A brand on fire, Subaru can seemingly do no wrong. A combination of masterful marketing and a trifecta of crossovers has fanned the flames. Their cars are also-rans and they’ve been setting sales records without even having a real midsize SUV. So now that they do, will their meteoric Ascent continue?
Subaru has been down this road before with the B9 Tribeca…their first 3-row that proved too small for American tastes and faded away several years ago. But this one is going to be a winner. Like all Subarus, the Ascent doesn’t push the envelope but rather waits for it to be delivered in the mail – observing what its successful competitors are doing and then applying those lessons in a Subaru kind of way.
A unique boxer engine, continuously variable transmission and a renowned all-wheel drive system are de rigueur for the brand as is their appeal to the safety conscious. And the Ascent is all of that – a Subaru through and through without even a hint of ostentatiousness. This is a family mover the Subie crowd will find very attractive.
So here are the vitals: a base model with standard 8-passenger seating starts at just under $33,000. There are 4 trims levels, all of which are mechanically identical, powered by an all-new 2.4-liter 4-cylinder fed its air though a twin-scroll turbocharger paired to a beefed-up CVT to handle this motor’s formidable 277 pound-feet of torque.
The base Ascent is only rated for 2,000 pounds towing but the other 3 are capable of 5,000 pounds. 18” wheels are standard on the base and Premium trims like this one here, while Limited and Touring models are riding on 20s and this choice affects gas mileage…the smaller rims deliver more efficiency, rated at 21mpg city/27 mpg highway and that is on 87 octane.
There’s nearly 9” of ground clearance so using the standard off-road X-MODE for increased 4-wheel traction at low speeds is firmly in play. Second row captain’s chairs are optional on the 2 middle trims and standard on the top-of-the-line Touring. This is trim number 2, the Ascent Premium, optioned with the 7-passenger Convenience Package including a power rear gate, keyless access, auto dimming rear view mirror and reverse automatic braking for a total MSRP of $36,831.
Now, you do miss out on things such as LED lighting both inside and out, fog lights, a moonroof, leather seating, a power adjustable passenger seat, enhanced instrument cluster and onboard navigation but this all helps keep the Premium’s pricing very reasonable, giving it a high value proposition.
I admit; I’m a bit perplexed by Subaru’s popularity. They certainly don’t have much sizzle to sell. Take this Ascent for example; beyond fashionably late to the party it looks like it was introduced 5 years ago. It’s brand new yet no one gives it a second glance. There is absolutely nothing revolutionary going on here yet, and it’s an important yet, it’s the smoothest driving 3-row in its class and it’s as quiet a Lexus. Considering it’s using a small displacement turbo and a CVT that’s pretty remarkable. This is exactly the soft ride quality I want in a vehicle like this. So it’s a great drive, otherwise Subaru played the Ascent like it does all of its vehicles – ultra conservatively.
However, the harmony of the powertrain and its eagerness to move quickly and ultra-smoothly is shockingly good. Bravo to Subaru for delivering 260 horsepower through a CVT in the best way possible. Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this CVT has stuttered at times – infrequently for sure but just enough to make me wonder if it’s my tester or a larger issue. So make sure you take your own test drive.
I can’t get over how beautifully this drives, choosing soft and supple over European-tuned. This plays in its favor off-road too where it remains completely composed over rough trail roads. The cloth seats are a perfect fit too – spill resistant and long trip comfortable. It’s in no way splashy but Subaru does know how to make it easy to use. It’s quite welcoming.
The overall interior sizing seems just right with the correct amount of space in each seat including the very usable 3rd row. Separate climate controls and more USB ports keep 2nd row occupants comfortable and double digit cupholders ensure there’s always an appropriately sized drink spot.
The entire cabin is easy-going and ergonomically sound with a cargo area and seats that slide, recline and fold with manual ease and a touchscreen with redundancy knobs and full smartphone integration. There’s a Wi-Fi hotspot, too.
And I’m surprised by the powerfully clear-sounding 6-speaker stereo system…not the 14-speaker Harman Kardon Surround Sound available in higher trims.
And EyeSight is standard across the board, using stereo cameras to provide Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Lane Departure Warning. This Premium also adds Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert; all of the safety points parents will find comforting. It’s interesting to note though that there is no hands-free liftgate available.
So Subaru finally has a dimensionally appropriate Highlander/Pilot fighter with a sophisticated drive that’s better than both of them.