Review: Subaru finally gets a three-row right, with the 2019 Ascent
The 2019 Ascent is a three-row crossover offering from Subaru aimed towards growing families who need a larger vehicle, but also want to stay with the brand. It remains true to the Subaru persona while showing that the company is actually capable of upsizing.
The Subaru Ascent was introduced as a concept in early 2017 and then as a production model at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November of that year. The Ascent is not Subaru's first attempt at a three-row crossover, but it's certainly the most marketable one to wear the six-star badge.
As a three-row crossover, the 2019 Ascent is up against some tough competition. That said, it has the advantage of a very loyal fan base who are likely to upgrade from their Outback/Forester models to the Ascent as a matter of course, as their families outgrow their current Subys – which is why Subaru designed this three-row.
The Ascent is, in many ways, replacing and upgrading the not-so-well-received Tribeca model, introduced in the 2006 model year and discontinued in 2014. The Tribeca was panned for its Alfa Romeo ripoff looks, terrible fuel economy, and overall unfriendly cabin. This time around, with the Ascent, Subaru has seen the market and its requirements and designed a vehicle to match.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is completely new from the ground up, being based on Subaru's global platform, shared now with most of the company's model lineup. The Ascent falls in with the crossover designs in that line, being something of a mashup between the Outback and Forester models. Elements of both crossovers can be seen in the body design and fascia of the new Ascent.
It's What's Inside That Matters
Where the Ascent matters, though, is inside. The interior of the 2019 Subaru Ascent is well-done on most fronts. Front seating and instrumentation layouts are familiar for Subaru owners, and roominess is the deal of the day. Those familiar with the Outback will recognize the design immediately.
Infotainment is based on a simple, 6.5-inch touchscreen with little to offer in the base model, but upgrades to a larger 8-inch screen with more functionality in the rest of the 2019 Ascent's trim levels. While not cutting-edge, the infotainment tech in the new Ascent covers the bases and does them well. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard and surprisingly useful, as is the car's built-in voice controls.
The second row in the Ascent is also good, though we'd recommend the captain's chairs over the bench (reducing seating to seven) for their added comfort and access. The bench is comfortable enough as-is, but makes access to the third row more difficult, and the center seat is never the most desirable. The third row is largely for kids, as are most in this midsize segment, but highly useful for that. Amazingly, there are about 33 inches (838 mm) of legroom available in that third row, albeit with the usual caveats of the bench being low and the headroom being less.
Aiding all of this are large doors with a low step-in (given the Ascent's ground clearance). The wide-opening doors make access easier at all four points. Cargo is also well-done in the 2019 Ascent, with 47.5 cubic feet of space with the third row folded down and about a third of that with them up. That's about on par with similarly-sized crossovers in this market. An integrated roof rack and the ability to tow up to 5,000 lb/2,268 kg (when equipped) are also nice touches on the Ascent.
Powering the Ascent
Getting three rows of family hauler going requires a little more oomph than the average four-cylinder engine is likely to offer. For the 2019 Subaru Ascent, the company went with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer-style (opposed piston) engine designed specifically for the Ascent, but which will likely proliferate into other vehicles in the company's lineup.
The FA24 is a new engine design from Subaru, which hasn't introduced one in some time. It's an all-aluminum unit with a timing chain (re-becoming the norm in today's engines) and 16-valve variable timing. The design of the engine suggests that it's kept at a lower tune for the Ascent, which isn't a race car by any means, but could be used at higher tuning for more power outputs in other applications.
The Ascent's engine outputs 260 horsepower (194 kW) and 277 pound-feet (375.5 Nm) of torque. These happen at 5,600 rpm and 2,000-4,800 rpm respectively. That power is sent to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a mainstay in Subaru vehicles for some time, with output to all four wheels as standard. On paper, these come together as "probably OK" at first sight. In practice, it's different.
The engine is just exactly enough for the 2019 Ascent. It provides plenty of power for most driving needs, isn't so peppy that it makes the crossover feel like a race car wannabe, and provides the force needed to allow for some extra usefulness like the aforementioned towing.
Driving the Subaru Ascent
On the road, the 2019 Subaru Ascent feels good for the segment. It's got the signature Subaru persona that demands passengers get out and do stuff once in a while, but also carries a comfortable everyday appeal. Some of the switchgear in the cabin feels a little outdated, but seems to mesh nicely with the "rugged, not cutting edge" values most Subaru vehicles (and their owners) trend towards.
The Ascent is well-mannered on the road, if a bit bumpy, and offers good vision for the driver and a sense of safety with its high marks for crash test results and available advanced gear. Above all, the Ascent gives the impression that little can stand in its way in terms of weather or reasonable terrain. Again, that's a Subaru thing.
Where the Ascent falls short is in its competitiveness against more upscale rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse or the Honda Pilot. It's on par with the Volkswagen Atlas, another new three-row entry. Where the Ascent beats all of these is with fuel economy.
The 2019 Ascent is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway (11.2/8.7 l/100km). In practice, it's better than that with our week-long mixed driving resulting in a 25 mpg (9.4 l/100km) overall return. That's phenomenally good for a midsize three-row crossover with all-wheel drive.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is not going to be the three-row of choice for everyone, but for Subaru lovers and those who like a capable and useful family hauler, the Ascent certainly does fit the bill.
Product Page: 2019 Subaru Ascent