Executive Wheels: A Winner for Subaru

The 2019 Subaru Ascent Limited is a leader in its category

Subaru, with a few fits and starts over the years, has firmly established itself as a premier automaker. In recent years it has bolted down its offerings to the venerable staples: the Outback, the Legacy, the Impreza, the WRX, the Forester and the Crosstrek – with the Toyota-made BRZ on the side. All, except the BRZ, feature the line’s impressive Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, which is essentially its stock in trade and the feature that Subaru made its name on. Subarus are popular—especially here in Colorado – a perfect moving billboard for reliability.

But while they had many bases covered – wagons, sedans, hatchbacks, sporty/fast, off-road – the line lacked one key – and highly profitable – market segment: the larger 7/8 passenger SUV. Oh, sure, for several years they made such a vehicle, called the Tribeca, that was beset with criticism (mostly over styling), met with very substandard sales (only some 77,000 in the U.S. in more than 10 years,) and was discontinued about five years ago.

So now, badged as a 2019 model, enter the all-new Subaru Ascent.

While the Tribeca had what could be referred to as unique styling – detractors called the nose a “pig nose” and supporters said it reminded them of Alfa Romeo – this new Ascent is destined to miss the conversation. It looks very much like a Subaru; indeed more than one person who saw it during my week-long test drive described it as an “Outback on steroids.” This isn’t necessarily going to win styling competitions, but it is going to appeal directly to the Subaru crowd – large and growing. And, I think, it’s going to appeal to the large SUV crowd, also large and growing, because the Ascent is, well, styled like a dozen or so other SUVs of this ilk in the marketplace. From the side, for instance, I thought it looked a lot like a Buick Enclave.  

What modern car styling has taught us is that being a bit odd, especially in the family car segment, doesn’t work. Quirky is too hard to sell, until you get into the very high end of the market, and then particularly in the sports car arena (e.g. gull-wing doors). So the new Subaru Ascent is not quirky, and its overall styling sameness in the SUV market will be, I predict, its strength.

Okay, so I have pointed out that the Ascent isn’t a styling leader, but I can assure you that in all other respects it is, and may very well be THE leader.

I liked it that much.

As luck would have it, the day they brought me the new Ascent, my wife and I were planning a road trip to Alamosa, so I really got to put the Ascent through its paces. Because of the wildfires in the state, we were forced to take some circuitous routes to avoid closed roads, so we wound our way through not a few winding mountain roads and two-lane highways, and I was very happy to be behind the wheel of this vehicle. Quiet inside, quick for passing on those two-laners, very roomy for the gear we brought (and the people and dog we carried around in Southern Colorado), and with handling that was sharp and responsive even on hairpin turns, I can tell you flat out that I have never driven any other vehicle in this class that was better. When you consider the value proposition – what the vehicle costs to achieve this level of performance – the only thing I have driven that comes close is the Kia Sorento, and those who have driven Kias will recognize this as high praise.

The truth is this: I loved this Ascent when I first got into it, I loved it more when I drove it around the block, and I loved it so much I wanted one 50 miles into my 500-mile road trip. It is very comfortable, easy to drive and operate, has nice safety gear, plenty of room and the gas mileage is excellent for a vehicle of this size. While I never was seated in the third row of this seven-passenger configuration (you can configure it for eight), my wife did and proclaimed the third-row seating the best of any SUV of this size she’s been in. This was aided by the fact that the second row featured two captains’ chairs, with a gap in between that made it super easy to get back there, always a problem for most non-minivan 7/8 passenger vehicles. An added plus was that the second row seats were heated (we, of course, didn’t test them in the 90-degree heat), and the second row had its own heat/AC controls which covered the flow for both the second and third row. All in all, quite intelligent.

The 2019 Ascent is available in four trim levels, from a Base model, which starts at $31,995, to the Premium ($34,195), the Limited ($38,995), which I drove and finally the Touring ($44,695). Since they all feature the 260-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged BOXER 4-cylinder engine, the differences are in the appointments and options they include or don’t as standards on the trim level.

Every one of them includes the Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology as standard, which is amazing. Subaru itself says the following about its technology: “EyeSight monitors traffic movement, optimizes cruise control, and warns you if you sway outside your lane. The Pre-Collision Braking feature can even apply full braking force in emergency situations, helping you avoid or reduce frontal impacts. When equipped with EyeSight, all Subaru models receive the highest possible rating for front crash prevention by the IIHS.”

Also standard on all is the X-Mode AWD with hill descent control, adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist, rear camera, Bluetooth, and several more features. With the Limited package, they throw in power front seats, 20” alloy wheels, all-weather package (heated seas and mirrors), blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts, perforated leather trimmed upholstery, power rear gate, rear door sunshades, and steering responsive headlights (they bend in turns). On my test-drive vehicle, they added almost $3,000 in options, including what Subaru calls STARLINK multimedia navigation, 8” hi-res touch screen, all kinds of apps and smartphone hookups, a panoramic power sunroof, and a marvelous Harman Kardon premium audio system with 14 speakers. There’s also available in-vehicle Wi-Fi.

They always give the high-tech, ad-speak descriptions of this stuff, but what matters to me the most was evident as I used the vehicle: All this stuff was extremely easy and intuitive to use, and the sound system was magnificent. The separate climate control was also easy, and the air conditioner, badly needed in Colorado over the 4th of July week, was great. I also liked the 19 cup holders in the vehicle (the two in the console light up at night), the power outlets and USB/ACC ports strategically positioned, the huge armrest storage big on the console, and the very smart little hidden shelf for a smartphone at the front of the console with easy access for plugins. All very smart.

I already mentioned the engine, which proved more than ample in all situations, and the 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 combined gas mileage was excellent. The onboard computer during my Alamosa road trip said I got 26.5 mpg going down there, and 25.9 coming back. Since this isn’t VW, maybe I can trust those numbers. Also, the Ascent is equipped with Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT, which sometimes I haven’t liked, but here if I didn’t know it I would have guessed it was a 6-speed auto. It was smooth, powerful, and always seemed to be in the right gear.

As I said, the base price here is $38,995 for the Limited trim, they added on $2,950 in options, and posted $975 for destination and delivery. At $42,920, this Ascent is highly competitive with anything else you can buy in the 3-row SUV marketplace.

This is going to be a winner for Subaru.


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation