2019 Subaru Ascent: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrowing Families
Despite experiencing steady U.S. sales growth for the last few years, Subaru had a problem. New-car shoppers have been buying the Japanese automaker’s line of all-wheel drive cars and crossovers, but as soon as their families would grow beyond a couple of kids, they would need to go shopping elsewhere. Being Subaru loyalists, they would often return after the kids had grown, but Subaru needed a vehicle that would fit the needs of a growing family. Problem solved: introducing the all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent crossover.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLargest Subaru Ever
With seating available for up to 8 occupants in three rows, the Ascent is the largest model Subaru has ever offered. The automaker did previously attempt a larger 8-person vehicle (the Tribeca), but it was too small and strayed too far from the designs and ideals of the brand. This new Ascent looks much like a larger Outback and offers all the safety and capability of that original crossover. And with important items such as multiple USB ports and a plentiful 19 cupholders throughout the vehicle, the Ascent should properly fill the growing-family gap.

© Subaru of AmericaBuilt in America
The new Ascent is built at Subaru’s Indiana facility alongside the Outback, Legacy and Impreza. “The Subaru Ascent is a great addition to our production line-up,” said Tom Easterday, senior executive vice president of Subaru of Indiana Automotive. “Production of this outstanding new family vehicle allowed us to create hundreds of new jobs at SIA, and also at our suppliers in Indiana and across the country,” Easterday noted.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is available in four trim levels: Base, Premium, Limited and Touring. All Subaru Ascent trims are equipped with full-time all-wheel drive as well as a new 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Subaru’s suite of safety features called Eyesight is also standard on all versions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Ascent Base
The base-level Ascent has a starting price of $31,995. Standard equipment includes tri-zone automatic climate control, four USB ports, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay, a STARLINK 6.5-inch multimedia system and a second-row bench seat. Also standard are roof rails and 18-inch alloy wheels as well as the Eyesight system that features Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Pre-Collision Throttle Management.

Subaru Ascent Premium
With a starting price of $34,195, the Ascent Premium adds a power driver’s seat, an 8-inch touchscreen display, Wi-Fi connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, spill-repellant cloth trim, heated front seats, privacy glass, rear-seat climate controls and unique 18-inch alloy wheels. The Premium also gets equipped with an oil cooler that increases towing capacity to 5,000 pounds. The Ascent Premium also gives shoppers the option of a second-row bench seat or captain’s chairs (for 7-person seating) at no additional charge.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Ascent Limited
The Limited gets a price bump to $38,995, but for the additional cash buyers get leather trim, LED headlights with steering response and high-beam assist, LED fog lights, reverse automatic braking, a power rear tailgate, keyless access and start, and 20-inch wheels. The Limited also gets two additional USB ports for a total of six. With this balance of equipment and price, Subaru expects the Limited to be the most popular Ascent in the lineup.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Ascent Touring
The top-of-the-line Touring starts at $44,695 and upgrades the Limited with chrome and satin-silver exterior trim, Java Brown leather seats, a heated leather steering wheel, woodgrain accent trim, heated and cooled front seats, a panoramic sunroof, rain sensing wipers, eight USB ports and a Harmon Kardon Quantum Logic surround sound audio system with 14 speakers. A 180-degree front-view camera is also included, as is a smart rearview mirror that can display a rearview camera — quite literally a lifesaver when the rear window happens to be blocked by cargo. Ascent Touring is only available with the 7-occupant configuration.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
Although the Ascent offers noteworthy off-road capability and Subaru’s highest towing capacity, it’s what’s inside that helps this new Subaru stand out. Up front there’s plenty of storage in the center console, as well as cubbies/bottle holders in the doors. A shelf above the glovebox is a great place for the front passenger to set small items or a phone, and there is additional space under the climate controls for a phone — conveniently placed above the USB ports.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInterface
Subaru’s touchscreen interface continues to improve thanks to a highly visible screen with large buttons. We appreciate that Subaru has retained volume and tuning knobs for much easier audio control. Climate functions are controlled via separate buttons, so there’s no need to dig through menu items to adjust cabin temperature or airflow.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCaptain’s Chairs
The Ascent Limited and Premium trims have a choice of individual captain’s chairs or a 3-person bench seat (the Touring trim also has captain’s chairs). We prefer the two-seat configuration for the added comfort as well as the additional space between the seats — providing a convenient place for storing a briefcase or backpack, as well as additional access to the third row. Second-row seats also can be slid forward or back to provide more space for third-row passengers. Depending on the trim level, there are controls for the climate system in the second row as well as more cupholders.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSeating for Eight
With the bench seat there’s a bit less storage, but it is possible to fit three people across for a total of 8 occupants. The middle seat is a bit less comfortable, since the seatback folds down to provide an armrest with more cupholders when there are only two second-row passengers. However, the flat floor means the Ascent provides decent legroom for whoever ends up in the middle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThird Row
The third row is designed to hold three people but it is a tight fit. (Granted, this affects most third rows because they are typically located between the rear wheelwells.) However, there is a surprising amount of legroom for third-row passengers and more cupholders for drinks and storage, as well as available USB outlets to keep handheld devices operational. Shoulder belts are not adjustable in the third row, so passenger torso height might affect comfort. Access to the third row is relatively easy with a low step-in height, a wide opening and a second row that easily folds and slides forward.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Space
With all rows in place there is still a reasonable amount of cargo space — enough for grocery bags, luggage or other cargo. One of our favorite features is additional space below the cargo floor with storage for the cargo cover. Both rows of rear seats can be folded to provide a spacious cargo area. The third row can be folded from the rear via the tug of a strap.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFully Loaded
For our press drive in the new Ascent, Subaru reps picked up our small group from the airport in Portland, Oregon. There were five passengers in addition to the driver, and all had luggage. It was a tight fit getting all the luggage into the cargo area, and two small bags had to be placed between the second-row captain’s chairs, but ultimately all was properly stored and no one felt cramped for the 2-hour ride to the coast.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePower Tailgate
Although the rear tailgate is power-operated, unfortunately it cannot be closed or opened manually. And while the power is often convenient, it can be annoying waiting for the tailgate to descend if in a hurry, or if a large amount of cargo needs to be squashed in by a hard close of the tailgate — hey, we’ve all been there.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Powering all trims of the Ascent is a new 2.4-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, available at a low 2000 rpm. The engine is teamed with a new high-torque Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The CVT has an 8-speed manual mode that can be actuated by paddle shifters on the steering column.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFuel Economy
The Ascent is rated by the U.S. EPA at 21 mpg city / 27 mpg highway / 23 mpg combined. The Limited and Touring have 20-inch wheels which drops fuel economy slightly — by 1 mpg in every category, to be exact. With a 19.3-gallon fuel tank, the Ascent can travel more than 500 miles between fill-ups; however, with all those cupholders chances are high that folks will need to stop sooner.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Wheel Drive
Like the rest of its crossover lineup, the new Ascent comes standard with Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, as well as active-torque vectoring for better handling and X-Mode, which can lock the variable transfer clutch and features hill-descent control. And with 8.7-inches of ground clearance, the Ascent is quite capable when the pavement ends or snow hits.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
We were a bit skeptical that a 4-cylinder powerplant would be sufficient to move this big vehicle, but our fears were put to rest quickly. With the new turbocharged 2.4-liter engine, the Ascent feels quick off the line. Passing on two-lane roads can be accomplished without concern — full throttle results in a simulated downshift of the CVT, which gets the Ascent moving around slow traffic quickly and safely.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGood Handling
The Ascent is a big vehicle and it is noticeable when the road gets twisty — there is a lot of mass to redirect. But handling is commendable for a vehicle this size, thanks to precise steering and excellent grip. Body roll gets kept to a minimum, and the more miles we put on the Ascent the smaller it felt on the road. Although it would be a reach to call the Ascent sporty, it is enjoyable driver.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSmooth and Quiet
On the freeway Ascent gets up to speed quickly and easily. The cabin stays quiet with little road or wind noise, even at high speeds. The Ascent cruises easily at 70-plus mph — almost too easily, as we found ourselves exceeding local speed limits without noticing — a testament to the Ascent’s smooth ride.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road
Subaru provided the opportunity to test Ascent’s abilities off pavement on a purpose-built course with some deep crevices, tight turns on loose dirt, uneven surfaces and steep descent on loose gravel. While this is probably more off-roading than most Ascent owners will ever experience, the new Subaru had no problem negotiating the track. With X-mode and hill-descent control engaged, we were able to descend the steep grade on lose gravel in complete control — a useful feature on snow-covered hills.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Beach
We also drove the Ascent onto the beach at the Oregon Coast (considered a legal road at our location) and found the all-wheel drive system provides excellent grip even in soft sand. Adding in the torque vectoring and stability control, it was difficult to get the Ascent to go astray from its desired path. Driving in soft sand is a more likely scenario for a Subaru crossover, and the Ascent proved to be perfectly capable.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTowing
In addition to hauling more people than any other Subaru models, the Ascent also adds towing to its list of features. We hooked up a 4,300-pound Airstream trailer and found acceleration and braking to be surprisingly strong with this big load. The Ascent felt stable, even when driving through a slalom with the 23-foot camper behind. This was in part thanks to Subaru’s Trailer Stability Assist which monitors trailer sway and can apply brakes to individual wheels to stabilize the vehicle and trailer.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
For those who are already Subaru fans or customers, the Ascent is an easy choice, delivering on all that the popular Outback offers but with more space and capability. Even for those new to Subaru, the spacious interior, turbocharged engine and the Eyesight suite of safety equipment make the Ascent one of the best choices in the crowded 8-person large crossover market. Throw in this new Subaru’s off-road capability and smooth, comfortable ride and decisions get even easier. Plus, there are 19 cupholders!

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Good performance; quiet ride; multiple USB ports and cupholders.
Cons: Third row tight for three, with no shoulder-belt adjustment; power tailgate.
Bottom Line: Subaru delivers a proper, fully-capable 8-person crossover.

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