A voice called from down the street, “Hey, is that the new Ascent?” It was my neighbor as he looked up from unloading his very own Subaru Outback. “Let me know how it is, I’ve been thinking about buying one.”
Turns out even Outback buyers aren’t immune to the charms of larger utility vehicles, with their commanding view of the road, three-row interior packaging and more intimidating presence. Subaru knew this, of course, and replaced its aging, lackluster Tribeca with a more viable prospect: the new Ascent, which is even built in Indiana.
Based on the same architecture that underpins Outback, Crosstrek and soon, the all-new Forester, the Ascent is a 16-foot-long, 4,463-lb SUV with over 86 cubic feet of cargo capacity with both second and third row seats folded flat. It can tow 5,000 lbs, has 8.6 inches of ground clearance, and seats up to eight passengers.
A proper SUV in the conventional sense, in other words. But still, there’s no big V-6 or V-8 engine up front, instead, mounted low in the chassis is Subaru’s 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four producing 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque and mated to a high-torque version of the Japanese automaker’s Lineartronic CVT transmission.
Overall, the Ascent still looks and feels very much like a Subaru, just a larger Subaru. The chunky, utilitarian styling from the Outback and Forester is present and accounted for, blown up to a larger scale as if by sci-fi enlarger ray.
The cabin too, is more practical than flashy. Subaru’s EyeSight Assist Monitor gives a heads-up display of the Ascent’s various EyeSight driver assist technology warnings, along with other vehicle information and an 8.0-inch infotainment display features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
Proof that Subaru knows what buyers want in this market segment? A whopping 19 cup holders located throughout the vehicle. Now that’s forward progress.
Other features included on our Ascent Premium loaner (Premium being one step up from the base model and two below the top Touring trim), with an as-tested price of $36,630, are Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, three-zone automatic climate control, power liftgate, roof rails, Trailer Stability Assist and an optional All-Weather Package, with heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats and a windshield de-icer ($1,460). All in all, a nicely equipped SUV for the money.
Around town, the Ascent is pleasant to drive with light but precise steering, excellent all-around visibility (a typical Subaru strong suit) and good power from the turbocharged H-4 engine with little turbo lag.
The CVT transmission, typically a source of some frustration, reacts well to throttle inputs and paddle-shifters allow the driver to swap between eight virtual “cogs” to get more of a conventional automatic sensation. Manual shifts are surprisingly well-executed, but largely unnecessary.
Second row bench seating is spacious and both the second and third rows fold nearly flat with ease. With both rows folded, there’s enough room for plenty of Ikea flat-pack furniture, at least a pair of bicycles, or about a quarter-year’s worth of bulky Costco items.
Under the rear cargo floor there’s a shallow storage compartment for various odds and ends—a nice touch when you want to keep smaller items from moving around or out of sight.
Is it worth trading in the familiar Outback for an Ascent? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. But for those with growing families who need to move up to a larger SUV, the Ascent allows the option of doing so while staying in the Subaru family. And that’s exactly the option that Subaru hopes you’ll choose.
2019 Subaru Ascent Premium Specifications
|PRICE||$35,170/$36,630 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.4L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve H-4/260 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 8-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||196.8 x 76.0 x 71.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.4 sec|