2019 Subaru Ascent Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
May 21, 2018

The 2019 Subaru Ascent isn’t another quirky hatchback-wagon-crossover thing—it’s a mainstream hit and Subaru will be better for it.

Don’t call the 2019 Subaru Ascent just an Outback with a dad bod.

The three-row crossover is the largest vehicle ever produced by Subaru and it is sold only in North America.

When it goes on sale in the summer from about $33,000 to start, the Ascent will appeal to families unfazed by sheer vertical mountain walls but inexplicably terrified of owning a minivan. The Ascent is offered in base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels.

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With the Ascent, Subaru finally has a large crossover SUV to complement its outdoors-ready lineup of smaller crossovers, wagons, and sedans. The Subaru Ascent is built in Lafayette, Indiana.

Although the Ascent is new for Subaru, its styling is instantly recognizable. It borrows much of its outward looks from the Subaru Outback, including its wagon proportions and window kink closer to the rear roof pillar. The nose of the Ascent is decidedly bigger and taller, with a larger and more upright grille opening than the Outback. The trapezoidal grille is flanked by hawkish headlights, and LED headlights on top trims.

It earns a 6.4 on our overall scale for now. We think that score will rise when official safety data rolls in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Inside, the Ascent is focused on family detail with a standard second-row bench that can be swapped with captain's chairs on Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels for no charge.

The Ascent sports a new turbo-4 for Subaru that's paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and standard all-wheel drive. The 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque and is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds in Premium trim levels or higher. The CVT operates like a traditional automatic transmission during heavy acceleration and simulates "gears" when pressed, but it's largely tasked with keeping the big all-wheel-drive crossover fuel-efficient. It’s rated around 22 mpg combined, which is on par with our observations and compares well with other three-row family haulers.

Like every other Subaru (except the BRZ sports car), the Ascent will be equipped with standard all-wheel drive on all models. Coupled with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, four-wheel independent suspension, and respectable low-end grunt, the Ascent is capable on gravel roads or for light off-roading duty.

Its mission, however, is firmly as a family vehicle first. The Ascent features three rows of seating for up to eight, with 19.9 cubic feet of cargo room available in the back with the second and third rows in place. Although its interior size is roughly similar to the Chevy Traverse, leg room in the third row is cut down to 31.7 inches—down a couple inches to the Traverse but far more than smaller crossovers with an abbreviated third row such as the Volkswagen Tiguan or Land Rover Discovery Sport.

With the third row folded, the Ascent will hold 47.6 cubic feet of cargo, up to 82.5 cubes with only the first row in place. Cloth seats are standard the base Ascent, with Premium adding a different cloth trim, and Limited and Touring trims featuring leather hides.

The Ascent rides atop Subaru's new global platform that underpins the Impreza and Crosstrek. Official safety data isn't yet available, but the Ascent is equipped with standard advanced safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control, which the automaker brands as “EyeSight.”

Blind-spot monitors and a forward-facing camera are available on Premium and higher trim levels. On Touring trim levels, Subaru makes standard a rear-facing camera that's projected on to the rearview mirror—similar to Cadillac's system—for unobstructed outward vision and a forward-facing camera.

Base models are equipped with 18-inch wheels, four USB ports, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, cloth upholstery, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, three-zone climate control, and the EyeSight safety systems. At the top, Touring trim levels will get leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, woodgrain trim, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon sound system.

The Ascent feels up to the task of taking on other, established rivals in the class. It may have gained (at least, visual) weight compared to the Outback, but it’s anything but lazy.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Styling

The outside won’t thrill, but the 2019 Ascent’s interior is all chill—that’s a good thing.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent cribs the Outback’s exterior style but plants it on a Highlander’s shape.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not hugely exciting. We give the Ascent a point above average for its interior, which is classy and elevates Subaru to mainstream status for now. It gets a 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

From the outside, the Ascent is instantly recognizable as a Subaru; think of an Outback in a housecoat. From the side, the Ascent borrows much of its looks from the smaller Outback, but the Ascent's face and shoulders are all its own. The nose is taller and larger, with a bigger grille opening and more pronounced fenders to wrap around standard 18-inch wheels, or 20-inchers on tonier trims.

Inside, the Ascent features a smart array of family features centered around its standard touchscreen and small-item storage. Yes, there are nearly 20 cupholders in the Ascent, but no you don’t have to fill it with bottles, nor do to the doors look like Swiss cheese.

Smart features such as a perch on the passenger-side dash for phones and cutouts for long elbows near the door pillars give us the hint: Subaru has arrived for interior layout.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Performance

The 2019 Ascent is surprisingly bright, with comfortable road manners and decent fuel economy to boot.

Performance cars aren’t family cars and vice versa.

The 2019 Ascent was never going to ace our muscle matrix, but it does admirably well.

Staring from a base score, the Ascent gets points for a composed and beautiful ride and another point for a turbo-4 that’s better than most in its class—and begging for less sheet metal to drag around. We land at a 7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Ascent boasts a new engine for Subaru, a 2.4-liter turbo-4 rated at 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It’s complemented by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that we’ve swooned over before and standard all-wheel drive on every trim level—a Subaru trademark.

Subaru estimates that the Ascent scampers to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, a number that belies the eager throttle. That jumpiness is somewhat of a Subaru trademark, and in other models hides the overall laziness of the powertrain, but not here. The Ascent leaps from the line in most cases and reserves enough to make highway passes manageable at legal speeds.

Credit may go to the CVT that Subaru has aced in other iterations before. Here in the Ascent, the single gear with variable ratios gets out of the engine’s way and soldiers through revs when called upon. Mash the throttle and the CVT simulates 8 speeds (with somewhat chunky "shifts") or can be summoned with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

It’s our highest praise to call a CVT “invisible” but the Subaru’s transmission is better than that—it’s willing and enabling too.

The single all-wheel-drive setup is a familiar Subaru application. Since the Ascent is available only with an automatic, the all-wheel-drive system is an electronically controlled unit that sends power to front or rear wheels depending on grip.

A standard “X-Mode” simulates low-range gearing for off-roading (don’t laugh, the Ascent has the same ground clearance as a Jeep Grand Cherokee) and hill-descent control for tricky descents in the Ascent. (We couldn’t help ourselves.)

The steering is predictably light and without drama through the wheel, but the Ascent is relatively easy to place on the road. It’s wide—and feels wider—but throughout our day behind the wheel of the Ascent, the big three-row SUV seemed to shrink around us and that’s the most we could ask.

Most models will manage fuel economy around 22 mpg, which is consistent with our observations. Over 140 miles in Oregon, we managed 22.6 mpg according to our calculations.

The Ascent is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds and in our limited testing, is well up to that task.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 Subaru Ascent does family duty like no other Subaru. That’s probably the point.

Facts: “Subaru” is a native Chinook word that means “seats.” “Ascent” is another Chinook word meaning “more seats.”

That fact may stand up to scrutiny, but we’re sure the copious space and storage will.

The 2019 Ascent is the largest vehicle built by Subaru and it shows. Although each of the three rows of seats are accommodating, we won’t call them much more than average.

Instead, we’re impressed with the people- and gear-moving potential of the Ascent in equal turns. We like its quiet and soft ride, which is how we arrive at our comfort score of 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Subaru Ascent offers 153.5 cubic feet of passenger space, which is comparable to a Honda Pilot.

In addition to three rows of seats, which are nearly all suitable for adults for varying degrees of time, the Ascent boasts 17.8 cubic feet of cargo room with all the seats up, or 47.5 cubes with the third row folded.

Up front, the seats are comfortable and supportive, but may not have enough bolstering to keep broad-shouldered adults in place.

The second-row captain’s chairs are suitable for adults and children alike, with 2.1-amp USB ports to charge current devices, separate climate control (in most trims) and plenty of small-item storage.

The third row boasts a scant 31.7 cubic feet of leg room, but horsetrading with second-row passengers makes it just enough to fold in small-adult legs. Some Ascents boast two more 2.1-amp USB ports and tablet storage, although we think that space is best suited for small children.

In our testing we found that a convertible car seat can fit in the second row without a fuss—even rear-facing seats with an adult sitting ahead. When the car seat is in the forward facing position, the second row bench slides forward just far enough to allow a lithe adult to clamber into the wayback without removing the car seat, and car seats in the second and third rows can be easily accommodated simultaneously.

Although the Ascent lacks family-friendly features found in the latest minivans such as in-car vacuums and rear-seat entertainment, the big Subie is welcoming for families of all shapes and sizes.

There are 19 cupholders to hold myriad combinations of sodas, juice boxes, water bottles, and coffee mugs, and the ride is whisper-quiet and calm enough to host any family game night.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Safety

The 2019 Ascent lacks full crash-test results.

Federal and independent testers haven’t yet crashed a Subaru Ascent, so we’re holding off on our safety score until they do. We’ll update this page when that changes. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Absent official crash data, there are reasons for optimism.

The 2019 Ascent utilizes a common skeleton that Subaru is using for most of its cars and crossovers. In the 2019 Crosstrek, which is far smaller and more compressed, the IIHS rated the Subaru’s crashworthiness as “Good” in all tests, including both front- and passenger-side small frontal overlap crash tests—a relative rarity.

Every Ascent is equipped with a rearview camera and Subaru’s suite of active safety features, called “EyeSight.”

EyeSight pairs windshield mounted cameras and sensors for forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control.

Premium and higher trims add blind-spot monitors, rear automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams.

At the top, Touring trims add a 180-degree forward facing camera and a camera-based rearview mirror that displays an unfettered view out of the rear.

Like most large crossovers, the Subaru Ascent lacks clear outward vision in the rear and can feel wide on smaller roads. Opting for Premium or higher trim levels helps, thanks to standard blind-spot monitors.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Features

Life’s rich, but you don’t need beaucoup bucks to drive a well-equipped 2019 Ascent.

Family haulers are heavy on features, but relatively light on value.

The 2019 Ascent packs family-focused ideas such seating for up to eight people, multiple USB charging ports, a gaggle of cupholders, and separate climate controls for front and rear passengers for roughly $33,000 to start.

The Ascent climbs higher from there, all the way to nearly $45,000, but paying more doesn’t necessarily get more. The big Subaru isn’t alone in that—nearly every competitor follows the same formula, so the Ascent’s 7 out of 10 on our features scale is no slight. We give it points above average for great base features and good trim levels that pile on many features that families care about. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

With the Ascent, Subaru offers its typical menu of trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels.

The base features standard all-wheel drive, cloth upholstery, 18-inch wheels, three rows of seats, four USB charging ports, power features, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone climate control, active safety features (that we cover above) and a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility for $32,970, including destination.

Touring-trimmed Ascents start at nearly $13,000 more and offer leather everywhere, 20-inch wheels, a forward-facing camera, a panoramic moonroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, woodgrain trim, and leather upholstery. It’s well-equipped, but like others in the class, the Ascent Touring will appeal to shoppers with money to burn.

Our pick in the class is one step above base, at the Premium trim level that starts at $35,170. For that much, the Premium adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, blind-spot monitors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and Subaru’s telematics. For roughly $1,500 more than that, Subaru offers second-row captain’s chairs, a power liftgate, rear automatic emergency braking, and keyless ignition. We’d be hard-pressed to find a better value anywhere else in the Ascent spectrum.

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2019 Subaru Ascent

Fuel Economy

The 2019 Ascent is competitive with other big family haulers of its ilk, but there’s no hybrid powertrain yet.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent earns respectable ratings for a three-row family hauler, but it lacks a hybrid powertrain—at least for now.

By the EPA’s calculators, the 2019 Ascent is rated at 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined for most versions. That’s good enough for a 4 out of 10 on our fuel economy scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Tonier Ascent Limited and Touring trims are rated at 20/26/22 mpg because they have larger 20-inch wheels than base models.

In our experience, that EPA rating reflects real life.

In 140 miles of mixed driving around Oregon’s forests and beaches we managed 22.6 mpg combined by our calculators in an Ascent Limited tester. Although our mixed driving didn’t include stop-and-go traffic, much of our drives were at varied speeds, in and around Portland.

We’re confident drivers can expect similar mileage.

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$31,995
MSRP based on 2.4T 8-Passenger
 
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6.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 4
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