Autolist rating: 4/5
But would we buy it? YES
Price range: $32,970 - $45,670, including destination but before options
- This eight-passenger, three-row crossover is an all-new model from Subaru for 2019.
- Turbocharged four-cylinder engine and CVT gearbox can’t keep up with rivals.
- Plenty of clever interior tricks and room for adults.
- Overall, it's safe, spacious and easy to live with.
What is it?
The Subaru Ascent is an all-new model the brand launched in 2018 for the 2019 model year. It’s a three-row, family crossover that can seat seven or eight passengers, depending on which model you choose.
The Ascent sits at the top of Subaru’s lineup of vehicles; it’s larger than the Outback wagon, the Forester crossover and everything else in the automaker’s lineup, though the Ascent shares a platform with most of them.
All Ascent models come with a single engine choice: a 2.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder horizontally opposed engine that makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with a CVT automatic gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive.
There are four trim levels in the Ascent family: the Base, the Premium, the Limited and the Touring. The Base and the Premium come standard with eight-passenger seating (the middle seat is a three-person bench), the Limited offers a no-charge, middle-row captain’s chair option (for seven passengers total) and the Touring comes standard with the captain’s chairs.
The Base version starts at $32,970, while the Touring starts at $45,670.
The Ascent competes against a growing class of large family crossovers that includes the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Dodge Durango, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder and Chevy Traverse.
TLDR: Room for everything, safe as a safe, useful infotainment system
Space for life. Subaru did an excellent job thinking through the Ascent’s interior and how owners will use it. There’s plenty of head and legroom for adults in all three rows (though the third row is a little narrow), the seats move and slide and fold out of the way easily, there are a billion cupholders (OK,19), plus a deep console bin up front for purses or laptops and bins and cubbies for everything a family would need to store onboard.
Infotainment system. The Ascent’s in-dash touchscreen setup was bright, intuitive and performed great during our week-long test. Other systems from rivals like Honda, Mazda, Ford and Chevy couldn’t match the Subaru’s savvy combination of these three attributes.
Safety. Subaru garnered a coveted Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the IIHS -- the independent agency’s highest safety rating (and something none of its rivals achieved for 2019). All models come standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of active safety tech; it includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.
TLDR: Powertrain needs more power, noisy on the road, hiking boots styling
Powertrain. Subaru is one of the few brands in this three-row crossover segment to use a turbocharged four-cylinder engine instead of a V6. Honestly, we’d prefer a V6. The Ascent turbo engine and its CVT gearbox made for an uninspired combination; we were left wanting either a real automatic transmission with gears or a V6 (or both).
Style. Or lack thereof. Subarus have never been great in the styling department, so the homely looks of this Ascent shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not ugly, but it’s certainly more of a rugged hiking boot compared to the sleek, refined style of rivals like the Mazda CX-9, the Chevy Traverse or even the Honda Pilot.
Road noise. We generally found the Ascent’s interior to be comfy, but on freeway drives there was too much road noise seeping into the cabin for our taste.
5 stars of execution
Safety Features? YES
- As we mentioned, the Ascent comes standard with an impressive suite of active safety tech. This includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.
- All this, plus the LED projector headlights on the Limited and Touring models, netted the Ascent the rare IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus designation for 2019. This Subaru also has a five-star crash test rating from NHTSA.
- While it’s not a class-leading bargain, Subaru gives you your money’s worth on most trims of the Ascent.
- As mentioned, the Base model starts off with an impressive suite of active safety features, all-wheel drive, seating for eight people, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, among other features, for a reasonable $32,970.
- Buyers then have three more trim levels beyond that, each with smart option packages that allow them to get the features they want without making the full jump to the next trim level. Each trim level and option package is smartly priced for this segment.
- Thanks to its smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Ascent manages some of the best non-hybrid fuel economy in a segment dominated by thirstier V6 engines (Mazda’s CX-9 -- which also uses a turbo four -- and Toyota’s Highlander are a close second).
The Ascent is rated by the EPA at 21/27/23 MPG city/highway/combined; we saw about 17 MPG during our week of testing in mixed (city/highway) driving.
Driving experience? NO
- This was a close call and almost a YES vote for us. But, ultimately, the Ascent’s combination of a turbo four-cylinder that can feel strained or underpowered and a CVT gearbox that exacerbated the issue pushed us into the NO column for driving experience.
- There was also some road noise we wished would go away.
- Otherwise, the Ascent is a fine daily driver; visibility, comfort and handling are all good.
- Powertrain gripes aside, the Ascent is an excellent crossover and one that should be looked at by anyone seeking a three-row family hauler.
- The execution of the interior is particularly impressive; space, comfort and functionality are all mixed nicely. And then Subaru adds in excellent safety ratings and smartly-executed trim levels.
Total Rating: 4 stars
What’s it gonna cost me?
The base Ascent starts at $32,970, including destination.
It comes standard with all-wheel drive, EyeSight active safety features, Hill Descent Control, paddle shifters, three-zone climate control, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system and eight-passenger seating.
The Premium starts at $35,170 and adds to the Base model 4G LTE WiFi connectivity, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, middle-row climate control buttons, an eight-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It also gives buyers the option of swapping out the middle bench seat for a second-row captain’s chairs.
The Premium is the model we would buy, and then we’d add the (expensive but worth it) 7-Passenger Sporty Package. For $4,260, it adds the middle-row captain’s chairs, a panoramic moonroof, power liftgate, keyless entry, automatic reverse braking, 20-inch wheels and Subaru’s touchscreen navigation system. That’s a fully-loaded family hauler for a tick under $40,000.
Next is the Limited model. It starts at $39,970 and has basically all of the aforementioned options as standard equipment, except it subtracts the panoramic moonroof and navigation system and instead adds leather seats, heated middle-row seats, a heated steering wheel, and power front seats. This is also a favorite trim of ours, but we like the panoramic moonroof setup on the previous trim level better.
Finally, the Touring starts at $45,670 and adds to the Limited standard features like the panoramic moonroof, ventilated front seats, faux-wood trim, the navigation system, a 14-speaker, 792-watt Harman Kardon stereo system and a 180-degree front parking camera.
The Ascent is in one of the largest and most competitive crossover segments in the industry: the three-row, family hauler. While we recommend the Ascent, there are also several compelling rivals you should look into.
- Our favorites include Mazda’s CX-9 (class-leading styling and handling), the Honda Pilot, the VW Atlas and the Hyundai Santa Fe XL (each is very well-rounded with few shortcomings).
- Chevy’s Traverse has tons of room and nice styling but falls short in many other areas.
- Toyota’s Highlander is good, but this generation is old and due for a refresh; its third-row seat is also very small.
- Ford’s Explorer is due to be replaced soon; the outgoing generation is too outdated in many respects. Ditto for the Dodge Durango and Nissan Pathfinder.