REVIEW: Subaru Ascent rising up sales charts

The largest Subaru to debut is the all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent, designed to make a strong impression for those in the market for a mid-size SUV with three-row seating.

Subaru first made the foray into the three-row SUV class with the unpopular Tribeca in 2006, which did poorly in sales until 2014 when it was removed from the market. This time around, Subaru isn’t taking any chances and therefore the Ascent was developed to provide a comfortable ride and predictable road manners with tons of features that consumers want these days.

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Subaru as a whole is hitting records each month in sales, and so it is pretty safe to say that this decision was a well-thought out one. With a consistent and reliable product, the “ascent” of this vehicle in the marketplace filled with Toyota Highlanders and Honda Pilots is sure to be steady.

Design

While the Ascent still bears resemblance to other vehicles in the Subaru fleet, it strides its own path with a powerful large stance and bold edges, though generally speaking the Ascent is still somewhat generic looking. The Ascent is the largest vehicle Subaru has ever created (although it is average for other vehicles in its class), and it boasts seven- or eight-passenger seating arrangements.

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Subaru Ascent rear quarter. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Despite looking somewhat bland in terms of the exterior, the interior is absolutely first class thanks to a combination of rich materials, trims and components. In the top trim level, the Ascent’s interior wouldn’t look out of place in a $100K German luxury SUV. The visibility is excellent with large windows and the vehicle feels “airy” and “open” with lots of space to stretch out. The only thing to keep in mind is that the third row seat – like in most other SUVs in the market – is tight for adults though fine for younger or smaller teens and tweens.

The interior boasts 498 litres of space behind the third row, and increases all the way to 2,435 litres with both seat rows folded down. Towing capacity is also good at nearly 5,000 pounds for the top model.

Every trim level offers power driver’s seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control for three zones, extended roof rails and Subaru EyeSight driving assistance. For those who wish for a more luxurious environment, moving up the trim levels will get you added features such as panoramic sunroof, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, power liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors, and a navigation system. On the top Premier package, even more options are available: Apply CarPlay, Android Auto and a mobile hotspot on a 6.5-inch touchscreen.

Performance

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The Ascent’s interior includes a combination of rich materials, trims and components, making it comparable to what you’d find in something twice the price. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Built on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) which is also found on models such as the Impreza and the Crosstrek, the Ascent is a Subaru through-and-through. Under the hood is a four-cylinder, 2.4-litre direct injection turbocharged Subaru boxer engine that provides 260 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque.

Paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Subaru Ascent consumes less fuel in comparison with regular automatic transmission equipped cars. The caveat to this is that the engine noise can be noticeable during acceleration, but other than that, the ride is extraordinarily smooth and enjoyable.

Subaru “built-in” a feeling of transmission shifting (CVT does not shift due to its design) so that the car will feel more normal, if such a statement makes any sense. In other words, CVT equipped cars normally feel odd since there is no shifting per se and instead just the change in sound and feel as the car goes faster. Subaru is simply trying to make the Ascent feel more like normal transmission cars by making the car express shifting feel as it goes faster – which works well actually.

The Ascent is as refined as a Lexus costing much more, but the handling is light and somewhat numb. The Mazda CX-9 is a benchmark in this regard, as it boasts a Porsche-like handling and road feel that is absent in every other competitor. The Ascent feels smoother than the Honda Pilot and more upscale than the current Toyota Highlander (which by the way is changing completely for 2020). With so many new models arriving this year, however, the Ascent is going to face stiff competition indeed.

To handle more rugged terrain, the Ascent has decent ground clearance and offers an “X-Mode” driving mode.

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Subaru Ascent cargo space. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Official posted numbers for fuel economy are 11.6 litres/100 kilometres city, 9.0 l/100 km highway, and 10.4 l/100 km combined. Further, even with a turbo engine, premium gasoline is not required which is a great economical bonus for buyers.

The Subaru Ascent has earned a Top Safety Pick + from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Summary

The Ascent starts from $37,910 for the Convenience trim and moves up to $51,910 for the Premier package. The competitors for the Subaru Ascent include the Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and a few others.

In this saturated market, the Subaru Ascent has taken the conservative approach and focused on being competitive in important areas like ride and smoothness – but because of this, the Ascent does not stand out in any particular measure. Subaru’s approach of emphasizing elegant design, good road dynamics, good fuel economy, ample space and a comfortable interior is obviously working as it can’t keep up with the demand for the Ascent.

It looks like the consumers – who already have lots of choices in this class – have spoken and picked the Ascent as one of their all-time favourites.

editor@automotivepress.com

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