We’re spending 12 months with this Subaru Ascent, reviewing the full ownership experience with ongoing updates. The Subaru Ascent is one of KBB's 12 Best Family Cars for 2019.

 

What Ascent says about Subaru

by Matt DeLorenzo on Feb. 27, 2019

Price: $45,670Price yours
Current Odometer: 5,289 miles
Latest MPG: 18.4
Lifetime MPG: 17.7
Maintenance/Service Costs: None 
Time out of Service: 0 days 

Spending time with a long-term test vehicle not only reveals a lot about the product, but also speaks volumes to where its manufacturer is headed with future product. Our 2019 Subaru Ascent is a perfect case in point.

There’s no arguing with Subaru’s success. However, when evaluating its vehicles, we would usually offer a few caveats. By and large, the lineup boasts outstanding features, like the ubiquity of all-wheel drive, great dependability, solid resale value and low operating costs. But we also were cognizant of shortcomings vis a vis their larger Japanese competitors—things like a tinny sound when you’d the slam door or the ever-present hard plastic surfaces on the interior.

Not so with the Ascent. This is one solid vehicle that is well-appointed, has great styling and having seen the interior of the next generation Legacy, points toward the direction Subaru is headed when it comes to paying attention to the little details that can make a difference in a highly competitive market.

Feels like home

Getting behind the wheel of our Ascent feels like slipping into a comfortable chair at home. The supportive, yet plush, leather seats are welcoming and reassuring, as is the solid thunk when you close the door. I really like the patterned floor mats that look more like homey throw rugs, a detail that reminds you that this is no ordinary crossover.

There are also plenty of soft-touch materials and very little in the way of hard plastics. As someone who appreciates redundant controls instead of solely relying on a touch screen to access various systems ranging from HVAC to infotainment, I found the Ascent’s interface intuitive, which makes it that much easier to drive.

Advances in Subaru’s continuously variable transmission also make it less noticeable and is further reassurance that the company is committed to ongoing refinement of all its products. The Ascent is not only proof that that Subaru is headed in the right direction, but also that it has arrived in offering buyers a complete package with little, if any, compromises.

 

Parking Lot Pros and Cons 

by Allyson Harwood on February 13, 2019 

Price: $45,670Price yours
Current Odometer: 3,688 miles
Latest MPG: 19.99
Lifetime MPG: 18.81 
Maintenance/Service Costs: None 
Time out of Service: 0 days 

Maneuvering through a parking lot, parallel parking on a city street, and parking in a small garage are more challenging in a larger vehicle, such as a midsize SUV. Our long-term 2019 Subaru Ascent has a lot going for it, however, making these daily tasks easier. 

Excellent Visibility 

One of the Ascent’s many strong suits is its excellent visibility. A large windshield, as well as large side windows with slender small A-, B-, and C-pillars, make is easy to take a quick inventory of your surroundings. Even the body-color D-pillar is relatively narrow. The Ascent’s side mirrors cover a generous amount of area on either side, and the blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, standard on all but the base model, do an excellent job of letting you know when nearby vehicles aren’t in plain view. In addition, our tester has the optional digital rearview mirror, which Subaru calls the Smart Rear-View Mirror. Even when the Subaru’s interior is filled with extremely tall people, or that bouquet of balloons you have to get to your nephew’s birthday party before he has a total meltdown, you can pull the toggle at the bottom of the mirror and activate the camera that’s mounted to the back of the Ascent, giving you a balloon-free view of what’s behind the vehicle. 

One member of the KBB editorial team was especially impressed with the front 180-degree camera, which uses the upper display on the dash. (The standard rear-view camera uses the lower display.) He said the “front camera proved super useful having to pull very close to protective poles to fit in a tight garage.” That camera comes in very handy when approaching a tall curb that doesn’t have a concrete parking stop to keep you from hitting the curb. While you pull into a space, it can also show you small obstacles in front of the Ascent, which can be especially helpful if there’s a sharp object there that could puncture a tire. 

Wish List 

As good as the visibility is in the Ascent, there are still a couple of features we’d like to see added to the Subaru’s roster that would be especially useful when parking at a shopping center. First is tilting side mirrors. This may seem like a minor feature, but when you’re trying to get a midsize vehicle into a less-than-generous-size parking space, it’s nice to be able to see the painted lines on either side. Another feature, one that’s starting to become more prevalent in SUVs, is the overhead or birds-eye 360-degree surround-view camera. This system is a more complicated upgrade, because it uses multiple vehicle cameras to create an image of what’s around the vehicle. It’s a simulated top-down view that is surprisingly accurate. 

 

Power Delivery

by Allyson Harwood on January 31, 2019

Price: $45,670 | Price yours
Current Odometer: 2,814 miles
Latest MPG: 17.02
Lifetime MPG: 18.84
Maintenance/Service Costs: None
Time out of Service: 0 days

The Subaru Ascent only comes with one powertrain combination: a 260-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine, which is mated to an 8-step continuously variable automatic transmission that features a manual sequential mode with paddle shifters (standard on every trim level). All Ascents also have all-wheel drive. While other competitors, notably the VW Atlas and Honda Pilot, offer V6 engines, there’s no need for concern about power coming from this 4-cylinder engine: it has plenty of juice to easily get the Ascent up to speed. Acceleration from a stop is very quick, and the paddle shifters make it fun to drive the Ascent more aggressively. It’s not a high-performance SUV, but it sure is sporty. And, even though it’s a turbocharged engine, no one on the Kelley Blue Book editorial staff has noted any complaints about turbo lag, and from our evaluation so far, it isn’t an issue.

More refinement, please

There is, however, room for refinement. After that initial acceleration, power delivery becomes somewhat uneven, which could likely be smoothed out with revised transmission programming. And there have been occasions when the Ascent’s CVT would “shift” earlier or later than you would expect. (This type of transmission doesn’t have individual gears like a traditional automatic or manual transmission, so it never actually shifts. Instead, it uses a chain and pulleys, and has a program that recreates a more natural shift feel.)

You may be asking yourself why an automaker would choose a CVT over a traditional automatic transmission. The biggest advantage is improved fuel economy. Because there aren’t specific gears, a CVT can use the ideal ratio for your specific driving conditions to keep engine revs more constant whether you’re driving up a steep grade, accelerating onto the highway, or cruising at freeway speed. This steady state operation of the powertrain which continuously adapts to driving and road conditions improves efficiency. As we continue to drive the Ascent, we’ll get a sense of its fuel economy, and how it compares to that of other midsize SUVs.

 

Controls, Buttons and Dials

by Allyson Harwood on January 11, 2019

Price: $45,670 | Price yours
Current Odometer: 657 miles
Latest MPG: 19.09
Lifetime MPG: 20.35
Maintenance/Service Costs: None
Time out of Service: 0 days

You’ve done all the research ahead of time. You’ve decided on the make, model and trim level that you’re interested in. It’s time to go to the dealer and sign on the dotted line. But after hours poring over math and options and finishing the negotiations and paperwork, you get in your brand-new car and go home. That’s when the next stage begins: you settle into daily life with your car, which starts by figuring out where all the controls are. That was the first thing we did with the long-term 2019 Subaru Ascent.

I use the trip to gauge fuel economy, so finding that was important. It’s not a button hidden at the end of a turn-signal stalk or the old-school (yet intuitive) small post in the instrument panel: in this case, it’s a push button on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel. Memory seat buttons are on the driver-side door, and the power windows, door locks and side mirror adjustment knob are clustered together near the top of the armrest. So far, so good. Easy to reach, easy to use. To the left of the steering wheel is a bank of controls where you can open the power liftgate, adjust how high it opens, and turn off the Ascent’s traction control if you want.

Sometimes in the new-car frenzy, you forget which goodies your vehicle came with. I remembered that the Ascent had nav and Apple CarPlay…but does it have a CD player for old-school audio listening? Yes! Also handy for old-school audio: the aux jack that’s next to the dual USB ports in the bottom of the center console. And the steering-wheel mounted volume control is an easy-to-use toggle switch. You can tell by feel which one it is, so you don’t have to look down, which reduces driver distraction.

I like to drive with cool air on my face and the seat heater on, and fortunately controls for both are just as easy to get to as reaching over to the center stack. The seats can also be cooled, and the steering wheel heater is on the wheel on the right side.

The only tricky control to find was the one that temporarily deactivates the lane-departure warning system. This is only really an issue when you’re going through a construction area where the lanes aren’t well defined, causing the system to beep. That button is above the rearview mirror, by the sunroof controls. (And a note about the rearview mirror: our long-term Ascent has the digital rearview mirror, which you turn on by pushing the traditional lever at the base of the mirror.)

So far, the controls are easy to reach and learn, and are arranged logically, making the Ascent an easygoing companion on the daily commute.

 

Introduction

by Allyson Harwood on December 10, 2018

I will freely admit that I was especially excited when the all-new Subaru Ascent arrived at the KBB offices. Not only is it Subaru’s newest foray into the highly competitive 3-row midsize SUV segment (more on that in a moment), but there’s a special spot in my heart for Subaru in general. My earliest memories of car rides are from the passenger seat of my dad’s little orange 360. That was the first of three Subies we would have during my formative childhood years, and oddly, none of them were wagons. Since then, watching Subaru blossom from a niche company into a mainstream player has been a lot of fun.

With the Ascent, Subaru has its share of challenges to overcome. For starters, the midsize SUV segment is already jam-packed with plenty of appealing choices. Second, the Ascent could either be seen as a vehicle that doesn’t fall in line with what Subaru is about, or for those who remember the not-so-beloved Tribeca (aka B9 Tribeca), the Ascent could be looked at as more of the same. But for Subaru, the Ascent makes a lot of sense. After decades of developing a strong following because of its practical wagons, Subaru had to watch its loyalists go to another brand when they needed 3-row SUVs. Considering nearly 650,000 people bought Subarus in America last year (a number that could be exceeded in 2018), this is a large block of buyers that is not to be taken lightly. If they can keep Subaru buyers in the fold while getting non-Subaru buyers to come over in the process, all the better.

What the Ascent Offers

Subaru’s SUV was designed to have the spirit and some of the driving flair of the company’s smaller models, while offering the features that buyers of 3-row SUVs want. From our initial drive of the Ascent, we felt the company did a good job of bringing together these elements. The Ascent only comes with one engine, but it’s plenty powerful: a 260-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine, controlled through a continuously variable transmission with a regular PRND shifter plus paddles on the steering wheel. As is the case with all Subaru models except the BRZ, all-wheel drive comes standard. Active Torque Vectoring is also standard. If you want to explore the backcountry, the Ascent offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance, plus X-Mode with hill descent control.

With the 2019 Subaru Ascent, 3-row SUV fans can check several items off the must-have list: 7- or 8-passenger seating, standard 3-zone climate control, wide-opening rear doors, about 48 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, and up to a 5,000-lb towing capacity. Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard, and there is a long list of available options. There are also 19 cupholders on board, plenty for that long road trip.

Subaru is known for safety, and the Ascent comes standard with the EyeSight suite of advanced safety features, including pre-collision braking and throttle management, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. The Ascent was named a 2018 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (when equipped with the optional steering responsive headlights) and received the “Superior” rating for front crash prevention.

Our Ascent

The Subaru Ascent is available in four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring. Our Touring model will serve as a test bed for the standard and available features that Subaru offers on this vehicle. None of the extra features had an additional cost above and beyond the price of the Touring model; we didn’t need to order extra packages.

The Ascent Touring has second-row captain’s chairs. Six USB ports plus a 120-volt AC outlet. Power tailgate, panoramic moonroof, and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound audio system. Interior amenities also include two rows of heated leather seats (ventilated in the front row) – 10-way power adjustable for the driver – heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated side mirrors and windshield wipers, and a 180-degree front-view camera. Subaru calls the rearview mirror a Smart Mirror; when you push the bottom tab the entire mirror serves as a video monitor that shows you what is behind you, even if you have large objects (or tall people) in the Ascent blocking your view out back.

Our vehicle also came with reverse automatic braking, which can automatically use the brakes when it detects an object while you’re backing up, as well as blind spot detection and a rear cross-traffic alert. The Touring comes with automatic high beams and steering responsive headlights. We hope that during our year-long evaluation we don’t have to test out the safety features, but it’s comforting to know they’re there.

If you are shopping for a 2019 Subaru Ascent, you’ll discover that pricing starts at $32,970, which includes the $975 destination charge. The prices go up somewhat gradually from there, but when you get to the Touring level, the price is $45,670, the as-tested price of our Abyss Blue Pearl model with a Java Brown interior. But don’t let the price of our tester scare you: that is a typical price for a fully loaded midsize SUV, and you certainly don’t have to get the Touring to get the benefits of an Ascent.

What’s Ahead

We have plenty of questions about what it’s like to live with the Ascent. Does it still have that Subaru feel to it? Is it sporty and practical? Can a Subaru this large still have that rugged, welcoming feel of smaller models? And, most important, can the Ascent cut it when put up against excellent competitors like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander? The Kelley Blue Book editorial team looks forward to answering those questions as we live with the Ascent for the next year.

While I do have a personal history with Subaru mixed with a dash of nostalgia, I don’t think this makes me biased toward the Ascent. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that I look at the Ascent with a critical eye. I’m like the coach of a team that his/her child plays on. I’ll be tough but fair. Be warned, kid. Just because we’re family doesn’t mean you get special treatment when you’re on the field.

More 2019 Subaru Ascent

See full review and pricing information for the 2019 Subaru Ascent or build and price your own to unlock its Fair Purchase Price, 5-Year Cost to Own, and more.
 

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