Three rows for a crowd
When we first drove the 2019 Subaru Ascent, we came away seriously impressed. With seating for up to eight passengers, great visibility, a spacious interior, as well as standard all-wheel drive and EyeSight safety tech, Subaru’s latest attempt at a three-row crossover seemed to be more than a match for competitors including the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer.
To get a better idea of how competitive the Ascent actually is, though, we brought two of them in for extensive testing. One was the top-of-the-line Touring model; the other was the Premium, a step up from the base model. Both had the same 2.4-liter turbo-four making 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, a CVT, and 20-inch wheels, but the Touring’s luxury features added an extra 108 pounds (49 kg). As a result, the Premium ended up being the marginally better performer.
In our acceleration testing, the Premium hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 15.5 seconds at 90.9 mph (146.3 km/h). The Touring, however, posted a 0–60 mph time of 7.3 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 15.8 seconds at 89.2 mph (143.5 km/h). For comparison, the last Honda Pilot we tested posted a 0–60 mph time of 6.2 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 93.9 mph (151.1 km/h). The 2.3-liter Ford Explorer, on the other hand, hit 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and posted a 16.3-second quarter mile at 84.5 mph (136 km/h).
Both handling tests told a similar story. The Premium averaged 0.81 g on the skidpad, and the Touring averaged 0.80 g. The Premium also completed the figure eight in 27.1 seconds at 0.63 g, slightly quicker than the Touring’s 27.4-second time at an identical 0.63 g. In fact, the only test where the Touring outperformed the Premium was braking. It stopped from 60 mph in 118 feet, 1 foot shorter than the Premium.
The Explorer, on the other hand, averaged 0.80 g on the skidpad, ran the figure eight in 27.7 seconds at 0.63 g, and stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet. The Pilot performed similarly, averaging 0.80 g on the skidpad, completing the figure eight in 27.5 seconds at 0.63 g, and coming to a halt in 119 feet.
Overall, the test team had positive things to say about both Ascents. Road test editor Chris Walton called the engine a “surprisingly able motor for a large SUV” and praised the brakes’ “short [stopping] distances and good fade resistance.” Testing director Kim Reynolds noted that “given its height etc., it’s fairly sporty” even though it’s “understeery on turn-in.” Interestingly, there were also no complaints about the CVT. Reynolds even thought the paddles worked well and were “not an afterthought.”
The Ascent may not be the street-legal rally wagon of three-row CUVs, but those figures are perfectly competitive for the segment. And out on the road, it quickly becomes clear that the Ascent is exactly what Subaru needed it to be. Take the design, for instance. It doesn’t break any new ground, but you won’t mistake it for anything other than a Subaru. That wasn’t the case with the Ascent’s oddly styled predecessor, the B9 Tribeca.
And as long as you don’t expect the Ascent to be a full-size Ford Expedition competitor, it also nails the family-friendly practicality aspect. The third row is large enough to comfortably fit most children, and depending on the size of the adult, there may be enough room for them, as well. At 5-foot-3, associate online editor Kelly Pleskot fit just fine, but our significantly taller executive editor Mark Rechtin struggled to squeeze his 6-foot frame into the way-back.
“The third-row seat is really for small children only,” Rechtin wrote. “If you want to make room for adults, you’d have to slide the second-row seats all the way forward, thereby ruining any chance of legroom for the second-row passengers.” At least the second-row seats do slide, giving families more options than they’d have otherwise.
On the road and around town, ride quality was impressive, and the seats were seriously comfortable. On the drive back from a weekend road trip to San Diego in the Ascent Premium, that comfort and refinement were much appreciated. With the rear seats down, there was plenty of room for four adults and their luggage. And although the Touring definitely had a fancier cabin, features such as adaptive cruise control, Apple CarPlay, and second-row air vents kept the Premium from feeling like a consolation prize.
The Ascent isn’t perfect, though. As Rechtin pointed out, the vehicle’s “short first gear and quick throttle tip-in gives a sense of quick off-the-line acceleration, but it’s actually just jerky and snappy and will do nothing but annoy your passengers. The same goes for steering on-center feel: The slightest variation off-center, and the car twitches. You have to be really smooth with both your right foot and your hands in order not to throw your passengers around.” After a few weeks, owners will probably learn to work around those issues, but they’re still frustrating flaws in an otherwise well-rounded crossover.
All things considered, it’s clear that Subaru has a winner on its hands. With a base price just under $33,000 USD including destination and a long list of standard features, the Ascent will likely tempt potential Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander buyers. Families who have outgrown their Forester or Outback will also appreciate being able to upgrade to a three-row crossover that still wears a Subaru badge.
Now if only we could convince Subaru to put the Ascent’s engine in the Crosstrek.
|2019 Subaru Ascent||Premium||Touring|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$39,430||$45,670|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/260-hp/277-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve flat-4||2.4L/260-hp/277-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve flat-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,486 lb (55/45%)||4,594 lb (54/46%)|
|WHEELBASE||113.8 in||113.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||196.8 x 76.0 x 71.6 in||196.8 x 76.0 x 71.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.9 sec||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.5 sec @ 90.9 mph||15.8 sec @ 89.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||119 ft||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||27.4 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/27/23 mpg||20/26/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles||169/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.83 lb/mile||0.87 lb/mile|