2019 Subaru Ascent Limited Review - Quirks & Quarks

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
Fast Facts

2019 Subaru Ascent Limited AWD

2.4-liter direct-injected boxer four (260hp @ 5,600 rpm, 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm)
Continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive
20 city / 26 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
11.6 city / 9.0 highway / 10.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
18.5 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $38,995 US / $46,995 CAD
As Tested: $43,150 US/ $48,895 CAD
As tested prices include $975 destination charge in America and $1900 for freight and A/C tax in Canada. Option packages have been added to the US base price to bring equipment levels in line with those north of the border.
2019 subaru ascent limited review quirks quarks

Subaru landed on these shores with a raft of cars and totally-not-trucks (thanks, Chicken Tax) that were certainly capable when shown a rough road but were, in a word, quirky. Since then, the Pleiades brand has filtered out some of its weirdness in an attempt to capture more customers but – as we will learn – still marches to the beat of its own drummer … or at least to the beat of a flat-four.

What’s changed since our first drive of the Ascent eight and a half months ago? Anything? Did the big Subie acquit itself well during the Polar Vortex? Does our Associate Editor wear army boots?

I can’t speak to the army boots, but can report a few behavioral traits which presented themselves over a week-long test in frigid cold that did not show themselves during the fair-weather springtime first drive. If you’re looking for a deep-dive into Ascent’s powertrain and how it compares to the competition, head over to that article post-haste.

[Get your new and used Subaru Ascent pricing here!]

First out of the gate, the images shown on these virtual pages show that a Subaru continues to have no trouble tackling the white stuff when it starts to fall from the sky in quantities that are not to be believed. Opportunities were limited to try the touted X-Mode last year; such was not the case this time around.

The X-Mode system – standard on all Ascent, Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback models equipped with a continuously variable automatic, incorporates hill descent control and fiddles with the AWD programming to pull the car through sticky situations. Mashing the X-Mode button allows the system to control Ascent’s engine output, transmission activity, AWD torque split, and braking duties.

When traveling up a hill with low traction conditions – surfaces at nearby Ski Wentworth worked nicely – X-Mode deploys lower gear ratios to generate extra power at the wheels that have the most grip. According to Subaru, a transmission control unit also provides 25 percent more AWD clutch pressure to control rotational differences between the front and rear wheels.

In the real world, this translated to the Ascent and its 260 hp boxer four scampering up a moderate grade covered in fresh power, doing so with more alacrity in X-Mode than with the system turned off. Headed in the opposite direction, the same incline was steep enough to trigger X-Mode’s hill descent control, but the interaction was all to brief and seemed to be over before anything good happened. I could joke here about how my wife once had a similar complaint, but she promised never to tell anyone about that.

Nevertheless, repeated full-frontal attacks of this hill and others like it are enough for me to believe that X-Mode does indeed help in certain situations. It infuses the Subaru with a bit of quirkiness, given that it demands a modicum of driver intervention – even if that intervention is limited to knowing when to press the X-Mode button. Still, that’s more contribution than demanded by most; your author thinks that any feature which gets drivers to pay more attention is A Very Good Thing.

Less of a good thing was the behavior of this Ascent’s transmission. The CVT whined like a spoiled socialite, particularly just after startup and setting off from home first thing in the morning. Your author is willing to chalk this up to ambient air temperatures comparable only to those on the surface of Hoth, conditions in which the Ascent was forced to soak every single night when in my possession. While the noise would gradually go away as the CVT warmed, it was very noticeable and – notably – not present at all during our first drive along the warm shores of Oregon.

Foul weather and knobby winter tires that provided excellent traction and high rolling resistance contributed to the consumption of 16.72 gallons of fuel over 310 miles of driving. Basic math teaches us this works out to just 18.5 mpg, slightly south of Ascent’s 20 mpg city rating. Blame those tires, the weather, and copious idling. Still, it makes for a good real-world test. If people are buying this thing to ferry their family in tough weather, they should know what quirks to expect when it is operated in such conditions.

Said families will likely enjoy their purchase into the Subaru lifestyle. Cupholders and clever cubbies abound, as do USB power ports, which even appear in the third row. Space is vast in rows one and two, with nary a complaint uttered by anyone who occupied these thrones. The way-back third row is fit for more than just House Elves, although your 6’6” author would not like to embark on a cross-country journey from that perch.

The middle-row captain’s chairs in this $38,995 Limited model ($46,995 in Canada) have a fantastic and quirky function-over-form grab handle protruding from the inboard seatbacks, a nub of plastic that looks as if a mushroom has sprouted overnight. Apparently, it is designed so little hands can easily haul the second-row chairs back into place after clambering astern but also takes a design cue from similar grab handles on Japan’s bullet train. Details like that are splendid.

Looking at the Ascent, one will have no trouble identifying it as a member of the Subaru family. Its length of nearly 197 inches makes this over a foot longer than the Forester and the longest Exploding Galaxy ever to roll out of the factory. Its exterior style is familiar and shares a great deal of language with the rest of its mates in the showroom, particularly the Forester. In fact, I challenge anyone who is not a gearhead to quickly distinguish between the front of an Ascent and a Forester given just the briefest of glances.

At the end of my first drive in the Ascent last year, it was noted that Subaru suits in the corner office were targeting total sales of 700,000 units for the 2018 calendar year and – in the spirit of owning up to my predictions – I believed the company would reach that mark. They came close, totting up a grand total of 680,135 sales, a 5 percent increase and an all-time record for the company. So they were a bit off, as was I. Nevertheless, that was the tenth consecutive year of record sales, a performance which has carried over in January marking eighty-six consecutive months of year-over-year increases. A slight dose of quirkiness seems to work, then.

Speaking of which, Ascent owners who are new to the brand might have a hard time finding the button for disabling the car’s lane keeping system. Centre console? Nope, not there. Must be in this switch bank to the left of the wheel. Hmm, not in that spot either. Ah! Here it is – up on the headliner by the sunroof.

Quirky, indeed.

[Images: Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars, Subaru]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Jfk-usaf Jfk-usaf on Feb 19, 2019

    I would have considered this too if it didn't have a CVT. Got a CPO 2017 XC90 instead and love it. Ascent also needs a couple more inches of ground clearance too.

  • Nigel Shiftright Nigel Shiftright on Feb 22, 2019

    That's dreadful mileage compared to my '15 Outback with the 3.6. I consistently get 27 mpg on the freeway and 22-23 in a 50/50 mix of city/freeway. Unless we suddenly get the urge to adopt two more kids I see no reason to even think about trading up. BTW re: snow - our house is at the top of a 1200 foot driveway with an average grade of 1 in 8. Some spots are steeper. With 8" of snow on the ground, the Outback with Blizzaks on the rims takes me home like I was riding a mountain goat.

  • SaulTigh I've said it before and I'll say it again...if you really cared about the environment you'd be encouraging everyone to drive a standard hybrid. Mature and reliable technology that uses less resources yet can still be conveniently driven cross country and use existing infrastructure.These young people have no concept of how far we've come. Cars were dirty, stinking things when I was a kid. They've never been cleaner. You hardly ever see a car smoking out the tail pipe or smell it running rich these days, even the most clapped out 20 year old POS. Hybrids are even cleaner.
  • Inside Looking Out Just put ICE there. Real thing is always better that simulation.
  • Inside Looking Out It still cannot oversimulate Telluride.
  • Jeff Doesn't appear to need much and it would be worth the asking price. Keep the straight 6 and keep it all original it is hard to find an almost 70 year old survivor like this. You are not going to race in this car it is meant for cruising and for smaller car shows. Just fix the mechanics including the brakes give it a good wax job and detailing.
  • VoGhost Hmmm. Odd that exactly zero Tesla dealers signed this lobbying letter.