Subaru is at the foothills of SUV mountain with its 2019 Ascent, the brand’s largest, three-row SUV. But this enlightened and accommodating newcomer will quickly gain ground among the many choices of large-midsize SUV crossovers.
More carlike than truck based, this stalwart segment of non-luxury crossovers has at least 11 competing vehicles. Among them, the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Pathfinder Toyota Highlander and VW Atlas.
But Subaru is no stranger to this climb. It made a run at the mountain from 2005-2014 with its seven-seat B9 Tribeca, a well done but oddly styled vehicle. And it has five-seat champions in its two-row Forester SUV and beefed-up Outlander and Crosstrek wagons. But Subaru saw that it was losing buyers in their child-bearing years. A larger vehicle, such as Ascent, is what customers told Subaru they wanted; something to be used without fear of getting dirty.
This time around, Subaru made sure Ascent had strong styling and that it was made for American-sized gear, child seats and strollers — with 19 cup holders and up to eight USB ports.
Ascent is sold in four all-wheel-drive trim levels — base, Premium, Limited and Touring — with a no-cost choice for seven or eight seats. Starting prices range from $32,970-$45,670, including the $975 freight charge from Lafayette, Ind.
Standard features include seven air bags, a 6.5-inch multimedia infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, four USB ports, three zone automatic climate control, power windows-mirrors-locks and Auto Vehicle Hold, which holds the brakes at a stop so the driver does not have to keep a foot on the pedal.
All models also have Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technologies of automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warnings. Optional technologies include blind-spot detection with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and reverse automatic braking.
Today’s tester is an eight-passenger Limited, which was $42,920 with one option group ($2,950) for the Harman Kardon audio system, navigation, panoramic power moonroof and cargo cover. The Limited’s equipment list includes smartkey entry and push-button ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, LED steering-responsive headlights with automatic high-beam assist (dimming) and LED fog lights, second-row retractable sunshades, 20-inch aluminum wheels, driver’s seat adjustable thigh support, power liftgate gate with height memory and two more USB ports for a total of six.
The loaded, seven-seat Touring model ($45,670) gets such upgrades as (more luxurious) Java Brown leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, woodgrain-pattern matte finish accent trim, three-mode ventilated and heated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet and eight USB charging ports. It also gets an 8.0-inch multimedia navigation system, 14-speaker Harman Kardon Quantum Logic surround sound audio system and panoramic power moonroof. Its Smart Rear-View Mirror helps rear visibility through a camera image and there is a very useful 180-degree front-view camera.
All models get the new 260-horsepower, direct-injection and twin-scroll turbocharged 2.4-liter “boxer” flat four-cylinder engine with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The CVT, which integrates X-Mode off-road traction control and hill-descent control, allows little of the typical CVT motorboating (engine-revving) effect. There is no Sport mode, but the eight-speed manual mode with steering wheel shifters will help hold shift points when needed.
The Ascent will tow up to 5,000 pounds and includes an electronic trailer stability assist system. Subaru’s “Symmetrical” AWD system is not an on-demand system but powers all four wheels and continually shifts traction to those with more grip to keep the vehicle on course.
Though Ascent is on the upper end of the curb-weight scale at almost 4,500 pounds, the new engine has as much power and fuel economy as its V-6-powered competitors. With 277 foot-pounds of torque at a low 2,000-4,000 rpm, the Ascent will accelerate briskly and will hold that power into the freeway-cruising zone. Braking is almost overengineered with four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with large 13.1-inch rotors front and 13 inches rear.
Fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 mpg combined on 87 octane. The 19.3-gallon tank allows a wide range of adventuring.
Whether for young families or established households, the Ascent is a refined helpmate that drives small and gives big returns. Built of much high-strength steel, the solid chassis helps ensure a compliant suspension and a cabin that is luxury-class quiet over most road surfaces and at all speeds. There is little head toss of passengers when making sharp turns or stepping over speed bumps. The turning circle seems tighter than its reasonable 38 feet.
There is complete function to the contemporary interior design with open sightlines across the hood and over the shoulder. Front headroom is minivan tall at 40.1 inches or 41.3 without the panoramic sunroof. The shifter console has a charging area with two 2.1-amp charging USBs and an audio port.
The cabin has a low step-in height with thoughtful details in the sliding visors, the conversation mirror, bold (readable) graphics and plenty of large and small storage areas. The Limited’s front seats — upholstered in attractive, perforated leather — are gently bolstered and have thigh extenders.
The second row has generous width for three-across child seats, a flat floor and long legroom of 38.6 inches. The seats recline and have fore-aft adjustment to allow more third-row legroom or cargo capacity. And there is a simple two-step tip-slide-fold feature to the seats. Amenities include two 2.1-amp USB ports, a fold-down armrest with cup holders, door panel storage for at least two bottles and overhead air vents, which are so kid-friendly when motion sickness is a concern.
The third row is not overly cramped and the seats, which recline, are some of the most supportive I’ve tested in any three-row SUV. Extras include cup- and juice-box holders and a 2.1 USB port.
The cargo space is huge, wide and flat, spanning 17.6 cubic feet behind the third row to 47 cu. ft. with the second row folded. But even with the third-row in place, there is usable space for grocery-getting. There also is some basement storage with room to stash the roller cover.
There really is no such thing as being late to the hill-climbing party when you bring a vehicle as well presented as the Ascent. It won’t be long before the competition is looking at taillights from this new welcome wagon to the Subaru family.
2019 Subaru Ascent Limited
• Body style: large, 7- or 8-seat AWD SUV
• Engine: 260-hp, direct-injection and twin-scroll turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder; 277 lb.-ft. torque from 2,000-4,800 rpm
• Transmission: CVT with hill descent control, selectable 8-speed manual shift mode and steering wheel paddle shifters
• Fuel economy: 20/26/22 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
• Tow capacity: 5,000 lbs.
• Fuel tank: 19.3 gal.
• Cargo space: 17.6-47 cu. ft. *86 cu.ft. both rows folded
• Front head/leg room: 40.1*/42.2 in. *41.3 inches without moonroof
• 2nd row head/leg room: 40/38.6 in.
• 3rd row head/leg room: 36.3/31.7 in.
• Length/wheelbase: 196.8/113.8 in.
• Width/height: 86.2*/71.6* inches *w/turn-signal mirrors and roof rails
• Curb weight: 4,499 lbs.
• Turning circle: 38 ft.
• Standard equipment includes: smartkey entry and push-button ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, LED steering-responsive headlights with automatic high beam assist (dimming), LED fog lights, second-row retractable sunshades, 20-inch aluminum wheels, driver’s seat adjustable thigh support, power liftgate gate with height memory, 6 USB ports
• Safety features include: 7 air bags, trailer stability assist, stability and traction controls, brake assist and brake override, active torque vectoring and auto vehicle hold
• Base price: $39,970, including $975 freight charge; price as tested $42,920
• Options on test vehicle: Harman Kardon, navigation, panoramic power moonroof, cargo $2,950
• Where assembled: Lafayette, Ind.
• Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper