Outside, well, the Ascent looks like most three-row SUVs: Not overly pretty but not ghastly either.
The beauty is on the inside, and it boast a very strong design that’s easy to navigate.
There are some nice design touches that make it stand out in class.
You can get a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter handle, spill-resistant cloth seats. And a panoramic power moonroof is offered.
Seating is for 7 if you opt for captain’s chairs in the middle (which provides a nice runway to the back row). If you need max seating, go for a second-row bench and you’ll fit 8. Back row is tighter than some competitors, so I would recommend it for small children only. The front two rows, though, are very roomy even if you have long legs and need maximum headroom.
Storage is among best in class in the Ascent. You get 17.6-cubic feet of storage with all seats up; 86 cubic feet with 2nd and 3rd rows down.
It’s a family-friendly ride, with a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, reading lights for second row, and roof rails, along with three-zone auto climate control, and welcome lighting.
An all-weather package is offered that includes heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icer.
One minor issue I encountered with the interior design: The electronic parking brake is placed in a position where it was easy to accidentally activate it.
HOW'S THE RIDE?
Pleasantly surprised is how I’d describe my reaction to the Ascent’s powerplant.
It features a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, paired with a CVT automatic transmission that also includes manual mode and paddle shift controls. Numbers are 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque.
An 8.7-inch ground clearance puts the Ascent ahead of many of its rivals in terms of where it’s comfortable to drive it. The Ascent offers up to 5,000 lbs. of towing capacity, the most Subaru has ever offered.
There are also helpful driving features like X-Mode with Hill Descent Control, and Trailer Stability Assist — which uses sensors to monitor trailer sway and can brake individual wheels to stabilize the vehicle and trailer.
The best news is that All-Wheel Drive is standard on the Ascent, whereas most competitors offer it as an option. That’s a nice feather in the Ascent’s cap.
In terms of the daily experience in the Ascent, it’s not the most thrilling drive, but has enough power to satisfy most people, and acceleration will get you 0 to 60 in just over 7 seconds. Quiet and smooth accurately describe the ride quality, braking was responsive, and it handled well for its size.
Add all that up and it checks all the boxes SUV buyers are looking for in a ride.
Subaru is synonymous with safety, and they don’t disappoint on the Ascent. All Ascent models feature a rearview camera, and most importantly all models get Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology. EyeSight uses its cameras to provide features like lane departure warning, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. The Adaptive Cruise will bring your vehicle to a complete stop if someone pulls into your lane while you are cruising.
Also, the EyeSight Assist Monitor provides a head-up display of the EyeSight warnings on the windshield of the vehicle.
There are unique and innovative messages that pop up on the dash, like “Vehicle ahead has moved” at stoplights. I have not seen this on any other vehicle, and it proved helpful to keep me moving on schedule.The tire pressure monitoring system includes individual wheel display. The Ascent’s safety systems keep you in your lane forcefully and effectively. Blind spot system also impressed.
Tech features that are standard include four USB ports (2 in front, 2 in second row), 6.5-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and six-speaker audio system with satellite radio (subscription required). In-car WiFi is offered with high speed internet access.
On higher trim levels, you can get things like a smart rearview mirror, which allows the driver to see what’s behind the vehicle even when the rear of cabin is blocked by passengers or cargo. They also offer a front view monitor that give you 180 degree visibility. Other options include a Reverse Automatic Braking system.
The tech also extends outside of the vehicle. Subaru STARLINK Connected Services offers remote engine start, concierge service, anti-theft vehicle immobilizer with flashing security lights, and child safety functions like geofencing, speed alert and curfew (which keeps Subaru up to date with competitors like GM, who also offer these parental safety features that allow for monitoring of young drivers’ habits).
Taking Subaru’s safety street cred and moving it up into the three-row SUV category may be a big selling point for the Ascent.
The infotainment system is one area in the Ascent where it struggles a bit vs. its competition.
On paper, the STARLINK Multimedia Navigation system is excellent. My test vehicle featured an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connection for audio streaming, STARLINK cloud applications, voice activated control for phone and text, and voice activated navigation powered by TomTom.
The trick is in the design and operation of these systems. I found it to be less intuitive than other systems I’ve tested, though over time I could get used to the setup. Voice commands generally worked well for phone, audio and navigation, but you had to speak in a very specific format. Physical controls are not as user-friendly as the competition.
The official fuel mileage numbers listed on the Ascent I tested are 20 city/26 highway/22 combined. I averaged about 18 mpg in my time driving the vehicles, so I was a bit short. Even with the lower numbers, it’s still decent compared to the segment, as many of the competition only offer larger, more powerful engines.
Made in the U.S.A. at Subaru’s Indiana plant, the Ascent is offered in Base, Premium, LImited and Touring trims. I tested an Ascent Premium that was about $40,000 after options, and the base price on the Ascent starts about $32K.
The latest effort by Subaru in the three-row SUV category is a stellar option that lives up to the brand’s reputation for strong design and impressive safety features. While it’s going to be tough sledding to gain a foothold in the category against heavyweights like the top-selling Ford Explorer, the Ascent makes a strong first impression and has potential to work its way up the ladder.
And if any current Subaru fans find their families growing, they now have a very attractive alternate to move up to without having to switch brands.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.