CHATHAM, Mass. – Three decades ago Subaru added adjustable suspension, body cladding and some other pieces to an all-wheel-drive Legacy Station Wagon to create its first Outback and virtually started the tsunami of Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUV or sport-utility vehicles based on car platforms rather than truck platforms) on the global automotive landscape.
During the ensuing years the Outback got bigger, gained additional ground clearance and became more SUV-like, solidifying Subaru’s position in the compact-SUV segment. The XV Crosstrek, introduced for the 2013 model year, turned an Impreza hatch into a compact SUV/CUV and, slotted in between, the Forester gave the Subaru faithful another means of fulfilling their SUV cravings.
Missing from the mix was a proper vehicle to fit into the highly competitive and lucrative mid-size SUV/CUV segment (think Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot/Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Explorer/Edge to name a few), especially one with three rows of seating. (The ungainly 2006-14 Tribeca B9 was a sales and marketing disaster in the U.S. market, with less than 80,000 total sales.)
That changed for the 2019 model-year with the introduction of the Subaru Ascent.
Based on Subaru’s international universal platform (Impreza, Crosstrek, Forester, Legacy, Outback share its basic underpinnings), the 2020 Ascent Premium we sampled last week offers class-competitive interior space for people and cargo along with the company’s signature all-wheel drive (all models sold in the U.S. except the BRZ sports coupe come with AWD), EyeSight safety systems, seating for seven, and solid fuel economy for a vehicle as capable as this.
Captain’s chairs create room for seven and easy third-row access
The lone option on our Ascent Premium, the 7-Passenger Sporty Package, brought a lot more than a middle row of bucket seats to the party. The $4,260 package added a power moonroof; power rear liftgate with height memory; keyless entry/start/stop; reverse automatic braking; auto-dimming rearview mirror; cargo-area cover (which stores in a clever under-floor cubby when not needed); 20-inch alloy wheels, and STARLINK-connected eight-inch multimedia navigation system.
Anyone who has driven a recent Subaru vehicle will feel immediately at home inside the Ascent; it’s just bigger in all directions, offering excellent room for passengers in the first two rows and decent – for a vehicle under 200-inches long – third-row accommodations. All passengers have multiple cupholders (19 in total!) as well as vents for the three-zone automatic climate-control system (with a comprehensive rear-located control panel).
Those second-row captain’s chairs recline as well as adjust fore and aft. The seatbacks also easily tilt and move forward for third-row ingress and egress.
Power assists control the windows, locks and driver-seat adjustments (this seat, as well as the front passenger’s, is also heated) and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach. Virtually any driver should be able to find a comfortable position behind the wheel.
An eight-inch color touch screen is integrated in the dashboard’s center and is the focal point of the infotainment system. AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite radio/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/CD player as well as streaming audio via either Bluetooth or USB cable connection from a mobile device.
And rather than trying to make the touch screen the dominant control mechanism for the vehicle’s systems – thus requiring the driver to take focus from the road – Subaru uses easily understood conventional buttons and switches for functions like climate control, seat heating and the like. The Ascent, like all Subaru products, is simple, straightforward and functional – buyers will not have to spend weeks learning the Ascent’s owners’ manual to understand and enjoy their vehicle.
Couple all these interior features with large windows providing excellent visibility, supportive and comfortable seats in all positions, and the Ascent creates an airy, secure place for a family taking a long drive or going on a quick errand.
Advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) and performance
Subaru EyeSight comes standard on all versions of the Ascent. The system includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. Additional ADAS include blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. And, as part of the option package, there is also reverse automatic braking.
This is a Subaru, so vehicle dynamics begin with all-wheel drive, a “boxer” engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 260 horsepower and 277 pounds-feet of torque from the horizontally opposed (hence “boxer”) engine operating through the eight-speed CVT.
This combination produces plenty of “oomph;” I never felt like the Ascent was under powered. It also produces excellent fuel economy for a mid-size SUV. In several hundred miles of driving through summer traffic on Cape Cod, often with four adults on board, I averaged some 24.5 miles per gallon, above the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s rating of 23 mpg in combined city/highway driving (the EPA rates the Ascent at 21 mpg city, 27 highway).
Stopping the 4,430-pound SUV are four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution; four-channel/four-sensor anti-lock system (ABS) with brake assist and brake override safety systems; active torque vectoring, and auto vehicle hold. Ventilated rotors front (13.1 inches) and rear (13 inches) are found within the 20-inch alloy wheels. These wheels are shod with 245/50R20 102H all-season tires.
The four-wheel independent suspension includes MacPherson-type struts, lower L-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar, liquid-filled rubber engine mounts in the front and double wishbone, coil springs and stabilizer bar in the rear.
These pieces add up to solid, confidence-inspiring driving. The Ascent is not a sports car, but the SUV is sure footed in real-world driving conditions.
The Subaru Ascent, like its brand siblings, is a perfect family car if you need three rows (even if the third row is simply for occasional use) of seating, lots of interior space for passengers and cargo, and want the added security of all-wheel drive along with the company’s reputation for quality and reliability.
It can be had in four trim levels ranging from the $31,995 base model, to the $34,395 Premium to the $39,345 Limited to the $45,045 Touring. The Premium like we had with 7-Seat Sporty Package, $39,665 including Subaru of America’s $1,010 standard shipping/handling fee, offers excellent value in the mid-size SUV segment. All versions are competitive and solid value in a highly competitive segment of the market.
As for the aforementioned “forgettable” Subaru Tribeca – 76,774 were sold in the U.S. in just under 10 years; the Ascent – 149,566 units since late 2018 introduction! Subaru nation made the right choice.