Subaru’s Ascent crossover features a pleasant, if conservative, design language.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent may not be the first three-row Subie, but it may as well be.
Remember the Tribeca? Yeah, not too many do. Which, in some ways, is a shame: it wasn’t a bad crossover, despite, or because of, its original unique styling.
A GM-Saab-Subaru hybrid, the Tribeca only lasted nine years, and its Saab counterpart, the 9-6, was cancelled when GM sold its stake in Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries. In a way, that’s not all bad. The world didn’t need another Saab story just as the company was going up in flames.
As its next attempt at a full-size crossover, the Ascent hits the market as a largely capable, relatively fuel-efficient vehicle. It has Subaru’s almost-legendary symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, though many competing all-wheel-drive systems have caught up to its capabilities.
Subaru fans moving up in size will love the Ascent: they’ll feel right at home. There’s also nothing here to turn away conquest buyers, as the interior has a pleasant design and excellent fit and finish, even if it might lack some of the panache of, say, a Mazda CX-9.
As with most Subies, the Ascent gets a horizontally opposed engine mounted low in the engine bay, which helps handling by moving the centre of gravity down significantly. The symmetrical all-wheel-drive works as advertised, always able to make the most of any available grip at whatever tire it might be.
The tester came equipped with a heated steering wheel and heated seats, which worked wonderfully — thankfully so. While it’s true I had the vehicle during one of Winnipeg’s coldest snaps, it just didn’t want to warm up on a typical 20-minute drive to work.
I did, at one point, give the engine a fair shake at warming up, however. One day, I drove it for a half-hour, partially at highway speeds and partially at city speeds. The best I can say about the air coming out the heating system at the end was it was only slightly less frigid than the air coming in.
The engine, a 2.4-litre boxer four-cylinder with turbocharging, does a credible job of getting the Ascent moving. Its 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque are plenty for the size of the vehicle. Unfortunately, it just seems the mass of that engine needs some help — exhaust heat recovery system, a winter front, anything — to help raise its temperature enough to heat the cabin.
OK, enough bad news. When temperature isn’t a concern, the Ascent is a very comfortable ride, with plenty of support in the seats and just the right amount of cushiness. Legroom in the rear seat is plenty, and the third row, while still an in-a-pinch alternative, isn’t entirely hellish.
The exterior styling is right in line with Subaru’s design language, which, for better or for worse, now appears to take no risks at all. It’s true Subaru received plenty of bad ink about some of its more quirky previous designs, such as the Tribeca or bug-eyed Impreza, but at least the company tried to step out. That said, the new language’s lack of risk-taking likely expands the brand’s appeal in the mainstream market.
Price-wise, the Ascent hits the market exactly where you might expect: it starts at just less than $36,000 and tops out just less than $50,000. That’s just a wee bit less than the aforementioned Mazda CX-9, so the Ascent is competitive.
As a large crossover, you’d expect some towing capability, and by and large, the Ascent doesn’t disappoint. Models from Touring and up can tow 2,270 kg (5,004 lbs), while the base model — which doesn’t have an oil cooler for the continuously variable transmission — can only tow 908 kg (2,001 lbs).
There’s a $5,000 price jump from the base model Convenience to the next-grade Touring, and most of the difference — aside from the previously mentioned CVT oil cooler — is toys, such as a panoramic sunroof, a larger and more feature-packed entertainment system and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob (among other items). One significant omission for the Convenience model is the lack of pre-wiring for towing.
One thing that’s not optional is Subaru’s EyeSight safety system, which includes pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-sway warning, lane-keep assist and lead vehicle start alert.
The active lane-keep assist system is a bit abrupt, making you feel as though you’re bouncing off the lane markings, but to get these features even at the base price is a competitive edge for the Ascent.
The Ascent’s second-row seating offers ample room. The third row is tighter, but does the job.
Subaru's Ascent offers three rows of seating and the company's near-legendary all-wheel drive system.
Higher trim levels include interior upgrades like a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a more feature-packed entertainment system.