By on March 20, 2019

Steph Willems/TTAC

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier

Turbocharged 2.4-liter horizontally opposed inline-four (260 hp @ 5600 rpm; 277 lb-ft @ 2000-4800 rpm)

Continuously-variable transmission, all-wheel drive

22 city / 26 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

11.6 city / 9.0 highway / 10.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

15.7 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $45,670 US / $51,895 CAD

As Tested: $45,670 USD / $51,895 CAD

Prices include $975 destination charge in the United States and $1,900 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Approaching my Ascent tester behind a not-so-local dealer, I felt a presence. Like a pre-war bank, this thing was solid, monolithic, immovable, looming over all of humanity and granting entry to only a choice few. Given the profit Subaru’s going to make off these things, it’s not an inaccurate comparison.

The last Subaru I drove was an Impreza. Not a WRX or its hotter sister, but a stock Impreza sedan. You don’t see many of them. Before that, it was a Crosstrek. Or was it a Forester? No matter, really. Before that, it was a friend’s short-lived SVX, some 16 or so years ago.

Compared to those compact rides, the midsize Ascent crossover is like the HMS Dreadnought moored alongside a torpedo boat, and that’s exactly what Americans — or what Subaru thinks Americans — want. Thankfully, having found myself behind the wheel of a great number of crossovers of late, the Ascent at least held some quirks to set itself apart.

I know, I know, Matthew Guy covered much of this same ground not long ago in his Ascent review, but two observations are better than one. Bear with me!

Steph Willems/TTAC

Easing the Ascent’s bulk out onto a disgustingly slush-filled February street, the crossover’s firm and supportive seats positively oozed Subaru; it’s a comfort I’ve come to expect from the brand, and it’s one I appreciate. Owners won’t want for coddling. It helps that this was a top-flight Premier (the equivalent of a Touring trim in the U.S.) decked out with every last bell and whistle; rich brown leather covering the seven chairs (larger broods can order eight), EyeSight driver assist features up the wazoo, and, of course, the sense of invulnerability afforded by a high-riding perch.

Get new and used Subaru Ascent pricing here!

In high-speed highway driving, the Ascent’s steering felt … effortless. A little too effortless. Searching in vain for a sport mode button or knob to firm things up, I realized this vehicle’s mission. It isn’t meant to thrill moms and dads on the nights the kids are at their grandparents, or even impress the less aged coworkers at their office. It isn’t meant to get the younger crowd hot under the collar at the idea of buying a crossover. The pretense of sportiness seen with so many other vehicles in this category? Absent. No, the Ascent is just a lot of rolling space. Capable, well buttoned-up space that’s easy for anyone to drive, regardless of arm strength.

Basically, Job One for any crossover. It’s easy to forget that Subaru’s a newbie to the midsize segment.

Steph Willems/TTAC

In a burst of equity, Subaru offers but one powertrain in the Ascent, regardless of trim, and it’s an unusual one — a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer four, good for 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission. In a fairly homogeneous field, Subaru offered something different under the hood.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that the engine’s fairly noisy, and only in a good way after the thing really warms up. It was frigid the week I had the Ascent, and taking off after a cold startup prompted the same intrusive CVT whine Mr. Guy complained about. On one particularly vortex-plagued morning, the tranny acted like a conventional autobox that couldn’t get out of first gear.

Would the revs ever drop? I waited with baited breath.

On warmer days, the boxer’s truck-like rumble stirred something primal in this driver’s psyche, though buyers of vehicles with a similar price tag would probably demand a little more sound-deadening insulation with their ride.

Steph Willems/TTAC

It snowed that week, too. Oh God, did it snow, and it was in this inclimate weather that time spent behind the Ascent’s wheel entered the realm of “fun.” Subaru’s ever-present symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive (was there ever an automotive term burned so deeply into the public consciousness?) ensured that its largest model is just as adept at tackling the white stuff as any other of the brand’s offerings, blasting through snow like a record producer and not afraid to get a little tail happy when urged. Flappy paddles — the only nod to performance in sight — came in handy on the wintry backroads, through I wasn’t able to find any inclines steep enough to give drivetrain-nannying X-Mode (with Hill Descent) a whirl.

While there’s no chance of heart palpitations during acceleration and passing maneuvers, your average Ascent owner likely won’t find its power lacking, nor will they find much to gripe about on rough roads. As always, taller sidewalls would have helped soften the blow of urban cracks and crevasses, but alas, loaded press fleet crossovers call for 20-inchers — even in winter.

Further evidence of this vehicle’s true purpose can be found in the fact the Ascent, regardless of trim, has not four, not eight, not 12, but 19 cupholders. America! The Beverage King Ascent clearly does not wish to see occupants grow dehydrated during long road trips. Entertainment won’t be an issue, either — at least, not in this high-zoot trim level, where every occupant has access to a USB port. There’s enough connection points of various types in the Ascent’s cabin to keep an FBI surveillance team humming away for hours.

Steph Willems/TTAC

It’s nice that Subaru went with a fairly stodgy profile for its big guy, otherwise I’d have grazed my scalp while sitting in the back row. Didn’t happen here. I was pleased to find climate vents back there, too, as third-row occupants needn’t adopt the role of steerage-class passengers in a coming-to-America film.

While Subaru’s two-screen center stack presents a familiar sight in the Ascent, another quirk quickly made itself known. On an undulating freeway, the crossover’s light steering (it starts to tighten up over 40 mph, but not enough for my liking) left me feeling uneasy. Time to bolster the defences. Unfortunately, a cursory scan of the steering wheel and dash showed no trace of a lane-hold switch in all the usual hangouts. It was only after I exited the freeway and stopped at a light did I discover the little scamp hiding above my head, near the sunglasses holder.

Subaru does a good job creating a rich-feeling, semi-premium cabin, and the model’s capability in bad weather and backcountry shouldn’t be a matter of doubt. I only wish I had a chance to test it in summer, if only to gauge its fuel economy. Despite its four-cylinder powerplant, the cold weather, soft winter rubber, and excessive idling (defrosting can take time) all conspired to return a combined figure of 15.7 mpg for the week. The EPA rates it at 22 mpg combined.

The verdict? A solid effort from Subaru — it’s a vehicle that gets the basics right, minor quibbles aside. However, if you can live without a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, stereo upgrade, and ultra-sumptuous seats, you might find the purchase of a lower-trim Ascent easier to rationalize.

Steph Willems/TTAC

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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43 Comments on “2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Review – In a Big Country...”


  • avatar
    Nigel Shiftright

    Could there have been a leak in the gas tank?

    I have driven a 6-cyl Outback for three years now, and the worst mpg I ever got on a tank of gas was about 21.

    Based on my normal mpg and miles driven the difference amounts to about $900 a year. Can’t imagine anything that would make me want to trade up to an Ascent.

  • avatar
    mikestuff

    I’ve never owned a Subaru and have only driven a rental Outback when I was in Las Vegas 3-4 years ago. To me, they all look alike (which I guess is the point) and just aren’t very interesting. A co-worker bought a Cross-Trek in orange, which is really a great color, seeing as how 75% of Subies are Gray Metallic. I saw a couple of these this winter, mostly blue and gray. They look not unlike the current Outback, where someone has taken an air pump and just blown up the dimensions to make it bigger, kind of like a balloon. I wish Subaru would have spent a little more money on a new design instead of 19 cupholders.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    When you got into auto journalism you probably thought, “Wow, I’m gonna drive all the sexy sportscars and cool hot-hatches and musclecars.” You never thought it was going to be one ‘Canyonaro’ after the next.

  • avatar
    make_light

    “the crossover’s firm and supportive seats positively oozed Subaru; it’s a comfort I’ve come to expect from the brand, and it’s one I appreciate.”

    Really? This is precisely why I stopped purchasing Subaru’s, the seats are horrible. No cushioning, no side bolstering, short tiny bottom. And I don’t have back issues or anything like that. After my previous-gen Forester, I couldn’t bring myself to buy another Subaru.

    I will say, however, with the Ascent they finally got it right. The seats are amazing. Hopefully this trickles down to their smaller cars as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      My ‘13 Outback’s driver’s seat is excellent except the short seat bottom, however I believe the Ascent offers adjustable seat cushion extenders. Apparently they added an inch with the ‘15 Outback redesign. Where they do need to jack it up is the Outback getting ventilated seats, as well as a height adjuster for the passenger. An Outback Touring can hit $40k….not offering ventilation or passenger height adjustment is ridiculous. Perhaps with the ‘20 redesign.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Subarus don’t interest me in any way because I live in sunny SoCal and all wheel drive adds unnecessary complexity and expense. Can’t get a subie without all wheel drive, so I won’t get a subie.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    FYI – It’s “bated” breath, as in abated or suppressed.

  • avatar
    maui_zaui

    Since we currently own an Outback, I can’t get over how the Ascent just looks like a bloated version of the Outback. I wish they would’ve kept more of the design cues from the concept, but that’s always a forlorn hope with Subaru.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    The power (HP) numbers don’t compete with other 7 row cross overs-but the gas millage does.

    Sounds like a FAIL to me.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      That’s pretty much how it works. You want to move a certain amount of weight and frontal area, you need a certain amount of gas. Different engine technology moves the needle a little, but basic physics still applies. A Chevy Corvette with a 6.2L, 455-HP V8 gets about the same highway mileage as this 4-cylinder.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    The power (HP) numbers don’t compete with other 7 row cross overs-but the gas millage does.

    Sounds like a FAIL to me.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    “Unfortunately, a cursory scan of the steering wheel and dash showed no trace of a lane-hold switch in all the usual hangouts.”

    Wow – you might have to actually pay attention to your driving. Or are you saying that even paying attention, the nanny can do a better job than you of keeping it between the lines?

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      No, he’s saying the steering is so light it’s hard to keep it pointed where you want. Ford once had this problem positively licked: the level of self-centering in the first-gen Focus’s steering was epic, as if it were designed to keep drunk drivers out of trouble.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Forgot to mention the drivers seat is extremely comfortable which also has thigh extension. And 5000lb tow rating. Not bad mpg considering you spent a week in snow.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My only real experience with Subaru has been the Impreza that I test drove a couple years ago and the WRX I drove last week. Suffice it say that I’m not terribly impressed on the whole. The AWD all the things gimmick got me in the door, but the mid 1990s interior shuttled me right back out. The WRX has the things I’m looking for with AWD, a manual, sunroof and heated seats, but I can’t see spending $30k on it.

    Back on topic: Does the Ascent’s CVT offer different transmission “modes” like the WRX? In the pamphlet for the lineartronic transmission it showed that you could operate in 6 speed mode, or 8 speed mode, which I thought was stupid silly, but I wasn’t invited to that focus group.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Also, small nit to pick after reading the article again, but describing the engine as a horizontally opposed inline 4 seems like an exercise in mutually exclusive descriptors.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong with my understanding of what these things mean.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Why would you give a car a name that phonetically sounds like derriere smell?

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    > It was frigid the week I had the Ascent, and taking off after a cold startup prompted the same intrusive CVT whine Mr. Guy complained about. On one particularly vortex-plagued morning, the tranny acted like a conventional autobox that couldn’t get out of first gear.

    Because it isn’t clear in the article, that has nothing to do with the CVT, it’s the ECU programming for cold weather starts. This is when the temperature dips below (literal) freezing to account for gasoline vaporization temps. It’s annoying but it settles down with warm up.

    • 0 avatar
      VW4motion

      The lack of knowledge from this writer is extraordinary. Let’s start an engine in what it sounds like to be below freezing temperatures and floor it down the road without letting it warm up. Than document how poorly the engine performs and sounds. Brilliant !!

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        Well to be fair to Mr Willems, this exact behavior was exhibited by a 2015 Forester I was given as a loaner vehicle about three years ago.

        It was about 8 am and the day was frigid, and I was delighted to be able to put a CUV through its paces for nothing. Within a mile of leaving the dealership, perched atop a barstool – you could hardly call it a seat – an engine that even within D was attempting to surge, I called it quits from an anticipated day of driving around. I had no interest whatsoever. Sitting in a supermarket parking lot in Park, I got to watch an uneven “idle” on the tach, between 1 and 2K. I presume the damn thing was trying to warm itself up, but it took twenty minutes to settle down, while still being somewhat febrile after that.

        In similar conditions, my own old Subaru starts at 1500 rpm, then gradually and linearly comes down to 800 after 5 or 6 minutes. No surging, and the seat cushion ends one inch behind my knee. No barstool like in the Forester. What an utterly nothing machine that Forester was, a motorized grocery cart. I actually wondered if owners considered suicide when facing the prospect of years with one with no chance of remission. A tootling test drive cannot prepare you for the dull slog of reality 20 miles down the road after you sign the papers.

        Sounds like the Ascent is a big version of that, except for better seats. Wowee. Pass. The new top line Mazda3 seats are sublime by the way, better than those in the 6 even. Or mine. And you can get AWD and the interior is a knockout. There is an alternative to colorless Subarus these days. An Impreza versus the new 3? There is no contest.

      • 0 avatar
        cartime

        How else does an engine warm up. Just sitting there idling doesn’t do anything.

        • 0 avatar
          VW4motion

          Wow, another brilliant statement. Letting an engine run does not warm up. You have to drive the vehicle to warm it up.
          Looks like you could out brilliant the writer of this article.

          • 0 avatar
            cartime

            It’s been discussed here multiple times to start the engine and go. There’s no benefit to letting a vehicle sit idling beyond a minute.

            I live in below freezing temps half the year. The longest a vehicle will run before moving is the time it takes to brush the snow off. Some cars I’ve driven noticeably hold shifts while cold. Others don’t. It’s a characteristic worth noting. No one is idling at every startup until the engine and transmission are at operating temperature.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Calm yourself, 4motion – this is totally normal. I noticed my A3 holds the throttle open way longer than usual when it’s really cold, even in “normal” drive mode, when the transmission is typically incredibly eager to reach for a higher gear. A tech at the dealer told me it’s the car trying to warm itself up.

      No one’s gonna blow an engine revving it to 3000 rpm on a cold day.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Subarus are about as interesting inside and out as watching paint dry, which is ironic considering their commercial from some years ago.

    There are just better/more interesting choices these days; and this is coming from someone who “sold” a good # of Subarus back in the day.

  • avatar
    cartime

    Why would anyone ever buy one of these? This will be a big failure. For a few thousand more I bought a 6.2L Chevy crew cab that can haul ass and gets better mileage!

    If the only advantage this has is its’ 7 seats? There’s so many better options.

    • 0 avatar
      legacygt

      ??? This car doesn’t need to compete with a Chevy crew cab. This needs to compete with the Highlander, Pilot, Explorer, etc. Give those cars a try and get back to us.

      • 0 avatar
        cartime

        Yeah but it’s ugly, underpowered, and gets poor mileage. I’ll take a Highlander any day over this. The Explorer at least has an
        3.5L ecoboost option.

        Trucks are what everyone wants. With an SUV this size I can imagine they’re cross shipped quite often. Especially when one realizes the inventive on pickups bring them way closer to MSRP of these rigs. It’s relevant. Very few people ever require all 7 seats.

        And in fact my wife just bought a GX460 last year. It’s the only rig she liked that checked all the right boxes. Bought 1.5 years old with 30k on it for less than this Subaru as tested. The Lexus weighs more, has a big V8, and still gets better mileage.

  • avatar
    cartime

    Yeah but it’s ugly, underpowered, and gets poor mileage. I’ll take a Highlander any day over this. The Explorer at least has an
    3.5L ecoboost option.

    Trucks are what everyone wants. With an SUV this size I can imagine they’re cross shipped quite often. Especially when one realizes the inventive on pickups bring them way closer to MSRP of these rigs. It’s relevant. Very few people ever require all 7 seats.

    And in fact my wife just bought a GX460 last year. It’s the only rig she liked that checked all the right boxes. Bought 1.5 years old with 30k on it for less than this Subaru as tested. The Lexus weighs more, has a big V8, and still gets better mileage.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I foresee the new Explorer and Kia Telluride outselling this fairly quickly, although apprently this SUV did crack the 10 in sales of this class despite not being released at MY18 start.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    In the pix it looks like this has a lower floor than most CUVs. Did they reclaim those vertical inches for interior room? Looks like they kept the pointless body lift to a minimum too. Is the hip height a little lower than other CUVs and does that pay off in cornering stability?

    CUVs are station wagons. Subaru seems to be making minimal effort to pretend otherwise, and I applaud that. The one exception is the front third of the car — engine compartment and fenders — which is way too tall, looking ungainly and compromising visibility for nothing. A boxer takes up very little vertical real estate, so there’s no practical reason for this.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    An old friend of mine recently bought one of these in a lower trim level. His MPG is not far off what you recorded this Winter with the average coming in around 16. In the warmer months that figure climbs to around 19-19.5 so 22 combined is a stretch unless more highway miles is calculated in of course. Tall heavy boxes on large diameter wheels conspire to give not so great MPG despite the cylinder count and trick CVT transmissions. He has had to take it in for an Air bag warning light that would come on randomly while driving and his bluetooth connection has been troublesome but otherwise he seems to like it.


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