Subaru has always had pockets of loyal followers in the U.S. Solid engineering and full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) have been the hallmarks. This year the stars (and market) may finally have aligned to give the company the boost they need to become more of a mainstream player.
I recently tested the largest passenger vehicle ever manufactured by Subaru and discovered it’s not an AWD minivan, nor a bolstered wagon. Rather, it’s a vehicle that incorporates small pieces of those vehicles, along with a crossover, to arrive at a vehicle that hits the sweet spot of the market.
Ascent is available in Base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trim models. I tested a 2019 Ascent Touring model. The Subaru Ascent is built in nearby Lafayette, Ind. At first glance, you could mistake the Ascent for the Subaru Outback. It has the same wagon-ish look including its wagon proportions. Every curve, crease, and the greenhouse look like super-sized versions of the Outback.
Residing below the familiar is a new turbo 4-cylinder BOXER engine. The 2.4L turbocharged engine produces 260 horsepower and 277 Ib. of torque. The CVT operates like a traditional automatic transmission during heavy acceleration and simulates “gears” when pressed, but it’s largely tasked with keeping the big all-wheel-drive crossover fuel-efficient. It’s rated around 22 mpg combined. The engine is backed by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped and using premium fuel.
Moving indoors, I liked the number of features, the layout and comfort level of my Touring model tester. The controls are all secondary to the touchscreen display. Thoughtful touches include a shelf on the passenger side of the ash elbow cutouts near the door pillars and seating focused on moving a family or group of co-workers down the road comfortably.
The standard second-row bench can be swapped with captain’s chairs only on Premium, Limited, and Touring model as a no-charge option. This feature cuts one seat (to seven) but makes it much easier to access the third row. The two rear seats are for the kids or average sized adults. Behind the third row there are a respectable 17.8 cubic feet of cargo room and up to 82.5 cubic feet with 2nd and 3rd rows folded.
A few of the standard features on my Touring model included: three-zone climate control, 10-way, heated and cooled front leather seats, panoramic dual glass moonroof, woodgrain trim, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, aux light package, rear window shades, 19 cup holders and 4 USB ports.
Like all non-sports car Subarus, the Ascent features standard all-wheel drive. A respectable 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and four-wheel independent suspension, lack of a low-speed 4×4 transfer case, 20-inch street tires and limited suspension articulation permit only light off-roading. The electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system directs power to the front or rear wheels depending on grip.
On-road, I was pleased with the acceleration and power of the turbo engine (0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds) and really impressed with the responsiveness of the CVT that functions like an 8-speed automatic and includes paddle shifters.
The Ascent feels big, but drives small as the steering is light, quick and manageable and the 20-inch tires provide good grip. It’s not a sports sedan and doesn’t try to be one. Driven as intended, the Ascent is a comfortable place to chew up the miles, secure the family and haul the goods – everything you expect in a modern crossover to be.
So, who is the typical fit for a 2019 Subaru Ascent? A mid-to large-size family who embraces outdoor activities yet would never consider a minivan.
This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication