The 2019 Ascent marks a re-entry by Subaru into the three-row crossover market, recapturing the buyers the company was losing to the larger family segment. Unlike the Tribeca that it replaces, the Ascent is a very well-done, three-row family mover with all of the expectations we have of a Subaru.

Quick Specs & Info

2019 Subaru Ascent Class: Midsize 3-row Crossover
Base Model As Tested: Limited +Options
Powertrain 2.4L 4cyl, CVT Powertrain 2.4L 4cyl, CVT
Base MSRP $31,995 MSRP as tested $42,920

Overview

The 2019 Subaru Ascent is new from the ground-up, built on Subaru’s global platform that’s shared with most other models in the company’s lineup. This means it retains the legendary all-weather all-wheel drive the Subaru brand is known for as well as the “get out and do stuff” appeal of the brand.

Fitting at the largest size point in the Suby lineup, the 2019 Ascent has elements from both the smaller Forester crossover and the more upscale (but less roomy) Outback model. The Ascent seats up to eight and is a match for most of the best-sellers in the three-row midsize crossover-SUV market in terms of accommodation and ergonomics.

The Ascent has four doors, a hatchback, seven or eight seats (depending on interior configuration), towing rated at up to 5,000 pounds when equipped, and comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Trim Packages

The 2019 Ascent has four trim points to choose from, each with the same engine/transmission combination and each with AWD as standard.

  • Base – The base model Ascent includes 18-inch wheels, roof rails, automatic headlamps, a 60/40 split-fold second row bench, third row seating (also 60/40), tri-zone climate control (all controlled up front), a rearview camera, four USB ports, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A basic stereo with satellite radio is also included. So is Subaru’s EyeSight safety system with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning.
  • Premium – the Ascent Premium trim adds heated side mirrors, a de-icer for the windshield wipers, power adjustments to the driver’s seat, heated front seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear-seat climate controls, upgraded cloth upholstery, a larger 8-inch touchscreen with voice controls and 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. The Premium trim also includes the towing kit as standard. Options are in packages and can include a power liftgate (with memory), keyless access and ignition, a panoramic sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, reverse automatic braking, 20-inch wheels, navigation, and cargo cover. Also available are second-row captain’s chairs when any options package is added.
  • Limited – adds to the Premium trim’s content with a power liftgate (with height memory), keyless access and ignition, a panoramic sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, reverse automatic braking, 20-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlamps, automatic high beams, LED fog lamps, leahter upholstery, power adjustments for the front passenger seat, more driver’s seat adjustment, heated outboard second row seating, built-in rear door sunshades, added USB ports to the third row, and leather accents. Optional for the limited are captain’s chairs in the second row, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, cargo cover, and Harmon Kardon premium sound.
  • Touring – Adds every option available on the Limited trim as well as chrome exterior accents, automatic wipers, ambient cabin lighting, upgraded leather upholstery, ventilated front seating, a heated steering wheel, a 120-volt outlet, two more USB ports (for 8 in all), front-facing camera for parking, and a rear view camera input for the rearview mirror.

Exterior and Interior Design

The 2019 Ascent is not the most standout vehicle in a crowded parking lot of three-row options, but it does have some signature Subaru qualities to its styling that make it easily identifiable as a Suby. The front fascia, hood, and windscreen are very much akin to what’s seen on the Outback, as is the ride height and door paneling. The body shape of the Ascent is closer to the Forester, however, with a slightly boxier look than what’s on the Outback.

This creates a definite crossover-SUV design for the Ascent that’s nice to look at, but not the loveliest option on the lot. We like it, though, and the overall appearance fits the Ascent’s purpose better than would a more wagon-like style such as that found on the Outback. There are some upscale elements added as well, which bring it up a notch from the rather homely look of the Forester.

Inside, the Ascent is well-designed with good quality materials throughout. We like the general austerity that is found in a Subaru when compared to some other, busier models. The feel is more functional than pretty for pretty’s sake. Seating is comfortable, switchgear and controls are easy to find and understand, and there is plenty of room all around. The third row is largely for kids, but that’s the norm in this segment. Adults can fit there when required, but it’s not recommended for long. Access to the third row in the Ascent is via either the space between two captain’s chairs (if opted) or the space created when the one-touch tilt-slide on the second row bench or chairs is used.

Cargo space in the 2019 Subaru Ascent is at 47.5 cubic feet with the third row stowed and 86.5 with the second row folded.

Driving the 2019 Subaru Ascent

The 2019 Ascent is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that outputs 260 horsepower to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and full-time AWD. The turbocharged engine is opposed-piston, making it smoother than most V-shaped engines, and delivers power early and predictably.

There is little wait for the Ascent to get up to speed or accelerate for the pass and off the road, the 2019 Ascent does everything any Subaru owner would expect it to accomplish. Inclement weather is also not a problem for the well-done AWD system on the Ascent.

Fuel economy in the Subaru Ascent is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. In the real world, we averaged 25 mpg overall, which is better than the EPA’s expectation and better than most AWD-equipped options in the midsize three-row market.

Handling in the 2019 Ascent is similar to what’s found in the Forester, with good maneuverability and visibility for the driver. It’s not sporty or quick, but the Ascent is quiet on the highway and smooth enough for most people’s expectation.

Competition

Competing with the 2019 Subaru Ascent are several competent three-row options in the midsize crossover-SUV segment. The Honda Pilot is a best seller while the Chevrolet Traverse is an excellent, top-choice entry. The Toyota Highlander is a perennial favorite as well.

    • Chevrolet Traverse – Our current top choice in the three-row family segment, the Traverse was introduced as a completely revamped model for 2018. It contains excellent ergonomics and comfort with solid performance in all situations. It’s not as off-road capable or as fuel efficient as is the Ascent, however.
    • Honda Pilot – A strong, top-selling contender in the three-row crossover market, the Pilot is a bit dated compared to the Ascent, but offers excellent roominess and comfort for the segment. It’s third row is also very well done. The Ascent offers more amenities, however, and similar (or better) all-weather capability.
    • Mazda CX-9 – Very well done, the CX-9 has a size and interior capability similar to that of the Ascent, but suffers from less off-road and all-weather credibility. The CX-9 does have one of the smoothest on-road rides of any vehicle in this class.
    • Nissan Pathfinder – A bit dated and cramped compared to other three-row options, the Pathfinder does offer contemporary appeal and a strong heritage of excellence. It is not as off-road capable or comfortable as is the Ascent.
    • Toyota Highlander – A top choice in the three-row segment, the Highlander offers some of everything for everyone. It’s the most dated of the options on this list, however, and not as fuel efficient as is the Ascent.

Strong Points

      • Solid safety and reliability expectation thanks to the Subaru brand.
      • Good ergonomics for a three-row without compromising the Subaru brand appeal.
      • Excellent real-world MPG returns for the segment.

Weaknesses

      • Not as family-oriented as some options in the three-row market.
      • Upscale entertainment options missing, which could be a deal breaker for some.
      • Technology requires smartphone be tethered (plugged in) for many advanced uses.

Conclusions

The 2019 Subaru Ascent is an excellent option in the fast-selling and growing three-row crossover-SUV market. It’s not the most family-oriented, in terms of comfort and entertainment, as are some of the more minivan-replacement-focused options, but it’s got the Subaru appeal and marque for sure. For families who are more likely to get out and do stuff, the Subaru Ascent is a solid choice for making that happen. With good fuel economy, a usable third row, and off-the-shelf storage atop its roof, the 2019 Ascent matches the expectations of a Subaru family that’s outgrown its two-row vehicle.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The Ascent was a manufacturer’s press loan for about a week. During that time, a total of about 230 miles were put on the vehicle in varied driving conditions and with varied passenger and cargo loads. Inclement weather was included in the assessment.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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