We’ve always admired that Subaru stays true to its roots. A clever mix of marketing and engineering makes Subie owners set apart from the crowd. And in an age where so many brands seem to offer similar products, that difference is a fresh and welcome breeze.
That said, Subaru doesn’t operate in a vacuum – they have to offer vehicles that buyers want. A perfect example is the 3-row crossover. Right now, that 7-passenger capability is a hot ticket, and we’ve seen everything from the new VW Tiguan to Kia Sorento stepping up to snag a bite of that apple.
One Giant Step for Subaru
Enter the Ascent, Subaru’s all-new, family-size, 3-row SUV. And as a matter of fact, the largest Subaru ever offered for sale. We should note that it’s not the maker’s first whack at the segment way back in 2008 they introduced the Tribeca. More of a cross between a minivan and SUV. We loved the front end, which actually looked like an Alfa (before Alfa came back to the US), but the styling proved polarizing, and it never took off.
No Such Problem with the Ascent. It’s crisp and handsome, and recognizable as a Subaru, just on a larger scale. Familiar fare includes signature hexagonal grille and C-shaped headlights. It’s also got the characteristic outdoorsy ruggedness, thanks to flared lower sills and lower side and wheel arch cladding. Our tester also looked impressively upscale, thanks to rich Crimson Red Pearl paint and optional 20” dark gray, machine-finish wheels.
Big On The Outside, Big On The inside
The big draw for the Ascent will be the extra interior space, and it is impressive. Along with room for up to eight on board, it’s Subaru’s most versatile vehicle ever, with up to nine seating configurations. Buyers who want to carry the most bodies should opt for the 2nd and 3rd row 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Our tester was a bit more plush with 2nd row Captain’s chairs, but like the available bench, they slide forward for good access to the 3rd row, and fold forward easily to give you a flat cargo area.
The 3rd is surprisingly comfortable for adults – many 3-row competitor’s seats are kids only – and Subaru gives you belts for 3 in the back row, but we think it would best for two adults, or you could squeeze in 3 kids.
Up in the front row, it’s very comfortable, with switchgear that would familiar to anyone used to current Subaru practice. Our Premium level tester had cloth seats that were comfortable, and the warm ivory cloth (spill-resistant!) matched the interior trim, giving a fresh, contemporary look. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever help raise the game as well.
In the center is the 8” touchscreen, with a cool Wi-Fi hot spot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Subaru has also updated their Starlink Connected Services to offer goodies like remote engine start, along with concierge service, and remote alerts.
Subaru has really pushed the safety story on all its vehicles, and all Ascent models come standard with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology including Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Pre-Collision Throttle Management. A new EyeSight Assist Monitor (EAM) provides a heads-up display of the EyeSight system warnings as well as system status information on the windshield of the vehicle.
If you don’t understand all of that, no worries – all you need to know is the Ascent was named a 2018 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ and achieved the highest possible rating of “Superior” for front crash prevention from IIHS with standard EyeSight.
Another nice surprise – although the Ascent is a large vehicle. It’s surprisingly un boat-like to drive. This is important – Subaru has often positioned itself as the reasonably-sized Crossover/SUV – maneuverability and agility along with All Wheel Drive confidence are hallmarks of the brand.
Your drive starts with impressive power – and of course being a Sube, that means a horizontally-opposed “Boxer” flat-four engine. We’re getting used to turbocharged 4 cylinders’ in all size of vehicles in the marketplace, so there’s no griping about a lack of a V6. The 2.4 turbo four gives plenty of punch, with 260 horsepower and a robust 277 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. There’s even a little of the traditional Subaru growl – which we like, it has some personality
CVT transmissions seem to be getting better all the time, and the one in the Ascent does a fine job imitating an 8-speed automatic when you’re driving aggressively, and quietly slurs away when you’re just cruising. We averaged right around 20 mpg combined – about what we’d expect for a large vehicle running a turbo motor. Go easy on the boost, and you’d probably do a bit better.
For those that tow, you get up to 5,000 lb. capacity – the most of any Subaru in history! Another bonus, the Ascent features Trailer Stability Assist (the other TSA) that monitors trailer sway and can brake individual wheels to stabilize vehicle and trailer. Good stuff.
We did a different kind of hauling with our tester, and we can attest to strong handling grip – thank you Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive – and excellent maneuverability. It’s interesting, the Ascent has lighter, more-boosted power steering than is usual in Subaru. Some don’t like it, but we feel they did an excellent job, it makes a large vehicle feel much smaller and wieldy, especially in tight parking lots, and crowded traffic.
Helping that are the excellent safety systems we mentioned – you really do feel like the Ascent is working hard to keep you safe. We got stuck in a nice chunk of LA traffic and found the adaptive cruise control a peace-of-mind saver, stopping and going along with the flow with minimal required input. It notably reduces stress – and who wouldn’t mind that?
The biggest price ever, too?
Well, that depends. The base Ascent starts at $31,995. But look at, say an Outback 2.5i Limited, at $32,845, and you’ll find that there’s plenty of crossover in your shopping for a Crossover.
Our tester was a Premium, the next step above base, and carried an MSRP of $34,165. We think it’s the sweet spot in the Ascent line-up – it features Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert; towing capability up to 5,000 lb.; 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen; Wi-Fi hot spot; 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and the All-Weather Package with heated exterior mirrors, 3-mode heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icer. What more could you want?
Well, our tester also had $4,260 of Options, including 20” alloys, Panoramic power moonroof, 2nd row captain’s chairs, STARLINK Multimedia Navigation System and Cargo area cover. Adding in $975 for Destination and Delivery and we rang the cash register at $39,430.
You can go further up with the Limited at $38,99 which includes standard many of our testers options, and other stuff like leather, etc, or go top-dog Touring, with all the Limited items, plus Exclusive Java Brown leather upholstery, 2nd row captain’s chairs, TomTom Navigation, Pano-moonroof,14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio and more, for $44,695.
The closest competitor is probably the Mazda CX-9, another 3-row with personality. We estimate that a comparable Touring AWD would sticker out at $40,515, so they are very close. Go to a luxury brand, and the price escalates quickly – the Acura MDX start at $44,300 and builds from there. So, we’d call the Subie (and the Mazda) strong value for what you get.
The all-new Ascent has a lot to offer. For current Subaru owners that want more space, larger families that have always wanted a Subie but couldn’t find a fit, and for others in the 3-row market who want something with its own unique vibe, while still giving you all the comfort, safety, and utility you’d expect.
Fun, spirited, stylish and safe, the Subaru Ascent ascends to the top of its class.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.