First Drive: 2019 Subaru Ascent
Ascending the Family SUV Ladder
Remember the B9 Tribeca, Subaru’s first attempt at a three-row SUV? Introduced for ’06, it failed for reasons including its aircraft-inspired grille; less-than-competitive performance, fuel economy, and cabin accommodations; and even its odd name. Tribeca was a nod to New York City’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood, B9 a platform designation. It was face-lifted, the B9 was dropped for ’08, and then it was in ’14 killed due to slow sales.
That was then, this is now, and this all-new ’19 Subaru Ascent is a very different animal. It’s Subaru’s largest-ever vehicle, built in Lafayette, Indiana, on a lighter, stiffer, stronger, extended version of Subaru’s Global Platform utilizing a lot of high-strength steel. It’s available in base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trims with a choice of seven- or eight-passenger seating, the former making use of comfy second-row captain’s chairs. Every Ascent gets its power from a turbocharged 2.4L flat-four “Boxer” engine coupled to a new version of Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.
To accommodate families (and dogs, of course), its rear doors open 75 degrees for improved third-row access. It also gets 19 cupholders and bottle holders, up to eight USB ports, and a single 120-volt outlet. With both 60/40 split second- and third-row seats folded flat, its total cargo capacity is 86.5 cubic feet (versus the Tribeca’s 74.4).
Three-zone automatic climate control and second-row reading lights are standard; third-row reading lights come on Premium, Limited, and Touring; and ambient and footwell lighting is available. Also available are power front seats (with lumbar support and length adjustment for the driver’s cushion), heated front- and second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel. Ventilated driver and front passenger seats are standard on Touring.
The Ascent’s fairly comely looks begin with a Subaru-signature hexagonal grille and C-shaped headlights. Prominent wheel arches flow into a horizontal character line and flared lower sills to emphasize its all-wheel-drive capabilities. Standard roof rails combine with accessories to carry bicycles, kayaks, or whatever you may like to throw up there. Its 8.7-inch ground clearance is more than many SUVs, yet its step-in height is comfortably low.
The 2.4L flat-four combines direct fuel injection, high (10.6:1) compression, Subaru’s Dual Active Valve Control System (DAVCS), and a twin-scroll turbocharger with intercooler to deliver 260 horses and 277 lb-ft of torque. CVTs are not our favorites, but this one has a welcome eight-speed manual function with steering-wheel paddle shifters and an AWD-enhancing X-Mode with Hill Descent Control. Active Torque Vectoring is standard, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and Trailer Stability Assist uses yaw sensors and individual-wheel braking to help maintain towing stability. EPA economy is 21 mpg city, 27 highway, and 23 combined with standard 18-inch wheels, 1 mpg lower with available 20-inch wheels.
The ’19 Ascent offers Subaru’s latest STARLINK multimedia systems with a high-resolution touchscreen (6.5-inch standard, 8-inch in higher trims), Aha, Pandora, Bluetooth connectivity, rear-vision camera, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM satellite radio, and available Wi-Fi connectivity provides high-speed LTE communications. STARLINK also offers remote engine start (on models with push-button start), concierge service, anti-theft vehicle immobilizer with flashing security lights, child safety functions, and over-the-air updates.
Carline manager Peter Tenn points out that the Ascent is 5 inches longer than rival Toyota Highlander for added cargo room and energy-absorbing crush space should it ever suffer a rear hit. There’s a full suite of airbags (front driver and passenger, driver’s knee, front side pelvis/torso, and side curtain), and an available Safety Plus package offers SOS emergency and roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, maintenance notifications, monthly vehicle health report, and diagnostic alerts, plus (with an upgrade package) vehicle locator, stolen vehicle recovery, security alarm notification, and remote lock/unlock features.
Standard Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist includes Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, and a new Assist Monitor that projects a head-up display of system warnings and status on the inside of the windshield. Also available are Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and Reverse Automatic Braking.
High Beam Assist and Steering Responsive Headlights come standard on Limited and Touring, and Touring models get a Front View Monitor camera that displays a 180-degree view on the multi-function display. Also standard on Touring are Rain Sensing Wipers and a Smart Rear View Mirror camera that can display the view behind when the driver’s view is blocked.
We drove a loaded Touring model, at times aggressively, on mostly two-lane Oregon roads, some both twisty and rough, and found it a very satisfying ride. It’s not quite a Mazda CX-9 for curvy road handling, but surprisingly close. Yet its rough-road ride is comfy, except for some side-to-side “head-toss” motion due partly to its relatively high ground clearance and center of gravity. Its steering was crisp and its brakes strong and sure.
The 260hp Boxer delivered good acceleration from most speeds, the CVT operated unobtrusively, and we appreciated the shift paddles that enabled us to choose specific ratios when we wanted. We also drove it over a semi-challenging off-road course, plowed through soft sand to lunch on a (cold, cloudy, windy) beach, and towed a 3,200-pound trailer with ease.
The top-level Touring trim’s nicely crafted interior, upscale materials, and well-thought-out design are impressive, with oft-used controls easy to locate and operate and the infotainment system offering a good balance of touchscreen and hard-button controls. An upper screen displays useful information, as do the driver information center between the gauges and standard head-up display. Legroom in the second and third rows is good, and the middle-row bench adjusts fore-aft to optimize one or the other. One complaint: A steering wheel switch toggles between Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Assist, both useful at times but otherwise annoying. On our drive, we could not find a way to deactivate either, though Subaru later pointed to a button in the overhead console that would disable them.
As midsize SUVs in general—and the three-row variety, in particular—grow in popularity, Subaru needed this vehicle to fill that gap in its lineup and has (finally) done a fine job with it.
2019 Subaru AscentVehicle type: Midsize, three-row, SUV
Base price: $31,995
Price as tested: $45,670
Engines: 2.4L turbocharged “Boxer” H-4
Transmission: Continuously Variable (CVT)
Horsepower: 260 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.): 277 @ 2,000-4,800 rpm
Curb weight 4,430-4,603 pounds
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
EPA mileage rating: 20 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined