Never before has Subaru produced a vehicle as big as the Ascent. As large as the three-row SUV is, it may be an even bigger deal. The eight-passenger SUV fills a gaping void in the Subaru lineup that company loyalists have been asking for since the flawed Tribeca went away in 2014.
For this review, I drove the 2018 Subaru Ascent Limited trim, which has a starting MSRP of $38,995. It came with a few options including an 8-inch touch screen display with navigation, a Harman Kardon Premium Audio System with 14 speakers, cargo cover, and panoramic power moonroof. The total cost of the options is $2,950. Add in a $975 destination and delivery fee and the total came to $42,920.
There’s no question that the Ascent is part of the Subaru family. It takes the design hallmarks of the 2018 Subaru Outback and 2018 Subaru Forester and supersizes them. The Ascent rides higher than the Outback and has a commanding yet not overpowering stance on the road. It’s not sexy or stylish but it is 100% Subaru, something their audience will appreciate.
Each grade of the 2018 Ascent is powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter horizontally opposed engine that uses regular fuel. The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission with The vehicle achieves 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Though it’s not especially fast, the Ascent is capable off the line. It holds its speed well as it merges onto the highway and passes at speed with ease.
Like every other vehicle in the Subaru lineup, the Ascent comes equipped with symmetrical all-wheel drive standard, as does torque vectoring technology. An off-roading drive mode called X-Mode with Hill Descent Control comes standard as well.
The Ascent can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Though I didn’t tow with this model, I did test the car’s Trailer Stability Control at the vehicle launch earlier this year. It works exactly as advertised and will make most any tower confident in their handling.
The interior of the Ascent is a big upgrade from all the current Subaru products on the market and points the arrow toward a future filled with posher materials and more advanced technology. The forthcoming redesigned Forester follows this design directive. Still, the Ascent is outwardly practical, albeit in a more upscale way.
This model comes with leather-trimmed upholstery standard. A power-tilt/sliding panoramic glass sunroof, power adjustable driver and front-passenger seats, heated front seats, ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, a heated steering wheel, leather-wrapped shifter, woodgrain-patterned accent trim, a tilting and telescoping steering column, and 19 cup and bottle holders are all standard in the top trim and many are available in the next-down Limited grade.
The Ascent’s seats are comfortable, and your legs and hips won’t easily tire of sitting there, unlike how they often feel in generations of the Outback and Forester. The second row of seating is plenty big for two children or two adults, no matter if you opt for the captain’s chairs or the bench seat. Three children can easily fit across the bench. In the third row, you’ll be able to have two adults back for a few hours at a time before they’ll want to stretch.
The Ascent is properly equipped to keep you and your family connected throughout the day. Four USB ports are standard but you can add two more in the third row. A 6.5-inch touch screen display comes standard in the base model. An upgraded 8-inch screen comes in the other three grades. Navigation is available in midgrade models and standard in the top tier Ascent Touring. A 120-volt power outlet is standard in the Touring model as well, but unavailable in any other trims. The top three trims come with 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability.
The infotainment system is thoroughly modern and pleasing to the eye. The larger screen is quickly responsive and menus are intuitively laid out.
Despite the 14 speakers that came in the upgraded Harman Kardon sound system in the tester I drove, the system didn’t offer a true surround sound experience. The sound quality is excellent, but no matter how many different ways you adjust the settings, it doesn’t seem like there are enough speakers, or that speakers aren’t in the right place within the vehicle.
Behind the third row of the Ascent is a very good amount of cargo space. You’ll have no trouble fitting the results of a Costco run back there. If you need to haul a carload of people to the airport, their luggage will probably have enough space to fit, as long as they aren’t heavy packers.
Subaru is known for producing some of the safetst vehicles on the road. The Ascent comes with the company’s EyeSight suite of safety technology standard, which includes Automatic Pre-Collision Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, and new EyeSight Assist Monitor. Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Reverse Automatic Braking are available. Steering Responsive Headlights come standard on Limited and Touring models.
I found all the safety technology to work well and as advertised. I was, however, annoyed by the EyeSight Assist Monitor, which had a green light that illuminated directly in my sightline every time a vehicle got in front of me. If I cannot see the vehicle in front of me, or recognize an obstacle as such, I should not have a drivers license. I understand the argument that such an alert allows a driver to know that the system is fully operational but yet I hate the light.
The Ascent gives millennials and empty nesters a lot of what they’re looking for. It combines typical Subaru looks with nimbleness, comfort, and connectivity. It works well, and will work well for a large contingent of customers who went away from Subaru because this type of vehicle was missing from their lineup.