Subaru has knocked it out of the park with this one.
Having been out of the three-row SUV game for several years after a rough go with the B9 Tribeca, Subaru has come back from the drawing board with a lot more fight this time; this is the all new 2019 Subaru Ascent Limited with Eyesight. Starting with a new name here is a good thing, as the Ascent doesn’t conjure up visions of being mocked for having a car that has at times been called ‘Uglier than the Aztek’. In fact, the Ascent comes along with the visual of a bold SUV climbing up a snow-covered hill with ease and confidence, standing proudly at the top – and that’s exactly what we did with it.
Let’s be clear, the Ascent is not a refreshed Tribeca, it is a brand-new vehicle based on Subaru’s new Subaru Global Architecture platform coming along with a brand new 2.4L turbocharged boxer engine that packs a punch. It’s set to fully replace the well loved 3.6R engine found in the Outback and Legacy. The standard seating configuration is a surprising eight-passenger setup, which sounds cramped when you look at it from the outside, but it actually works. Optionally available on Touring and Limited models, and standard in the top-level Premier trim are second row captain’s chairs ($500 extra), for those who don’t need to haul an army around.
The Limited is the upper of the two mid-trim levels, and probably the one most people will buy. Limited models get all of the great kit found in the base (Convenience) and Touring models, including Subaru’s EyeSight technology, all available driving aids, keyless entry, sunroof, powered liftgate and the eight-inch infotainment system (with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay).
Upgrading to the Limited adds 20” alloy wheels which look great, navigation, a 14-speaker Harman-Kardon stereo, an additional 6.3” multifunction display above the infotainment system, heated steering wheel and second row seats, leather seats, LED headlights, powered front seats with driver memory, and something that came in handy during nap time on the way to the cottage: built in sun-shades for the second row windows. All of this for an impressive MSRP of $46,495 as tested.
While not as roomy as a minivan, the rear seats of the Ascent are reasonably useful. They’re perfect for kids, and significantly more comfortable for an adult or two than the third row of the much larger Chevrolet Tahoe (reviewed here), especially if you slide the middle seats forward enough, and recline the third row. Head room is fantastic too thanks to a panoramic sunroof that covers the front two rows and allows ample clearance for climbing into the third row.
There are nice touches throughout that make the Ascent a more family-oriented vehicle than its (now) little brother, the Outback (reviewed here). I should know, our daily family vehicle is a white 2017 Outback Premier that looked like a shrunken version of this white Ascent it shared a driveway with for a week. There are separate rear HVAC controls available that can be locked out and controlled from the first row. The sunglasses holder can double as a mirror to keep an eye on the back seat without having to turn your head around. Every row has access to USB charging ports, several cupholders, and a solid amount of leg room.
There is only one engine option for the Ascent, and that is the brand new direct-injected and turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder Boxer engine that puts out 260 horsepower at 5,600RPM, and 277 lb-ft. of torque from 2,000-4,800RPM. You will notice that these specs are slightly better than those of the six-cylinder 3.6R engine, while putting out similar fuel economy numbers to a 3.6R Outback despite being a significantly larger vehicle.
This pretty much signals the end of life for the 3.6R engine. If it weren’t for the raspy sound of the 2.4L in the Ascent, I wouldn’t have cared that the buttery smooth 3.6R wasn’t under the hood. It’s nothing that a bit more investment in NVH testing and soundproofing of the cabin can’t fix, but for now I still prefer the 3.6R because it sounds better when the CVT is holding at higher RPMs.
That’s right, no surprise here that bolted on to the 2.4L engine is Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT transmission. As one of the best performing CVTs in the industry, the reason the smaller turbocharged engine performs just as well as, and drives similarly to the 3.6R equipped vehicles is thanks to that fantastic CVT. For the uninitiated, driving with a CVT can seem a bit odd, as the engine revs up and doesn’t necessarily change “gears” like a traditional transmission would, and that’s where blocking out more of the engine sound would come in handy. As with most automatic Subarus, paddle shifters on the steering wheel are available to select one of the eight simulated gear ratios, a feature we wish all automatic cars came with these days.
Getting down to the numbers, the Subaru Ascent rates at an impressive 11.6L/100km in the city, 9.0L/100km on the highway, and 10.4L/100km in a combined cycle. This is on the better side of the average for this size class, especially considering the Ascent will only require 87-octane regular fuel, with a generous 73L tank capacity and tipping the scales at about 4,500 pounds.
I know I keep comparing the Ascent to the Outback, despite being in very different vehicle classes, but Subaru has managed to bake in a lot of the winning qualities of the Outback, its former flagship vehicle, into this new Ascent. While piloting the Ascent through the city during a blizzard, a vehicle slid through the intersection while I had a green light, causing me to have to do some emergency manoeuvring to avoid a collision. There was no excessive body roll or sliding around; the Ascent moved exactly where it was pointed and carried on about its day. Climbing up a barely plowed hill in cottage country, lesser vehicles would have gotten stuck where the Symmetrical all-wheel-drive barely flinched. The Ascent is certainly deserving of the Subaru badge and lives up to expectations.
One caveat here is that your vehicle is only as good as the tires it wears, and Subaru perfectly matched the Ascent with Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 snow tires. The 2019 Subaru Ascent Limited is an incredible value proposition when you compare it to other competitors in this price point. You get a lot more technology, safety, and creature comforts, as well as a huge sunroof and useful seating for up to eight for a price that some of the others have a hard time touching. Take a look at the Volkswagen Atlas (reviewed here), the Toyota Highlander, and the Chevrolet Traverse to get an idea. Subaru has knocked it out of the park with this one. The Ascent is one of the best SUVs in the segment to consider for a family that loves road trips or escaping into the wilderness.