We drove the Subaru Ascent to see if it's one of the best family SUVs money can buy — here's the verdict

Business Insider/Jessica TylerOur 2019 Subaru Ascent test car.

Editorial note: Business Insider will name its 2018 Car of the Year on Monday, November 19. Each day this week, we’re taking another look at the five vehicles that were runners-up that were selected from a pool of 15 finalists. Earlier this week, we featured the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, the 2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast, and the Jaguar I-PACE. Today, our featured runner-up is the 2019 Subaru Ascent.

  • The Subaru Ascent midsize crossover SUV is all new for 2019.
  • The Ascent is Subaru‘s first attempt at a midsize SUV since the disappointing Tribeca was discontinued in 2014.
  • Subaru’s new SUV will take on industry leaders like the Toyota Highlander and the Ford Explorer.
  • The base 2019 Subaru Ascent starts at $US31,995, while our top-of-the-line Ascent Touring starts at $US44,695. With fees, our car carried an as-test price of $US45,670.
  • We were impressed by the Ascent’s comfortable cabin, bountiful safety features, solid driving dynamics, and powerful turbocharged engine.
  • The Ascent’s somewhat anonymous styling, spongy brakes, and lethargic transmission, however, were a bit disappointing.

Subaru has been on a roll in the US. The longtime purveyor of Japanese all-wheel-drive motors has reported nearly seven years’ worth of consecutive month-over-month sales growth.

Its Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek crossovers have become a popular alternative to the more mainstream offerings from Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Nissan.

Success in the midsize SUV segment, however, has eluded Subaru over the years. It tried in 2005 with the B9 Tribeca. Unfortunately, the Tribeca’s odd styling, diminutive size, and tepid performance prevented it from gaining traction in the market. Even a 2008 facelift and the addition of a more powerful engine couldn’t save the Tribeca, which soldiered on for nearly a decade before Subaru pulled the plug on the SUV in 2014.

Read More: One of these 15 finalists will become Business Insider’s 2018 Car of the Year.

For 2019, Subaru is back with an all-new midsize SUV: the Ascent. The Ascent is larger than the Tribeca, with room for up to eight passengers, and is packed with a bevy of state-of-the-art tech features.

The Ascent is meant to slot in above the Outback wagon in Subaru’s lineup and will be its most expensive offering.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to spend a week with a new Magnetite Grey Metallic Subaru Ascent Touring.

The base 2019 Subaru Ascent starts at $US31,995, while our top-of-the-line Ascent Touring starts at $US44,695. With fees, our test car carried an as-test price of $US45,670.


The Ascent is Subaru’s first attempt to crack the midsize SUV market since the failed …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… B9 Tribeca, which sold from 2005 to 2014.


At 196.8 inches long, the Ascent is nearly half a foot longer than the Tribeca.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The Ascent will slot in above Subaru’s other popular crossover such as the Crosstrek …


… the Forester, and …

Subaru

… the Outback wagon as the brand’s new flagship and most expensive offering.

Subaru

At the same time, the new Ascent will compete directly against industry heavyweights such as …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… the Toyota Highlander …

Matthew DeBord/BI

… the Ford Explorer …

Matthew DeBord/BI

… the Honda Pilot …

Honda

… the Chevrolet Traverse …

Chevrolet

… the Mazda CX-9 …

Mazda

… the Volkswagen Atlas, and …

Hollis Johnson

… the Nissan Pathfinder.

Nissan

Aesthetically, the Ascent has a heavy dose of Subaru corporate-styling DNA.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Its front grille and headlights draw heavily from the popular Outback and Forester. Overall, the look is attractive but a bit anonymous.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

From the side, it looks like every other crossover in the segment.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In the back, the Ascent features dual exhausts and a power liftgate. I’m a fan of the sculpted tail lights.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

I also really like these optional 20-inch alloys and …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… LED headlights.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Inside, the interior of our top-spec Touring model really impressed. The cabin is traditional Subaru — very conservative but effective and easy to use. Ergonomics are terrific, with no oddly placed buttons or knobs to report.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The interior feels solidly put together with good-quality materials. The leather upholstery is soft to the touch, and the plastics look and feel robust.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The dark tan leather and wood grain accents add an extra dash of luxury to the business-like cabin.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In front of the driver is a nicely contoured leather-wrapped steering wheel complete with paddle shifters.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Beyond that is a set of traditional analogue gauges flanking a digital information display.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The center stack is dominated by an optional 8-inch high-definition touchscreen running the latest variant of Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system. The Ascent comes standard with a 6.5-inch unit.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Subaru’s Starlink system is simple and intuitive. It features a solid array of app content as well as …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability, built-in navigation, and …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… emergency roadside assistance.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There’s Apple CarPlay integration.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There’s also a standard backup camera.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Atop the main screen is a secondary information display. Using a set of buttons located on the dash, you can scroll through a variety of information including the weather …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… navigation …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… fuel economy, and …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… vehicle dynamics.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The display also shows which safety features are turned and …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… is home to the Ascent’s front-view camera.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Below the two screens on the center stack are the climate-control switches …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… USB plugs/AUV plugs, and controls for the SUV’s all-wheel-drive system.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Above the driver is a rear-view mirror that can double as a digital display.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In case of an emergency, an SOS button is located on the panel above the rear-view mirror.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Also located above the rear-view mirror are the sensors for Subaru’s Eyesight safety system, which is standard on all Ascents.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Eyesight is a suite of driver-assistance features that include …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and pre-collision throttle control.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Our Ascent test car came equipped with the optional second-row captain’s seats. Lower-spec models are available with a second-row bench that gives the Subaru room for up to eight.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The second-row captain’s chairs are comfortable and supportive. They are also mounted higher to give the occupants a commanding view of the road.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

A cavernous 38.5 inches of legroom are available for second-row passengers.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Rear-seat passengers also have their own climate control, heated seats, and power plugs.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Third-row passengers have 31.7 inches of legroom. Adults can fit back there and be comfortable on trips around town, but these seats are best reserved for children.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The optional panoramic sunroof floods the cabin with light. Even though it robs the first and second row passengers of about an inch of headroom, it’s definitely worth it.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In case you’re wondering, the Ascent boasts 19 cup and bottle holders.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Open up the power train gate.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

You’ll find 17.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

With the third row folded, cargo capacity increase to 47 cubic feet. The maximum cargo capacity behind the first row is 86 cubic feet.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Power for all versions of the Ascent comes from a new 2.4-litre, turbocharged, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. The “flat” or “boxer” turbo four produces a stout 260 horsepower.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

It’s mated to a continuously variant transmission and …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… Subaru’s signature Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

According to Motor Trend, the Ascent Touring can make the run from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Source: Motor Trend.


So, what’s it like to drive?

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The Subaru Ascent is surprisingly good to drive. In a segment of the market in which driving pleasure is not exactly at the top of the priority list, the Ascent stands out for its confident handling and gutsy acceleration.

I was initially concerned about the lack of a six-cylinder option. After all, this is a 4,600-pound, three-row SUV. My fears, however, were quickly allayed by turbo four.

The Ascent felt perky around town and plenty capable while sprinting down highway on-ramps. In fact, even with four occupants and a full load of cargo, the Ascent’s drivetrain never felt overmatched.

The engine delivers solid low-end grunt with its 277 pounds of torque at just 2,000 RPMs. In addition, the traditionally lackadaisical CVT did a fair impression of an eight-speed automatic transmission. Its pre-programmed shift points mimicked the feel of an automatic and reduced the effect of that dreaded CVT drone.

Our only real complaint with the Ascent’s driving dynamics was its brakes, which felt spongy and not as responsive as we would have liked.


Our verdict.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In all honesty, we haven’t been terribly impressed with the past couple of Subarus we’ve tested. We found the four-cylinder Outback wagon and the Crosstrek crossover to be underpowered and a bit rough around the edges.

The Ascent was none of those things.

Subaru really needed to get the Ascent right. And boy did they nail it. The 2019 Subaru Ascent wowed us with its user-friendly design, its refined cabin, a cornucopia of standard safety features, infotainment tech that works, and a gutsy turbocharged engine.

In a market in which the weak are quickly exposed, Subaru is entering the fray with all guns blazing.

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