The 2019 Subaru Ascent is the follow-up to the odd and slow-selling Subaru Tribeca. From 2005 to 2014, Subaru sold just 76,774 Tribecas in the U.S. at a time when the company's sales as a whole were on a climb. As we put it in our first drive review, the Ascent can be considered a sort of mulligan. The new model comes out hot and heavy against strong three row competitors like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9 and American offerings like the Chevy Traverse and the Ford Explorer.
Our tester is the top-shelf Touring trim. Standard features on the Ascent include Subaru's EyeSight driver assist technology, adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist, keyless entry, three-zone climate control and a turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four mated to a CVT. Power, like nearly every Subaru, is sent to all-four wheels. For $45,670, the Ascent Touring nets you features like leather trim, power-adjustable front seating, a panoramic moonroof, LED lighting, a power opening rear gate and an upgraded audio system with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I found myself liking the Subaru Ascent much more than I expected. The turbo four and light steering made it surprisingly engaging to drive. I enjoyed how this one was trimmed out, and the cabin managed to be both woodsy and elegant. It also offered an excellent view of my surroundings, which is not a given for a beefy SUV.
Style-wise, I don't love it. I think it looks better in pictures than in person. It seemed a little overwrought in my driveway. If you need a people hauler, and specifically, you need three rows, this one is worth a look. If you don't need three rows, I'd go with an Outback or Forester. That being said, this is the vehicle Subaru absolutely needs in order to have a more complete presence in the U.S. market. It's highly competitive with the VW Atlas, and it should add some solid incremental sales to Subaru's volume.
Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: I've logged more time in the Subaru Ascent than any other staffer here at Autoblog, having attending the automaker's initial drive event a few months ago and then signing a different one out to schlep my family on a couple of long drives in and around Seattle, Wash. Sometimes it takes a good, long drive to really figure out a car's merits and demerits. Other times, though, initial impressions are confirmed.
My first stint with the Ascent had me convinced it's fully class competitive in the continuously ballooning three-row family crossover segment. After driving it for a week and piling up several hundred miles, now I know for sure: the Subaru Ascent is the most conscientiously developed vehicle in its class. Grab handles are perfectly placed, door openings are generous, sightlines are excellent, and the interior materials feel like they'll hold up to the kind of constant abuse that a family with kids will inevitably inflict.
The Ascent isn't what I'd call sporty, but it is definitely comfortable. The turbocharged four-cylinder never feels like it's struggling, even with a full load of passengers, and the CVT is programmed well enough that it mostly blends into the background. The steering is boosted a bit more than I'd like, but the ratio is appropriate for the car's audience.
My biggest beef with the Ascent is that it just isn't very fun. It's a well-implemented tool, sure, but not something I'd ever feel particularly attached to. Considering that cars like the WRX and BRZ prove that Subaru knows how to build some excitement into its products, labeling the Ascent as a practical but boring machine feels like a letdown.
Thing is, I'd still recommend the Ascent to the majority of buyers looking for a good family car. There isn't a competitive vehicle in the three-row crossover class that I feel emotionally attached to, and the Ascent just sweats the small stuff better than the rest.
Manager, Production, Eddie Sabatini: All the creature comforts you'd expect from a three-row SUV but the CVT left something to be desired for me. Loved the layout, tech, and styling of the interior (exterior styling is fine but nothing more) and it had plenty of "passing power," but not my first choice in the segment.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: Bland with power — that's how I would describe the Subaru Ascent. Even from the crossover's introduction, I struggled to stifle a yawn. It looked like a big Forester then, it looks like one now. It's basically the boxy little crossover puffed up and stretched out, and actually more boring than the little one.
The upside of this is that the interior is quite large and spacious, and the upright design means lots of glass area and vertical pillars that provide excellent visibility. I even found the mix of brown leather and carpeting attractive in this high-trim model. Though the fake wood was really fake looking, and I know at least one of our editors isn't pleased by the many different plastics on display.
As for the driving experience, it's more blandness except for the engine. The steering and handling are so-so. It's not very quick and it rolls a decent amount. The CVT actually works pretty well in automatic mode, doing a solid impression of a conventional automatic, but don't bother trying to shift manually. It's slow and it doesn't return much in the way of quicker driving.
The lone shining quality is the turbo 2.4-liter engine. It feels more powerful and gutsy than its reported 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It was responsive, too. It almost made me think that Subaru should consider it for a future WRX. I wouldn't mind if Subaru would add a little more resistance or at least less sensitivity to the throttle pedal, though. It was hard not to give it too much gas, leading to less than smooth take-offs.
All-in-all, the Ascent is fine, but there are more interesting, better driving options in the segment. But if you like Subarus and just want one with a third-row, then this is your car, and I have a feeling that there are many people that are looking for just that.
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