I recently had the chance to drive the brand-new 2019 Subaru Ascent, which is a midsize, three-row SUV from Subaru. This may seem alien to you because the market has demanded a midsize, three-row SUV from Subaru for years, and Subaru hasn’t really given us what we’ve wanted. But now, finally, they have.
Except, that isn’t technically true. I say that Subaru hasn’t “really” given us what we’ve wanted in large part because Subaru did try about a decade ago to give us exactly what we wanted: A three-row family SUV. But what they gave us was a vehicle called the B9 Tribeca, which was very weird looking and very unorthodox, and people generally disliked it. Subaru eventually restyled the B9 Tribeca and pulled the “B9” out of its name, but the damage was done: The Tribeca was a flop, and it finished flopping a few years ago.
Since then, the Ascent has appeared. It’s a lot more mainstream than the Tribeca, with a design that’s hard to distinguish from the Honda Pilot, among other midsize crossover offerings. Subaru played it safe, and they played it right: It’s priced like a competitive midsize SUV, it looks like a competitive midsize SUV and it has the powertrain of a competitive midsize SUV — a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. But this, of course, brings up the question: Is it a competitive midsize SUV?
To find out, I borrowed a 2018 Ascent from Subaru Orange Coast in Orange County, California, where these things have been flying out of the showroom. And I truly mean flying out of the showroom: The dealership was down to just one of these when I arrived, and they were saving it for my video shoot. This was last week, and it’s now already in customer hands. It seems people seriously want to graduate to an Outback or a Forester to a three-row Subaru SUV to meet the needs of their growing families.
So I spent the day with the Ascent, and what I discovered is this: If you’re looking for a family SUV, it’s everything you’re expecting it to be. The interior is nice, roomy, well-equipped and logically laid out, with a surprisingly large and accessible third row. The seats are comfortable, the driving position is great, and nothing is confusing or bizarre. In that sense, it’s sort of the anti-B9 Tribeca: The Ascent was clearly designed with the average customer in mind, and it’s not intended to stand out or show off in any weird or bizarre way. It’s just normal.
That also goes for the Ascent’s road manners. I generally believe that people won’t buy midsize SUVs specifically because they drive well, but people will avoid them if they drive poorly — and the Ascent certainly doesn’t fall into the latter category. Visibility is good, controls fall easily to hand, the steering feel is fine and acceleration is totally acceptable for this segment, even if it’s “just” a 4-cylinder as opposed to the V6 engines found in many competitive vehicles. The Ascent is completely fine on the road and exactly what you’d expect a midsize SUV to be.
What the Ascent isn’t, it’s worth noting, is especially thrilling: If you’re coming from a WRX or an STI, and you’ve got kids and responsibilities, and you want to move into a sporty three-row family hauler, this isn’t that. Although 260 horsepower would be a lot if placed in a smaller Subaru, it doesn’t exactly transform the Ascent into a rocket ship — and the CVT automatic doesn’t help matters. Simply put, this is a great midsize crossover for people interested in a great midsize crossover — and unlike last time, Subaru doesn’t want to try to rock the boat with anything different this time around.
If you’re like most shoppers who just want a simple, easy vehicle for family transportation, that will be completely fine. If you want to branch out, however, you’ll have to look elsewhere. And if that’s the case, just remember: Autotrader has a lot of used B9 Tribeca models to choose from.