- Well-conceived interior
- Standard AWD
- Lots of safety tech
- Decent power
- Great value
- Short on powertrain refinement
- Seats a little narrow
- Fuel economy just so-so
- Hardly stylish
features & specs
The 2020 Subaru Ascent is nearly as rational a family hauler as a minivan.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent isn’t showy or ostentatious. It’s a Subaru, after all. Instead, it strikes an admirable balance as a well-designed family hauler with a spacious interior equipped fitted a high level of safety features for a reasonable price. It’s a highly rational choice, and one that lets its rugged personality shine through on occasion.
Overall, we rate the 2020 Ascent at 6.8 out of 10, which takes into account its good crash-test record and versatile design. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Unlike many of its rivals, the 2020 Ascent comes in a simple lineup with few choices other than color. Every version, from the $33,000 base Ascent through Premium and Limited trims up to the $46,000 Ascent Touring, includes a punchy turbo-4 engine, all-wheel drive, and plenty of convenience features. Changes for the Ascent’s second year are limited to a rear-seat reminder, available power-folding exterior mirrors, and a few other minor tweaks.
The 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 makes the most of its 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque to provide good acceleration and impressive passing punch. Ascent Premium and higher trims are rated to tow 5,000 pounds, which isn’t shabby. The continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) does its best to keep the Ascent from guzzling too much regular unleaded. All Ascents are rated between 22 and 23 mpg combined.
The Ascent does its best chunky minivan impression inside with good space for adults in all three rows, though the front seats and the middle bench that can be swapped out for a pair of captain’s chairs aimed at quelling childhood arguments are where you’ll want to be. The third row can squeeze in three kids and is easy enough to access thanks to a simple tug and pull system that moves the second row out of the way. With the third row folded flat, the Subaru Ascent can lug about 47 cubic feet of cargo (a smidge more without the panoramic moonroof fitted to some versions). Flop row two down and that figure swells to an impressive 86 cubes. The more meaningful number for some shoppers might be the 19 cupholders aboard. The only dispute now will be who only gets two beverages, not three.
The base Ascent’s 6.5-inch touchscreen gives way to a bright, quick-responding 8.0-inch display on higher trims, though all versions have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, plenty of USB ports, and Bluetooth. Navigation is available on higher trims, but Apple and Android do a better job than Subaru’s baked-in system.
2020 Subaru Ascent
The 2020 Subaru Ascent’s tall-Outback lines work well enough, but its angular interior is the real winner here.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent doesn’t do much to stand out from the smaller Forester and Outback models with which it shares showroom space. That’s probably fine for most buyers, especially since its interior is well-wrought with contemporary lines and trims.
We rate the 2020 Ascent at 6 out of 10 for its looks.
From its angular grille to its low belt line and tall greenhouse, the Ascent is all Subaru. Unpainted lower trim gives it a faux-rugged look, though its standard all-wheel-drive system means the Ascent leans more toward mountain goat than most rivals. At the rear, high-mounted taillights are separated by a chrome strip, one of few embellishments. Subaru doesn’t do much to differentiate the Ascent’s trim levels other than to increase wheel diameters from standard 18-inch to optional 20-inch diameters. Tourings have a few extra bits of chrome. One warning: If you’re lured by the base Ascent’s $33,000 price, you’d better be happy with white, silver, gray, or black. Brighter colors are restricted to higher trim levels.
Inside, the Ascent’s dash has a symmetrical design that puts audio and climate controls high on the dash. The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen looks small, but nearly every Ascent is equipped instead with a flashier 8.0-inch display. Triangle-shape climate control vents take up a lot of real estate in their effort to keep the cabin cool. Most Ascents can be had in tan and black schemes, but we like the saddle leather hue optional on the Ascent Touring.
2020 Subaru Ascent
The 2020 Subaru Ascent’s turbocharged engine provides good acceleration, though it could be more refined.
Unlike rivals, the 2020 Subaru Ascent comes in just one powertrain configuration: a 260-horsepower 2.4-liter turbo-4 that shuttles power to all four wheels via a CVT. The Ascent gets a point above average for its composed ride. That’s good enough for 6 out of 10 on our scale.
The turbo-4 can sound gruff under hard acceleration and vibrates more at idle than the V-6s used in some competitors, but it mates well with the CVT and returns good real-world fuel economy. (More on that later.) With 277 pound-feet of torque, the flat-4 offers good passing power even with passengers aboard. Under hard acceleration, the CVT behaves as though it’s a conventional automatic with stepped gears that do a reasonable job preventing the engine from howling at high RPMs. The effect isn’t totally convincing, but it’s easy to get used to. Most versions are rated to tow 5,000 pounds, making the 2020 Ascent among the better luggers.
Light steering keeps the Ascent maneuverable in town. Its 38-foot turning circle is smaller than some rivals, which makes it easier to hustle into tight parking spaces.
On the highway, the Ascent settles into a smooth operator. All versions come with adaptive cruise control, too. Highway road-trip cruiser status: achieved.
The standard 18-inch wheels have big sidewalls that smother rough pavement and rocky trails with equal enthusiasm. The bigger 20s on higher-trim Ascents don’t make the ride much stiffer, though we’d still stick with the 18s given the choice. Ride quality is excellent.
With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a standard off-road mode, the Ascent is a capable mud-plugger. The all-wheel-drive system reacts quickly to slippery pavement and muddy trails alike. There’s no front-wheel-drive version of the Ascent, which may limit its appeal in smile states, but the fuel-economy and pricing penalties are insignificant.
2020 Subaru Ascent
Comfort & Quality
With cupholders, seats, and USB ports for all, the 2020 Subaru Ascent makes a great family hauler.
A spacious interior, flexible storage, and a wide variety of seating configurations makes the 2020 Subaru Ascent a great choice for families. We rate it at 9 out of 10, awarding it points above average for its good front and back seats, its ability to accommodate adults anywhere there’s a seatbelt, and its spacious cargo area.
Up front, the 2020 Ascent has firm seats with a good range of adjustment. All but the base model includes an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, while versions with leather trim additional adjustment and memory. The lack of a height-adjustable passenger seat is a surprising oversight, however, and broad drivers may find the front seats a little narrow.
The rear seat has nearly 39 inches of leg room and a base that moves forward and backward at the tug of a lever. A three-seat bench is standard on most, while the captain’s chairs that come with the Touring can be had on Premium and Limited versions for no extra cost. That’s unusual compared to rivals that limit seven-passenger seating to the highest trims, and it may be a big selling point for some families.
Access to the third row is easy with either the second-row bench or captain’s chairs. There are three seatbelts back there, but don’t expect three linebackers to squeeze in there. Still, for short stints, the Ascent’s third row has good space, cupholders, USB ports, and an airy feel thanks to a lower beltline than in rivals.
The Ascent boasts plenty of cargo space. It’ll hold more than 17 cubic feet of stuff with the third row upright, about 47 cubes with it folded, and a maximum of around 86 cubic feet. Opting for the panoramic moonroof reduces cargo capacity, but only by a hair, and it has little impact on head room unless your family regularly treks to stovepipe hat conventions.
Base Ascents have tough-wearing cloth upholstery and soft-touch materials throughout. Their interior decor surprises for the price. Moving up to the leather-upholstered Ascent Limited makes things easier to clean, though it doesn’t really dress up the place inside. We do like the saddle leather upholstery on the Ascent Touring, however.
2020 Subaru Ascent
The 2020 Subaru Ascent performs well in crash tests and is loaded with collision-avoidance tech.
Every version of the 2020 Subaru Ascent leaves the factory with a load of tech designed to prevent crashes. In a worst-case scenario, federal and independent testers have said the Ascent protects its passengers well, too.
We rate the 2020 Ascent at 9 out of 10 accordingly.
Automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control—which Subaru bundles as its EyeSight package—comes standard on all. Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts are fitted to the Ascent Premium and higher. Only the range-topping Touring comes with a front-view camera and no surround-view camera system is available. The Touring also includes an interior rearview mirror that doubles as a display for a rear camera, a feature that may take some getting used to for some drivers.
The NHTSA rates the Ascent at five stars overall, with four stars in the rollover risk calculations. The IIHS gave the crossover SUV its top “Good” rating in every crash test, but it’s mixed on headlight performance. The LED headlights on Limited and Touring trims earn “Good” ratings and a Top Safety Pick+ award, while the halogens that come on base and Premium versions rate “Poor.”
2020 Subaru Ascent
The high-value 2020 Subaru Ascent comes well equipped for family duty.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent is available in four trim levels that start from about $33,000 including a mandatory destination charge. There’s not a bad deal in the mix, though we’d bypass the base model for the Premium or Limited trims. Overall, we rate the lineup at 7 out of 10. Premium and higher 2020 Ascents would earn an extra point if rated separately due to their larger infotainment screens.
The base Ascent comes with a bundle of collision-avoidance tech, four USB ports, a 6.5-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 18-inch alloy wheels. We’d still spend the $2,400 more to step up to the $35,400 Ascent Premium for its 8.0-inch touchscreen, blind-spot monitors, power driver seat, heated front seats, tinted windows, and stain-resistance fabric. Opting for a seven-seat version incurs no extra charge.
At $46,000, the Ascent Touring is dressed up with leather, moonroof, heated rear seats and steering wheel, cooled front seats, Harman Kardon audio, and more. It’s a good value among rivals.
Navigation and a moonroof are optional and bundled together on the Ascent Premium and Touring. If you can live without a hole in the roof, we’d save the money since Apple and Android do a better job handling maps. Otherwise, the Ascent’s infotainment system responds quickly to inputs, has a sharp screen, and comes with Bluetooth and plenty of USB ports on every trim.
2020 Subaru Ascent
Drive gently and the 2020 Subaru Ascent rewards with good real-world fuel economy.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent isn’t offered in a fuel-saving front-wheel-drive model or with a hybrid powertrain under the hood, but it’s still reasonably thrifty.
We rate it at 4 out of 10.
There’s a small hit for vanity when it comes to the 2020 Ascent. Base and Premium versions with the standard 18-inch alloy wheels are rated by the EPA at 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined. Opt for the 20-inch wheels on other trims and those figures slide to 20/26/22 mpg, which is still good for a big crossover SUV with standard all-wheel drive. The Ascent is designed to run on regular unleaded gasoline, too.
The Ford Explorer is rated at 23 mpg combined with all-wheel drive, but competitors such as the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, and Honda Pilot are rated 1 to 2 mpg lower.