Subaru Ascent — Checking all the boxes

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Virtually every mainstream automaker has at least one large crossover SUV in its lineup. So it is only fitting that Subaru, a pioneer in the crossover segment with its long-running Outback, has joined the fray with the three-row 2019 Ascent.

Subaru dipped its toe in the segment in 2005 with the unloved and slow-selling Tribeca before pulling the plug in 2014. This time around Subaru has designed a more mainstream entry that checks off all the boxes including the signature all-wheel drive system that comes on every vehicle with the exception of its BRZ sports car. Overall, it's a job well done as Ascent joins a Subaru lineup that has enjoyed 80 straight months of increased sales — and it has to be to survive in a sea of noteworthy competitors including the Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, and Honda Pilot.

The family size Ascent measures 196.8 inches in length, 76.0 inches wide, and a wheelbase of 113.8 inches. It can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is essential for people pulling weekend toys such as boats and campers. And properly configured it can haul up to eight people with luggage capacity of 17.6 cubic feet. When hauling cargo it can handle 86 cubic feet, about average for the segment.

Subaru has chosen the conservative route in designing its new vehicle. It doesn't take more than one glance to figure out that it's indeed a Subaru, just a bigger version of the Outback and Forester. Even though it breaks no new ground, we can't fault the designers for adhering closely to the current Subaru design theme.

The Ascent interior is intelligently crafted, with a second row that consists of a choice of either a pair of captain's chairs or a bench seat with room for three. In order to access the third row of seats, simply pull a lever and the second row folds and slides quickly out of the way. And rear doors open 75 degrees for improved access to the third row. There's room in back for two adults, which can't be said of some of the Ascent's SUV rivals.

Up to eight USB charging ports are available throughout the cabin and a 120-volt power outlet based in the rear of the center console allow charging for multiple electronic devices. Important to a people-hauler, there are 19 standard cup and bottle holders — every passenger’s beverage is secure and close at hand.

We applaud Subaru for making its EyeSight driver assist technology available across the lineup. Standard safety equipment includes forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and rear vision camera. Unfortunately, you will have to move to the second-level Premium trim to get blind spot detection with lane change assist and cross traffic alert, a feature we think should be standard in every vehicle regardless of price.

That being said, the base model is well equipped for $32,970 with the aforementioned EyeSight, 18-inch wheels, tri-zone climate control, four USB ports inclu
ding two in the second row, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio.

The Ascent comes in four trim levels — base, Premium, Limited and Touring. Moving up to the Premium starting at $35,170 will get you more features in addition to blind spot detection including a power adjustable driver's seat, rear-seat climate controls, spill-resistant cloth upholstery, and an upgraded multimedia system with eight-inch touchscreen.

Subaru has decided one engine was all the Ascent needs — a turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four making 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. We think it would make sense to add an optional V-6, but we found the four-cylinder up to the task. However, we did not test the vehicle under a full load of six or seven adults and cargo. Unloaded the Ascent moves smartly from a standing start to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. It has ample power to pass and merge.

What we really wished for was a standard automatic transmission with perhaps seven or eight gears. But what Subaru has ordained is a continuously variable transmission with simulated shifts, which mitigates the droning sound of a CVT under hard acceleration.

We found the Ascent surprisingly agile under faster-than-normal speeds on our favorite back-road "test track." Body motions were well controlled in the corners and steering feedback was adequate.

Our Limited test vehicle with $2,900 worth of options including a panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon Premium audio system with 14 speakers, and voice-activated navigation carried a bottom line of $42,920 including a $975 destination charge.

Base price, $32,970; as driven, $42,920
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged flat four
Horsepower: 260 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 277 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Length: 196.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,603 pounds
Turning circle: 38.0 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 86.0 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 20 city, 26 highway, 22 combined
0-60: 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, VW Atlas

The Good
• Generous standard safety equipment
• 5,000-pound tow rating
• Good handling

The Bad
• CVT automatic

The Ugly
• Only one engine option