by Allyson Harwood on December 10, 2018
I will freely admit that I was especially excited when the all-new Subaru Ascent arrived at the KBB offices. Not only is it Subaru’s newest foray into the highly competitive 3-row midsize SUV segment (more on that in a moment), but there’s a special spot in my heart for Subaru in general. My earliest memories of car rides are from the passenger seat of my dad’s little orange 360. That was the first of three Subies we would have during my formative childhood years, and oddly, none of them were wagons. Since then, watching Subaru blossom from a niche company into a mainstream player has been a lot of fun.
With the Ascent, Subaru has its share of challenges to overcome. For starters, the midsize SUV segment is already jam-packed with plenty of appealing choices. Second, the Ascent could either be seen as a vehicle that doesn’t fall in line with what Subaru is about, or for those who remember the not-so-beloved Tribeca (aka B9 Tribeca), the Ascent could be looked at as more of the same. But for Subaru, the Ascent makes a lot of sense. After decades of developing a strong following because of its practical wagons, Subaru had to watch its loyalists go to another brand when they needed 3-row SUVs. Considering nearly 650,000 people bought Subarus in America last year (a number that could be exceeded in 2018), this is a large block of buyers that is not to be taken lightly. If they can keep Subaru buyers in the fold while getting non-Subaru buyers to come over in the process, all the better.
What the Ascent Offers
Subaru’s SUV was designed to have the spirit and some of the driving flair of the company’s smaller models, while offering the features that buyers of 3-row SUVs want. From our initial drive of the Ascent, we felt the company did a good job of bringing together these elements. The Ascent only comes with one engine, but it’s plenty powerful: a 260-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine, controlled through a continuously variable transmission with a regular PRND shifter plus paddles on the steering wheel. As is the case with all Subaru models except the BRZ, all-wheel drive comes standard. Active Torque Vectoring is also standard. If you want to explore the backcountry, the Ascent offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance, plus X-Mode with hill descent control.
With the 2019 Subaru Ascent, 3-row SUV fans can check several items off the must-have list: 7- or 8-passenger seating, standard 3-zone climate control, wide-opening rear doors, about 48 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, and up to a 5,000-lb towing capacity. Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard, and there is a long list of available options. There are also 19 cupholders on board, plenty for that long road trip.
Subaru is known for safety, and the Ascent comes standard with the EyeSight suite of advanced safety features, including pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. The Ascent was named a 2018 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (when equipped with the optional steering responsive headlights) and received the “Superior” rating for front crash prevention.
The Subaru Ascent is available in four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring. Our Touring model will serve as a test bed for the standard and available features that Subaru offers on this vehicle. None of the extra features had an additional cost above and beyond the price of the Touring model; we didn’t need to order extra packages.
The Ascent Touring has second-row captain’s chairs. Six USB ports plus a 120-volt AC outlet. Power tailgate, panoramic moonroof, and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound audio system. Interior amenities also include two rows of heated leather seats (ventilated in the front row) – 10-way power adjustable for the driver – heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated side mirrors and windshield wipers, and a 180-degree front-view camera. Subaru calls the rearview mirror a Smart Mirror; when you push the bottom tab the entire mirror serves as a video monitor that shows you what is behind you, even if you have large objects (or tall people) in the Ascent blocking your view out back.
Our vehicle also came with reverse automatic braking, which can automatically use the brakes when it detects an object while you’re backing up, as well as blind spot detection and a rear cross-traffic alert. The Touring comes with automatic high beams and steering responsive headlights. We hope that during our year-long evaluation we don’t have to test out the safety features, but it’s comforting to know they’re there.
If you are shopping for a 2019 Subaru Ascent, you’ll discover that pricing starts at $32,970, which includes the $975 destination charge. The prices go up somewhat gradually from there, but when you get to the Touring level, the price is $45,670, the as-tested price of our Abyss Blue Pearl model with a Java Brown interior. But don’t let the price of our tester scare you: that is a typical price for a fully loaded midsize SUV, and you certainly don’t have to get the Touring to get the benefits of an Ascent.
We have plenty of questions about what it’s like to live with the Ascent. Does it still have that Subaru feel to it? Is it sporty and practical? Can a Subaru this large still have that rugged, welcoming feel of smaller models? And, most important, can the Ascent cut it when put up against excellent competitors like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander? The Kelley Blue Book editorial team looks forward to answering those questions as we live with the Ascent for the next year.
While I do have a personal history with Subaru mixed with a dash of nostalgia, I don’t think this makes me biased toward the Ascent. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that I look at the Ascent with a critical eye. I’m like the coach of a team that his/her child plays on. I’ll be tough but fair. Be warned, kid. Just because we’re family doesn’t mean you get special treatment when you’re on the field.
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