Subaru Ascent Limited

Subaru Ascent Limited

Test Drive Notes Library
  • Pros

  • Practicality. The Ascent has all the sex appeal of the Forester, along with an extra row of seats. In other words, unless you find Earth Shoes sexy, it’s not sexy at all. There’s nothing flashy about the Ascent. But those who love Subarus will get what they expect: A well-thought-out, functional vehicle, with everything they need, and not a whole lot more.

  • Comfortable ride. Like most recent vintage Subarus, the ride is notably smooth and comfortable, even with 20 inch wheels. Road bumps and imperfections kind of disappear underneath you.

  • Ease of use. The doors are large, making entry and egress easy. This is particularly important for people who need three-row SUVs because 1) they tend to have kids and 2) since they’re constantly corralling kids, the last thing they need is to be bumping their heads on door sills and reducing their already precious brain cell count. Inside, the controls are straight forward, and not fussy.

  • Standard safety. The Ascent comes standard with all wheel drive, pre-collision warning, automatic emergency breaking, (with blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert standard on higher trims, including the Limited that we tested). Like we said, it’s got everything you need. We also want to commend Subaru for a simple, inexpensive, but very clear system or warning lights. The forward collision and lane departure warning use little red and yellow bulbs that project at the bottom of the front windshield. They’re intuitively understandable, and work great. The blind spot warning lights are on the inside edge of each side-view mirror, and are large and bright enough to get your attention. Again, bravo. We’ve driven too many cars recently that have dull, small warning lights in the middle of the side view mirrors that don’t do enough to catch your eye when you need your eye caught.

  • Power. The Ascent uses a Subaru 4-cylinder, boxer engine that makes 260 horsepower. That’s plenty. While some other three-row heifers get six-cylinder engines, the four-cylinder in the Subaru does its job without a problem, and doesn’t feel underpowered. It uses a CVT transmission that works well. If you’re not used to driving a CVT, you’ll have to get used to hearing the revs go up when you accelerate, and then quickly come down as your speed increases. There are paddle shifters that use pre-set ratios to mimic a fixed-geared automatic transmission, so Dad will have something to keep him from getting bored out of his skull when he’s alone in the Ascent.

  • Enough luxury. It’s not an overly padded, escape pod, luxury SUV, even in the upscale “Limited” trim. But it’s plenty comfortable. It’s got heated, leather-trimmed seats, three-zone climate controls, and a flush touch screen. It certainly feels like a good value, and a good compromise between utilitarian and over the top. Subaru owners will feel right at home, and maybe even a bit pampered.

  • Price. It was refreshing to drive a three-row SUV with leather seats and all the necessary safety equipment, and see a price below $43,000. Our "Ascent Limited” tester came well-equipped; it was optioned with an upgraded stereo, and an 8-inch touch screen that included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It certainly has everything necessary to lug a family around comfortably and safely.

  • 19 cup holders. 19 cup holders!! Also, well positioned USB ports that are easy to access, even for adult sized fingers.

  • Cons

  • Handling. While the ride is supple and comfortable, the Ascent feels big when you turn it. Lane changes on the highway result in that half a second where you turn the wheel one way, and the body, momentarily, leans the other way. If you’ve driven an Audi Q7 or even a Mazda 9, you’ll be unimpressed by the Ascent’s handling. On the other hand, if you’ve driven a Nissan Pathfinder, you’ll feel like you’re in a Porsche. There’s nothing fun about driving the Ascent. If that’s what you’re looking for, drive the Mazda or Audi.

  • Engine noise. Not a deal breaker, but you do get some engine growl every time you step on the gas. It’s far less noticeable at speed than it is in stop and go driving.

  • OK Mileage. We had hoped that the four-cylinder Subaru would best its six-cylinder competitors, but its pretty much right in line with them. EPA predicts the Ascent will get 22 mpg overall (20 city/26 highway). That’s exactly the same as the six-cylinder Honda Pilot, a couple of clicks better than the six-cylinder Chevy Traverse, and one mpg worse than the six-cylinder Toyota Highlander.

  • Third row squeeze. Like most three-row SUVs (with perhaps the exception of the Traverse), the third row is for kids, teens, or relatives you really dislike. It’s tight back there.

  • Starry screen. OK, this is really minor, but the mid 1990’s called and they’ve asked for Subaru’s screen graphics back. The basic home screen on Subaru’s infotainment features a faux starry sky and colors that bring to mind Windows 95. It works fine, but a graphics update should be budgeted for 2020.

  • New model reliability questions. Subaru is neither at the top nor the bottom in terms of reliability. As the Ascent is new for 2019, we’d guess reliability will be similar to other Subaru models, but we won’t know until it’s been out there on the road (or in the shop) for a few years.

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