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2019 Subaru Ascent: New Car Review

If you’re a loyal Subaru customer, the day has finally arrived. The all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent promises you’ll no longer have to venture beyond the brand when your family outgrows that Outback or Forester. Oh, there used to be the Tribeca, but it was too small, too inefficient and really odd.

Indeed, the Ascent largely delivers what has long-been desired: Applying Subaru’s core brand attributes of no-nonsense practicality and go-anywhere versatility to a larger, 3-row vehicle. If it looks like a gigantic Outback, well, that was pretty much the point. It drives like one, too, yet it has comparable interior space and general packaging as some of the most popular and well-rounded large family crossovers (especially the Honda Pilot).

Now, for those unfamiliar with Subaru who are simply cross-shopping the Ascent to those other large family crossovers, you’ll actually find a bit more space inside and a boxy shape with big windows that results in greater versatility and less claustrophobic rear seating area for the kids. Feature content is also generous, especially in terms of safety and infotainment tech. All-wheel drive is also standard, and you get a class-leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It is a Subaru, after all. Whether you’re a Subaru loyalist or not, the Ascent is a well-rounded family choice.

What’s New for 2019?

The Subaru Ascent is an all-new model for 2019.

What We Like

Abundant space even for this segment; standard all-wheel drive and accident avoidance tech; lots of standard user-friendly infotainment features

What We Don’t

Not exactly a looker; throttle response may be too abrupt for some; accident avoidance tech constantly beeps at you

How Much?

$31,995–$44,695

Fuel Economy

Every 2019 Subaru Ascent comes with a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque — a capable amount, but less than many competitors. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard, along with all-wheel drive. All of its rivals have AWD as an option.

Fuel economy is estimated to be 21 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. These lower by one mpg in the Limited and Touring trim levels.

Standard Features & Options

The 2019 Ascent is a 3-row large crossover that can seat seven or eight passengers depending on whether you get the second-row bench seat or captain’s chairs. There are four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring.

The base Ascent ($31,995) comes standard with all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloy wheels, the EyeSight Driver Assist package (forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-depature warning, adaptive cruise control), roof rails, automatic headlights, a backup camera, 3-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, four USB ports (two front row, two second row), the Subaru Starlink infotainment system (a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a variety of smartphone connection apps), and a 6-speaker sound system that includes a CD player, satellite and HD radios and a media player interface. The sliding and reclining 60/40-split second-row bench seat is mandatory on the base trim level.

The Premium ($34,195) adds rear privacy glass, dual tailpipes, blind spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic warning system, increased towing capacity (5,000 pounds), the All-Weather package (heated front seats, heated mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer), rear climate controls, an 8-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, stain-resistant cloth upholstery, an 8-in Starlink touchscreen, an auxiliary audio jack and in-car Wi-Fi. Second-row captain’s chairs are a no-cost option. The Convenience package adds a power liftgate, proximity entry and push-button start, reverse automatic braking and an auto-dimming mirror. These items are also included in the Sporty package along with 20-in wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a cargo cover and integrated navigation.

A Rockford Fosgate audio system upgrade and two third-row USB ports are available as dealer-installed options on the base and Premium.

The Limited ($38,995) adds 20-in wheels, adaptive LED headlights, LED foglights, adjustable driver thigh support and lumbar, driver memory settings, a heated steering wheel, a 4-way power passenger seat, heated second-row seats, leather upholstery, leather dash and door trim, upgraded gauges, the Convenience package content, rear door sunshades, and two third-row USB ports. The second-row captain’s chairs are a no-cost option. The Technology package adds the panoramic sunroof, a cargo cover, integrated navigation and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound audio system. The Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade is also a dealer-installed option.

The Touring (44,695) adds the Technology package content plus special exterior design elements, a front parking camera, an enhanced backup camera, automatic wipers, ventilated front seats, Java Brown leather upholstery and wood-look trim. The captain’s chairs are mandatory.

Safety

The Ascent comes with an abundance of safety equipment, much of which is optional on competitors. This includes standard all-wheel drive, stability and traction control, front side airbags, driver knee airbag and full-length side curtain airbags, plus a backup camera, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning are standard on all but the base trim, while reverse automatic braking is included on the Limited and Touring trim levels.

The Ascent has yet to be crash tested by a third party, but Subaru’s vehicles tend to get the best possible scores.

Behind the Wheel

If you’re a current Subaru owner, you’re bound to feel right at home in the new Ascent. You’ll just need to get used to the extra square footage, as there’s no ignoring the fact that there’s now more metal around you. Various control inputs like steering (it’s a little too numb on center), throttle response (it’s surprisingly sharp) and the unusual CVT power delivery (it simulates gears but does so at seemingly odd times for optimal acceleration) should be familiar to those who’ve driven a recent Outback, but perhaps a little unusual for those coming from another brand.

Handling is sure-footed, benefiting from both standard all-wheel drive and a "torque-vectoring" system that uses the brakes to improve corner ability. The previously mentioned numb-on-center steering does somewhat negate these handling talents — the Ascent never feels as engaging as a Mazda CX-9, for instance. Ride comfort is excellent, as even the optional 20-in wheels on our test car didn’t result in tiresome impacts over rough pavement. Interior noise is kept nicely in check.

The interior design should also seem familiar. The driving position should be comfortable for a variety of driver sizes, and we especially liked how easy it is to reach the touchscreen. Competitors can make taller drivers lean uncomfortably forward. The touchscreen itself is also one of the easiest to use, comes with abundant features and even looks quite good. If there’s one technology complaint, it’s that the accident avoidance tech is a little too hypervigilant, with excessive beeping and warnings (for example, the adaptive cruise control atypically beeps when a car is simply detected ahead).

The Ascent is also exceptionally spacious, even for this segment. A tall adult can fit in all three rows, meaning your kids will be that much more comfortable (and have room to grow). The Ascent’s boxy shape and large windows also make it less claustrophobic back there. Cargo space is better than most competitors, including the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9, especially behind the raised third row. Big, chunky, functional roof rails are also standard, making it easy to mount whatever won’t fit inside.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda Pilot — The Ascent is incredibly similar to the Pilot in terms of its interior packaging and space (the Subaru is a wee bit bigger), no-nonsense design and interior quality. Its infotainment system is harder to use than Subaru’s.

2018 Mazda CX-9 — If you’re willing to sacrifice some utility for sharper styling and a more engaging, car-like driving experience, the CX-9 is a great choice. It’s still plenty practical and its cabin is surprisingly luxurious.

2018 Toyota Highlander — You’ll be sacrificing some space with the Highlander, but for many, Toyota’s 3-row crossover represents a just-right size for those who only need that third row in "emergency" situations when the neighbor’s kid just has to come along. It’s the only vehicle in the segment available as a hybrid.

Used Acura MDXAcura’s dependable family work horse has long been the go-to choice for more practicality-minded shoppers who still want some luxury flair and pampering. A used or certified pre-owned model is a good bet given the MDX’s solid reliability history.

Autotrader’s Advice

Although the base Ascent is very well-equipped, we think paying extra for the Premium trim is your best bet. For $2,200, you get key extras like a power driver seat, heated front seats, privacy glass and, crucially for parents, stain-resistant upholstery. You can also get it with no-cost second-row captain’s chairs, which are popular but do reduce seat count and versatility.

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