The largest Subaru yet makes it debut for 2019. With the Ascent, Subaru has joined the three-row crossover class. The new Ascent is clearly family-focused, able to seat up to either seven or eight passengers. Built in Indiana for North American drivers, the 2019 Ascent shares its global platform with Subaru’s Impreza and Crosstrek.
Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim levels are offered. A new turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder flat (horizontally-opposed) engine produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) mates with standard all-wheel drive. Ascents in Premium or higher trim level are rated to tow as much as 5,000 pounds.
Like other CVTs, Subaru’s transmission operates like a conventional automatic, but includes simulated “gears” that can be employed when accelerating. The CVT’s primary duty, though, is to maintain fuel efficiency. Helped by respectable low-end power, a fully independent suspension, and 8.7-inch ground clearance, the Ascent can handle gravel roads and mild off-roading adventures.
Subaru has a long history of emphasis on safety. Crash-test scores for the new Ascent have excelled. Standard advanced safety features, in a group that Subaru calls “EyeSight,” include forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. A new standard cabin-view mirror shows front occupants a view of the back seat.
Blind-spot monitors are included with Premium trim. Reverse automatic braking goes into Limited models. On Touring models, the standard rear-facing camera’s view is projected onto the inside rearview mirror. Touring models add a 180-degree forward-facing camera.
Crash-testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted in five-star ratings overall and for frontal and side impacts. The sole four-star rating was for rollover resistance, a calculated score rather than one based upon actual testing.
The Ascent has been declared a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In addition to earning “Good” scores for all crash tests, it was rated “Superior” for collision-avoidance equipment.
Prices do not include $975 destination charge.
Base 2.4T 8-Passenger ($31,995) comes with cloth upholstery, three seating rows with center bench, 18-inch alloy wheels, four USB ports, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, three-zone automatic climate control, and the EyeSight active safety system.
2.4T 8-Passenger Premium ($34,195) adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, spill-resistant cloth upholstery, blind-spot monitors, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
2.4T 7-Passenger Premium ($35,655) substitutes second-row captain’s chairs for the bench seat.
2.4T 8-Passenger Limited ($38,995) gets leather-trimmed upholstery, LED headlights and foglights, 20-inch alloy wheels, a power rear liftgate, and retractable second-row sunshades.
2.4T 7-Passenger Limited ($38,995) substitutes second-row captain’s chairs for the bench seat, with no additional charge.
2.4T 7-Passenger Touring ($44,695) includes upgraded leather, heated and cooled front seats, woodgrain trim, Harman Kardon 14-speaker audio, integrated turn signals, navigation, and forward-facing camera.
The Ascent might be brand-new for 2019, but styling is immediately recognizable as a Subaru. Quite a bit is borrowed from the smaller Outback, including basic proportions.
Flanked by large headlights, the Ascent’s trapezoidal grille is larger and more upright than the Outback’s. Upper trim levels get LED headlights. Prominent fenders enclose 18-inch wheels, though top models ride on 20-inch rubber.
A classy cabin helps propel the new Ascent into mainstream territory. Family-minded practicality is evident inside, where the standard second-row bench in upper-trim models can be replaced with captain’s chairs. Third-row legroom measures only a skimpy 31.7 inches.
Cloth seat upholstery is standard in base and Premium trim. Limited and Touring editions get leather. Thirsty shoppers might note that 19 cupholders can be found inside the vehicle.
Interior layout excels. Seats could benefit from a little more width, but most of them can accommodate adults. Still, passenger space anywhere within the Ascent doesn’t reach far beyond average. Front seats are comfortably supportive, though bolstering might not suffice for broad-shouldered passengers.
Second-row captain’s chairs are similarly roomy for riders of any age. Most trim levels include second-row climate controls. Leg space in the back row is just enough for smaller adults, though children might be happier there. Even rear-facing car seats can fit in the second row without difficulty.
With the third row folded, cargo capacity totals 47.5 cubic feet, growing to 82.5 cubic feet with only the front-row seatbacks upright. Raise the third-row seatback, and 17.6 cubic feet are available.
Comfortable road manners, a beautifully composed ride, and decent fuel economy make a welcome combination, even if Ascent performance fails to stimulate. Acceleration is actually admirable for a vehicle in this class. Subaru estimates that a 0-60 mph run takes 7.4 seconds.
Although the powertrain seems willing, and highway passing response is adequate, throttle behavior can seem a little too eager. That quirk aside, Subaru’s continuously variable transmission deserves much of the credit for the Ascent’s performance. Ordinarily, the variable-ratio gearless transmission delivers smooth, untroubled takeoffs on its own. Push hard on the gas pedal, and the CVT can simulate a series of eight “speeds,” transitioning from one to the next with a feel like that of a conventional automatic. Paddle shifters are located at the steering wheel.
A standard â€œX-Modeâ€ simulates low-range gearing, to permit off-road experiences. Ground clearance compares to that of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, while Subaru’s hill-descent control can make challenging downgrades a no-fuss occasion.
Steering is as light as expected, yet positioning the Ascent on the pavement is comparatively easy. The Ascent is wide and feels wide, but it handles its size well. Ride quality is soft and quiet, making for calm cruising.
Fuel economy ranks with other large family vehicles. Lower-end versions are EPA-rated at 21/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. Limited and Touring trim levels are rated at 20/26/22 mpg, because they have larger (20-inch) wheels.
Substituting for some of the merits of a minivan, the 2019 Subaru Ascent exudes family appeal. Subaru’s new take on the three-row crossover is nicely equipped in any form, with features likely to appeal to parents who can make full use of 7- or 8-passenger capacity. Virtues abound, led by standard active-safety features, thoughtful touches such as separate front and rear climate controls, and above all, great value.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.