfinder has more headroom and shoulder room. This means that your third-row passengers will feel less cramped in the backseat of the Pathfinder.

We see something similar when it comes to cargo space. The 2023 Subaru Ascent has 18 cu.ft. inside its trunk. This is slightly more than the 16.6 cu.ft. inside the 2023 Pathfinder’s trunk. However, if you fold down the third row of seats in the Pathfinder, you will get 45 cu.ft. of cargo space. This is more than the 43.5 cu.ft. of space behind the second row of seats inside the Ascent.

This figure becomes even more pronounced when you fold down each SUV’s second and third row of seats. The Subaru Ascent gives you an acceptable 75.6 cu.ft. of cargo space behind the first row of seats. The Nissan Pathfinder easily surpasses this, with a full 80.5 cu.ft. of cargo space. If you plan to use your three-row SUV for moving things and people, then the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder will be your better choice with its roomier cargo space and increased versatility.

Three-Rows, Two Different Approaches

Nissan and Subaru have taken very different approaches when designing a three-row midsize SUV model. Nissan has given drivers the option of a front-wheel or four-wheel drive model while equipping each with a V6 engine paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. In contrast, Subaru provides a standard all-wheel drive model powered by a turbocharged flat-4 engine with a CVT transmission.

While both the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder and the 2023 Subaru Ascent are high-quality vehicles, the Pathfinder delivers better acceleration, fuel economy, cargo space, and towing capability. This is why many family drivers may find themselves heading to their local Nissan dealer to experience the 2023 Pathfinder for themselves.