What if you love your Subaru Outback but find yourself needing more room, especially a 3rd row of seats? Or if you have a 3-row SUV and always wanted a Subaru to call your own? Easy, get yourself a Subaru Ascent. We worried that the transition to such a large vehicle might dilute the Subie goodness we’ve found in the Outback, Forester, Crosstrek – even the WRX.
So, we had to ask. Is the biggest Subaru still true to the cause?
Subaru Design on Display
Well, it certainly looks that way. If you didn’t have a reference point, you might easily mistake the Ascent’s upright lines for its little brother the Forester. Nothing wrong with that, the Forester is a handsome, if conservatively designed vehicle that shows a great emphasis on utility.
And the Ascent is the same way. Up front, the familiar Trapezoidal grille flanked by LED headlights is modern, fresh and unmistakable. The profile is handsome in a big SUV way, and the large 20-inch alloys look great, giving a real sense of ruggedness to the design.
Out back (or should we say Outback?) the large rear hatch promises easy access, the lower side cladding promises off-road capability, and the twin tailpipes promise performance. Sporty and modern.
Perhaps our favorite part of our tester’s design was the Abyss Blue Pearl paint. Subarus and Blue go together like fish and chips, and it looks great on the Ascent, reminding us of those first WRX rally cars in their cool blue paint and gold wheels. Nice!
A Big Cabin for the Woods
Inside, the Ascent impresses with its space and grace. While you can carry up to 8 passengers, depending on the trim, our Touring model had 2nd row captains’ chairs, so it’s technically a 7-passenger model.
And like most of the 3-row SUV’s, that 3rd row is best for kids. The 2nd row shows some smart thinking – the seats glide and tilt easily for access to the 3rd row, and also fold flat to max out cargo area when the third row is folded down as well. Flexibility is what you pay for.
And while those 2nd row cap’s are comfy, we’ll still take the front seats, thank you. The seating position is excellent – high, with great visibility, and the seats are supportive even for taller folks.
The Java Brown leather on our tester was gorgeous – rich color, beautifully trimmed. You know you’re travelling First Class. A heated steering wheel, Tri-zone climate control, and heated and ventilated front seats reinforce that impression.
If you’ve been in any Subaru recently, you’ll feel at home with the Ascent. Large analog gauges with a sensible driver-assist display. The 8” Starlink Info-tainment display is bright and clear and included Navigation and a 14-speaker Harmon Karmon Audio system on our Touring tester. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Standard, of course!
Also, like other Subies, there’s a small hooded display above the infotainment which is used for driver-assistance information, and included our favorite, a forward-looking display that made it easy to pull into a garage without smacking that big grille into a wall.
Our tester also had the cool 180-Degree Front View Monitor. In normal mode, it’s a regular inside rear view mirror. But flip the handle, and it uses a camera mounted on the rear to give you an unimpeded wide-angle view – a great idea in a vehicle that could have a lot of passengers (and their heads) blocking your sightline. It also gives you a nice clear view at night an added bonus.
Drives Like A Subaru
Which shouldn’t be a big surprise. Actually, there is one big surprise – the Ascent doesn’t feel as large to drive as it physically is, which is really nice. Many of the three row vehicles make their size known on the road, and when it comes to negotiating a tight parking spot or crowded mall, can be a real pain. But not here.
It starts with Subaru’s famous “Boxer” horizontally-opposed engine design – yes, just like in the WRX – and it does similar magic here, sitting low in the chassis to give a low hoodline that’s great for visibility. The layout also keeps the weight low which is good for handling.
This is a stout powerhouse, pumping out 260 horsepower and a healthy 277 lb.-ft. of torque from a 2.4-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder. And while we are generally not a fan of CVT automatic transmissions, this one works beautifully – the best compliment we can say is it feels like a regular auto. If you plan on towing, the 5,000 lb. towing capability and Trailer Stability Assist will make it very capable when you want to bring the toys.
Putting that power down is Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with Active Torque Vectoring, giving excellent traction, and handling that makes the big SUV feel surprisingly agile. And despite having massive 20-inch wheels, the ride is supple and comfortable too.
So, is this a 7-passenger WRX? Er, no. It is certainly quick, but its mission in life isn’t goading you into curvy mountain roads, like the big European SUV’s, or even a Mazda’s CX-9. The Ascent is happy to be a capable and comfortable cruiser that can take any conditions in stride.
Helping you handle those trying times, the big Sube comes comprehensively loaded with safety gear. All Ascent models feature EyeSight Driver Assist Technology with Auto Braking, Adaptive Cruise, Lane Departure and Sway warning and more. Our tester had extra goodies as well, including Blind-Spot Detection, Lane-Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Reverse Automatic Braking. New for 2020 is the rear seat reminder system that reminds you to check the rear seat before exiting – great for whatever you might leave back there. All in all, you feel supremely looked after in the Ascent.
How Much Does it Cost To Love A Subaru?
If you’ve seen their commercials, you know Subaru is big on love. The base Ascent starts at $32,295, and for a handsome, 8-passenger, all-wheel drive SUV with Loads of Safety and info-tainment, it’s a great family vehicle at a very lovable price.
Step up to the Premium at $34,795, and adds Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rear climate control, All-weather Package, 4G Wi-Fi and 5,000 lb. towing capacity. It also lets you opt in for 2nd row captain’s chairs, and other luxuries. Or you can spring for the Limited at $39,595, and get standard leather, heated front and second row seats, power rear gate, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, and driver’s memory seat. You’ll also stand out with 20-inch alloy wheels.
Our Touring tester was indeed the top of the line, and featured standard 2nd row captain’s chairs, Navigation, 14-speaker Harmon Kardon Audio, Panoramic Moonroof, and that cool 180-degree front view monitor. Yours for $45,445. Add in $1,010 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $46,455.
Competitors would include the Mazda CX-9, a sporty alternative, but also more expensive at $48,200. The Honda Pilot is another nice choice, also more at $48,815. And Toyota’s all new Highlander comes in at $50,090. So it looks like the Subaru is a bit of a bargain in its segment.
We love the 2020 Subaru Ascent, full of all the Subie goodness we’ve come to love from the brand, in a size to appeal to larger families – or just those who want to live large!
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.