2019 Subaru Ascent Touring Review

A bigger package of granola


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Eager engine, best steering this side of the BRZ, usable room for seven, premium interior appointments, great optional captain's chairs
Negatives: Jumpy off the line, overly busy center stack, third row is tight on headroom, styling is too conservative
Bottom Line: The Ascent is a smart move for Subaru, and the brand executes it without losing that Subaru flavor that's made it so successful. Funny, though. It's the largest Subaru in history and just happens to drive better than its smaller brethren. Nicely appointed and easy to drive, families will flock to it for good reason.
Subaru wants to go big, and the new Ascent three-row, 7-8 passenger crossover has been a long time coming, especially after the dismal failure of the B9 Tribeca that was weird, too small, and ill-timed. The Ascent smartly retains the look and feel of the rest of the Subaru lineup (with the exception of the Toyota-based BRZ sports coupe) but takes things up in terms of size and materials. We drove the new Ascent in top Touring trim for a week to see how this new entry in a hot segment fared. Read ahead for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

7.7

 

We came away surprised by the Ascent's driving capabilities. It's easily the best driving Subaru this side of the BRZ sports car, and that's saying something. For a crossover that can hold up to 8 occupants, it's quite nimble.

Ride Quality: Though the ride is comfortable, it does err on the side of firm.

Acceleration: The turbocharged boxer four is responsive, almost too responsive to the point of being jerky off the line, but it does pull hard and displays an eagernes not found in other Subies. The CVT actually feels like it has gears, which takes some doing. It's stepped so it doesn't feel numbing.

Braking: The brakes are strong and progressive.

Steering: Though the steering lacks feedback, it's precise and has good effort. It doesn't have the vagueness of the Crosstrek we drove earlier in the year, and thing is way bigger.

Handling: There's some noticeable body roll, but it's pretty manageable.

Technology

6.8

 

We're not the biggest fans of Subie's in-car technology, and the ergonomic issues need some work, as well. Overall, the interior systems work decently, but it feels rushed in terms of functionality and layout.

Infotainment System: The STARLINK system has way too many colors, despite the fact that the 8-inch screen is vivid and fairly responsive. The colors take precedence over the icons, and it takes longer to decipher as a result.

Controls: Oddities like the volume toggle in the middle of steering wheel control buttons, as well as the need to hold down a button to see the rear climate control screen and make the necessary adjustments just don't seem well thought out.

Styling

6.7

 

Subaru played it safe in terms of the Ascent's styling so as not to alienate its loyal customer base. It comes off looking like a large version of an Outback/Forester, and it wins no points in doing so. At the very least, it doesn't look weird.

Front: The boxy and tall front end has some presence, but it lacks imagination. The squred off maw is more aggressive than other Subarus.

Rear: The thick bumper and lower fascia give the Ascent a bit too much visual height. We don't like the big chrome strip that joins the intricate taillights.

Profile: Overall, the view from the side is good, but the front hood and long front overhang adds a bit of misproportion.

Cabin: The brown leather and premium materials give it a rich look and feel, but the center stack is crowded, and the door panels look too complex.

Comfort

8.6

 

Subaru did a very good job of making the Ascent comfortable. Though it's not as big inside as the VW Atlas, there's enough space for seven average-sized adults. Taller folks should stay out of the third row.

Front Seats: The front seats have good support and decent bolstering. The leather quality is very good, too.

Rear Seats: Our tester had some great captains chairs, and they slide fore and aft for maximum adjustability. Six footers can sit behind themselves in the second row, but third row headroom prevents the same way in back.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): At higher speeds, you can hear the boxer engine working. For most driving conditions, however, noise levels are fine. There are no squeaks or rattles to speak of.

Visibility: The rear view is compromised by thick pillars, but the front and sides have largely untrammeled views.

Climate: The climate system works well, and the heated/ventilated front seats operate easily and quickly.

Safety

6.5

 

The Ascent has yet to be crash tested since it's a brand new model to the industry for 2019. To its credit, the Ascent does come standard with some very good accident avoidance technology.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The Ascent comes packed with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, EyeSight Assist Monitor, Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Automatic Braking, and Steering Responsive Headlights.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

9.2

 

Though it's not meant to be huge like the VW Atlas, the Ascent still does a rather good job of hauling both people and stuff.

Storage Space: Though there is a big armrest, other than the cupholders there's only a slot in the center stack that's too shallow for anything besides a wallet, which will fly out when you hit the gas hard enough.

Cargo Room: There's 17.8 cubic feet behind the third row, which is a little tight, but fold down all the seats, and a big 86.5 cubic feet is available. That might be less than the VW Atlas, but it's larger than the Dodge Durango and the Audi Q7.

Fuel Economy

6

 

We expected better mileage, but we pushed the boxer engine pretty hard. The Ascent in Touring form weighs just over 4,600 lbs, which is heavy, so the low mileage comes as no surprise.

Observed: 23.9 mpg

Distance Driven: 151 miles

Driving Factors: We drove in a mix of local and highway driving with some aggressive throttling. Owners with more conservative habits will certainly do better in terms of mileage.

Audio

8.7

 

The 14-speaker system sounds fantastic, and we really enjoyed listening to it. Good base, good clarity, and no distortion means this standard system on the Touring is a great value.



Final Thoughts

Subaru loyalists will wonder why the brand has been holding back. Aside from the okay fuel efficiency, the Ascent nails the three-row recipe in the brand's popular flavor that combines utility, traction, and that little bit of quirkiness that makes it a Subie. The 19 cupholders seem excessive, but no one will be thirsty. Combine the space with daily usefulness and good drivability, and you have the formula for success in the midsize three-row segment. The Ascent doesn't have to get the highest marks in order to be a success, and that's what Subaru has on its hands.
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