It's been almost five years since Subaru had a midsize SUV in its lineup, creating a void for the brand's loyal customers seeking a three-row family-friendly crossover. That's all changed with the introduction of the new 2019 Subaru Ascent, which goes on sale this summer.
2019 Subaru Ascent First Drive
Subaru's New Midsize SUV Proves It Was Worth the Wait
The Ascent is powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) sends power to all four wheels. Based on these specifications, we were expecting to be disappointed since the power output is on the weak side for the class and CVT automatics have a reputation for being slow to respond. Fortunately, those fears were largely unfounded.
The Ascent is rated at 23 mpg combined (21 city/27 highway). Those figures drop by 1 mpg across the board for Ascents outfitted with the 20-inch wheels. Helping matters is the fact that premium unleaded is not required.
What You Get for Your Money
Prices start at $32,970 for the eight-passenger base trim. Standard features include Subaru's EyeSight suite of advanced safety features (frontal collision warning with automatic braking, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control), 18-inch wheels, auto brake hold, roof rails, a second-row bench seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, a conversation mirror to keep tabs on rear passengers, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and four USB ports.
For an additional $2,200, the Premium trim tacks on a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, heated mirrors, a 5,000-pound towing limit, an eight-way power driver's seat, spill-resistant cloth upholstery, heated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, a Wi-Fi hotspot, dark-tinted rear windows and rear-seat climate controls.
At $39,970, the Limited trim comes with all of the above as well as reverse automatic braking, 20-inch wheels, a power liftgate with memory, keyless entry and ignition, second-row captain's chairs (reducing passenger capacity to seven), a 10-way power driver's seat, a four-way power front passenger seat, adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams, LED foglights, leather upholstery, an extendable driver thigh support, retractable second-row sunshades and two additional USB ports. Available options for Premium and Limited models include a panoramic sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, a navigation system and a stowable cargo cover. The second-row bench seat is available at no charge.
The range-topping Touring trim is all-inclusive and will set you back $45,670. It adds rain-sensing wipers, a smart rearview mirror that projects the view from a camera in the rear window (allowing for visibility when the cargo area is packed to the ceiling), a 180-degree front camera, premium leather, a heated steering wheel, matte simulated wood trim, ventilated front seats, a household power outlet, a total of eight USB ports and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system.
On and Off the Road
We spent a day driving the 2019 Subaru Ascent in the top Touring trim in Oregon and were pleasantly surprised to discover that it performs on an equal footing with most other midsize SUVs in its class. Power is more than adequate for the majority of drivers, and the CVT automatic is as responsive as traditional automatic transmissions. Under gentle acceleration, the Ascent gets up to speed gracefully. With more aggressive pedal pressure, the CVT automatic simulates gear changes to reduce the engine drone associated with these transmissions.
The Ascent's suspension does a decent job of isolating passengers from rough pavement and moderate undulations. When the road curves, it remains composed and confident, striking a good balance of comfort and handling. Road noise was rather noticeable, but could mostly be masked by the audio system.
Included with all models is an X-mode button that adjusts throttle sensitivity for light off-road duties. The Ascent, which has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, isn't intended for challenging terrain past rutted and rocky climbs, but it is still capable of getting off the beaten path with ease. Utility is further enhanced with a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, which is typical for its direct competition.
The Great Indoors
The 2019 Ascent's interior doesn't make a fashion statement, opting instead for functionality. We're pleased with that direction since its predecessor, the Subaru Tribeca, was polarizing in style and difficult to use. The Ascent's controls are placed logically and well-labeled for ease of operation. The touchscreen is mounted near the top of the dash, minimizing driver distraction. A very handy multifunction display is smartly placed to deliver useful information with at a quick glance.
The infotainment system is easy to operate thanks to intuitive menus and sharp graphics. Besides the usual inputs for mobile devices, several internet-streaming apps are built into the system, bolstered by a Wi-Fi hotspot. A pair of optional 32GB iPads with wireless headphones is also available to keep those passengers occupied.
The Touring trim makes use of better materials than supporting models, exceeding expectations for a Subaru. The faux wood trim is believable enough, but overall the Mazda CX-9 Signature edition's cabin is more luxurious.
The front seats are roomy and supportive, but the leather upholstery can be somewhat stifling. They're ventilated in the top trim, keeping occupants just cool enough at the highest fan speed. The second-row captain's chairs are similarly shaped and benefit from adjustable armrests. There's ample headroom directly above the seats, but the headliner just above the windows drops down, making it feel a bit confining. The space between these seats is wide enough, and there are handles atop the seatbacks to allow adults access to the third row with minimal fuss. Those rearmost seats have just enough space for smaller adults and should be adequate for the little ones.
Subaru is quick to point out that the Ascent has no fewer than 19 cupholders situated around the cabin, which seems excessive, but many of these pockets are partially joined together to accept items as large as iPads. Up front, these cupholders combine with typical bins to provide plenty of storage for your personal effects.
Larger items are well-accommodated in the cargo area. Behind the third row of seats is 17.8 cubic feet of space, which is on the generous side for midsize SUVs. There is also a large underfloor bin that can hold the cargo cover when not in use. Folding the seats flat increases the space to 47.5 cubic feet and, with the second row stowed, there's a maximum of 86.5 cubic feet. These figures are some of the largest in the class.
The Subaru Ascent is a solid entrant in the highly contested midsize SUV segment. It caters to family-minded shoppers with plenty of standard advanced safety features, thoughtful design and large cargo space. In terms of performance, it isn't a standout, but it will certainly satisfy most drivers' expectations.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is a worthy competitor to the class-leading Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. Thanks to being the newest in the segment and having benchmarks to aim for, the Subaru gains advantages in many ways. With little in the way of drawbacks, we suggest putting it on your short list.