By on February 12, 2019

Subaru Ascent

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.

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.

Subaru Ascent

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.

Subaru Ascent

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.

Subaru Ascent

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.

2019 Subaru Ascent

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.

2019 Subaru Ascent

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]

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20 Comments on “2019 Subaru Ascent Limited Review – Quirks & Quarks...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    …quirks. That term should be left with Saab reviews.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      Had a Saab rental on a 2 week TDY in California 20 years ago. That “we’re different to be different, instead of better” quirkiness made me hate the brand forevermore.

      • 0 avatar
        Null Set

        I drove a SAAB 9-3 Aero for 15 years in SoCal. Loved it. Reliability, not so hot. Though the turbo engine was bulletproof after 130K miles without a problem. But the dealer was amazing, and the thing was a blast to drive. I found nothing quirky about it at all. But then, I was born in Norway.

        • 0 avatar
          SilverCoupe

          I remember my wife driving her new to us (3 year old) Saab 9-3 Turbo Coupe home from the dealer, and noticing the dash gauges were not functioning. Ah, Saab “Blackout Mode.” Never quite saw the reason that would be needed.

          I do not recall any such quirks on her subsequent WRX.

          • 0 avatar
            six42

            I loved that feature in my 9-3! A single button to darken the cabin. I miss it.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I very much miss that feature. Why do you need all the light pollution in the cabin at night? One reason I despise touchscreens that can’t be turned off.

            I find Saabs are an either you get them or you don’t proposition. I find the cars to be VERY rationally and thoughtfully designed.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    This just reminds me how nice the interiors are on Subaru’s *Limited* trims, in general…

    Having driven other people’s, both low-spec and Limiteds, the top-end trim can … compete fairly well; I’m not sure my parents’ Outback 3.6L is really inferior, in terms of interior, to my XC70.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    “Quirks & Quarks”. Nice CBC reference. :)

  • avatar
    noitallman

    I recently purchased an Ascent. I, too, noticed that it idles at a high rate when I start it, regardless of the fact I am in AZ and it is warm. It is also loud.

    A few other items to note:

    The Apple Carplay system is very glitchy. Sometimes it works, others not so much.

    The speech button on the steering should allow you to talk to the car to do things, but when I press it, it freezes up the entire infotainment system.

    The HVAC system is also quirky. Despite setting temps in the lower range for cooling, when turned off, heated air leaks through the vents, kind of annoying when you are already hot. In order to get that to stop, you have to turn the AC on and let it blow at low to get cool air to come out.

    The lane assist is very odd, and I have it turned off all the time because it is annoying. Weird that they grouped buttons together, then placed that one up above for no apparent reason.

    The most annoying thing, though, is that the Ascent’s transmission is very herky jerky. When I press to accelerate at a normal pace, the change in gears puts the car into this mode of acceleration/non-acceleration, where you start moving along, then have no acceleration at all. At first I thought it might be something wrong with the fuel injectors – maybe clogged or something. But I think it is the transmission when not engaged in turbo mode. When I slam the accelerator down, I don’t have that problem as it blasts off and goes continuously. I am going to take it in to the dealer to see if this is just a problem with my car.

    I really like the car, but the transmission thing, as well as the glitches in the infotainment center, are certainly big enough issues where I might need them to fix it or get me a new one.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Quirks are only for renters and automotive journos.They become second nature to owners.
    Its interesting, I really haven’t seen alot of these as compared to VW’s full size where I live.They both came out about the same time. Honda Pilots, though are well represented as are Explorers. Does anyone have sales data to date to bear this out?

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    cimarron typeR

    In January Ford sold the following-
    Escape 17,649
    Explorer 19,310
    Expedition 6,168

    FORD DOES NOT BREAK OUT HOW MANY GO IN TO POLICE SERVICE.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Big hint; 3-4 radios and the driver wearing a gun-belt present entirely different criteria for use. Ah, but does Chevy break out how many Suburbans, Tahoes, Equinoxes; etc go into police service? Does FCA break down how many of their SUVs go into police service? I think not. The fact that a vehicle excels at police and civilian use should point out its superiority. Lordy those Dodge cop cars are fast.

  • avatar
    gtem

    “X-Mode deploys lower gear ratios to generate extra power at the wheels that have the most grip”

    Does it actually dip lower in ratios on the CVT than it does from a stop in non-Xmode driving? I suspect not, it probably just stays in higher numerical ratios to keep RPMs higher, just like putting your old automatic in to “L” or “2”

  • avatar
    Robert

    “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.”

    Hey, just a little tip. Lane Keep Assit button is clearly labeled on the steering wheel, bottom right button on the right side. You will note that the symbol on it matches the one on the driver pod and short-hand emulates the big 3D one on the center display. Very easy to find, and very well placed.

    I suspect you instead turned off Lane Departure Warnings.

  • avatar
    Robert

    “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.”

    Hey, just a little tip. Lane Keep Assist button is clearly labeled on the steering wheel, bottom right button on the right side. You will note that the symbol on it matches the one on the driver pod and short-hand emulates the big 3D one on the center display. Very easy to find, and very well placed.

    I suspect you instead turned off Lane Departure Warnings.

  • avatar
    Darren Wesley

    So on my way home Friday my Ascent with just over 21k on it started pouring white smoke from the exhaust. It had started snowing and by the time Subaru Roadsde Assistance got around to getting it towed an emergency had been declared anda truck could not be dispatched.
    That was FOUR DAYS AGO! I do understand that the winter storm has caused significant issues but the way I have been treated by whatever shady company Subaru contracts to handle their Roadsde Assistance is totally unacceptable. I’ve had to call them several times every day because they have not been following up on their own. They suspend my case every evening so I am required to call them every morning to reactivate the case. I’ve really been enjoying my Subie but woe to anyone who has to rely on their roadside assistance.

  • avatar
    johnitahoe

    Finally someone as tall as me reviewing vehicles! Curious how the fit was for someone 6’6”? Did the EyeSight system block your eye sight? Any suggestions on the best vehicles for really tall people.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The CVT alone has been enough to cross it off the list of potential replacements my sister is looking at for her current Explorer…

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    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.

  • avatar
    Nigel Shiftright

    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.

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