This is the 2021 Subaru Ascent Limited. The Ascent was first introduced in 2018 as the largest Subaru ever. It is designed for consumers wanting the Subaru DNA with more space than the Forester offers. The Ascent replaces the Tribeca which was discontinued in 2015 and is the versatile family hauler satisfying daily needs as a commuter and for outdoor adventures.
Safety is always first for Subaru, building their reputation on their symmetrical all wheel drive system. Advancements in technology mean Subaru also needs to move with the times and modernize their EyeSight safety technology. 2021 boasts new enhancements to safety features in the Ascent. It appears the Subaru has all the right ingredients to make it a winner amongst the three-row SUV competition.
The Ascent can be considered a handsome package but all the design elements are risk-free. The grille creates a more truck like appearance and presence for the Ascent. The headlights have Subaru’s signature LED daytime running lights for a sporty touch. The lower front bumper and wheel wells are all giving plastic cladding for the outdoor rugged appeal. A generous amount of chrome is used for a more upscale appearance.
The interior is a pleasant surprise in the Ascent. The designs are all simple with a functional emphasis; buttons and knobs are large for easy control. The touchscreen infotainment is straightforward and easy to use. The inclusion of physical buttons for key functions such as radio, map and media makes navigating the system much less distracting. The Harman-Kardon sound system in this application sounds quite good as well, another pleasant surprise.
The mostly black interior is broken up with a beige leather section in the middle which runs across from door to door for an airier feel. An abundance of contrast stitching across the dash, on the doors and seats adds a touch of sophistication. Both armrests are nicely padded with leather surfaces. The door panels are lined with two tone leather as well as perforated surfaces.
Seating is nicely bolstered with a thoughtful design and plush leather, however feels a bit stiff and flat to the back. The amount of soft touch quality materials found in this interior is unprecedented in a Subaru. The only exception is the transmission tunnel where everything around the shifter is plastic. It’s not very noticeable, however, since the real estate between the two front seats is surprisingly small.
On the note of small interior features, the Ascent is on the smaller side compared to other comparable SUVs on the market. It feels more alike a tweener in the middle of compact and mid sized SUVs. It is just barely spacious enough for the three-row set up to be functional. The cabin cannot match the extra space available in rivals such as the Honda Pilot, which has enormous storage between the front seats.
The second row seats can slide forward and aft to make room for third row passengers, and the third row seats are surprisingly usable considering the smaller dimensions. The captain’s chair in our tester made it easy for my kids to move between the third and second rows with options to go through the middle or fold forward the seats with the pull-lever.
Despite being one of smallest entries in the segment, the Ascent still has respectable cargo volume at 2,449-liters with both second and third rows folded flat. Capacity is 1,345-liters behind the second row, and 504-liters with all three rows in place. In our use case, cargo space is plentiful and makes life easy for growing families. Roof rails are standard along with a vast array of rooftop storage accessories, which can take versatility to a new level.
The Ascent is one of the most nimble handlers in the class, with quick steering. We attribute the Ascent’s keen handling to a few factors, starting with the fact that Subaru’s car-based SGP (Subaru Global Platform) underpins this vehicle. This chassis gives the Ascent excellent on-road manners. The low center of gravity allowed by the signature boxer powerplant aids to keep body motions and weight transfer to a minimum. Combined with the renowned symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, the Ascent’s dynamic character shines through.
Subaru has always taken the road less traveled when it comes to powertrains. Their continued development of the horizontally-opposed engine makes them unique. The Ascent uses a 2.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder with direct injection. It produces 260 horsepower at 5,600RPM and 277 lb-ft. of torque from 2,000 to 4,800RPM. The engine is a great pairing with the High Torque Lineartronic CVT.
The ample low end torque allows the powertrain to operate in a very comfortable RPM range avoiding the dreaded CVT whine many complain about in modern Subarus. The claim for this combo is six cylinder power with four cylinder efficiency. In practice, there is plenty of power and gobs of torque on the low-end, which is better than a six-cylinder.
However, the efficiency isn’t necessarily better than a six-cylinder. The 2021 Ascent is rated well in the range of its competition at 11.6L/100km city and 9.0L/100km on the highway. We averaged 13.3L/100km in mainly city driving during a blistering cold week in the heart of a Canadian winter.
The EyeSight safety suite has earned Subaru many IIHS safety awards year after year. This standard safety package includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure and sway warning, pre-collision braking and pre-collision throttle management. In 2021, updates to Eyesight have been made introducing Lane Centering Assist — a new function integrated into the adaptive cruise control system, as well as steering-responsive headlights and High Beam Assist. These updates demonstrate Subaru’s commitment to safety for customers.
The 2021 Subaru Ascent starts at an extremely competitive $36,995, with this Limited trim priced at $48,595. The Limited is close to being fully loaded with only the Premier sitting above, with very few added features. The Subaru Ascent competes with options such as the Mazda CX-9 which starts at a much higher $41,981, with a similarly equipped model at $50,931.
On paper, the Ascent represents a bargain option in the midsize SUV market. It is extremely impressive in how the 2021 Subaru Ascent Limited is able to offer most of what the competition has which being the most value driven in the segment. The allure of the Subaru magic is real as well, as most drivers feel safer knowing they are behind the wheel of a Subaru.