Here’s What it’s Like to Drive the 2019 Subaru Ascent

2019 Subaru Ascent Touring
 Courtesy of manufacturer

While other carmakers suffer from an identity crisis, Subaru just keeps playing the same tune repeatedly, and without fail, customers keep jamming. Save one issue, when the record skips—parents. See, Subaru hasn’t had a three-row rig since the Tribeca ended sales in 2014. So the brand went back to its roots and did what it rocks at already: making eminently practical, easy-to-drive, reasonably fuel-efficient, AWD machines. Here are four reasons why you’ll want to consider the new 2019 Subaru Ascent SUV.

It’s a Legit Off-roader
Subaru DNA means all-wheel drive. Like Audi’s cred in this space at the higher end, Subaru makes four-wheels churning a core default. So there’s no Ascent sold without it. Ditto, reasonable ground clearance, with the Ascent’s 8.7 inches besting the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Hyundai Santa Fe. Subaru also offers something it calls X-Mode that bakes in more allowable wheel-slip in traction and stability control (at under 20mph). This allows tires to spin until they bite; deadens the throttle to ease modulation when you’re rock crawling; and includes hill-descent control that automatically brakes for steep inclines. We didn’t get a ton of testing time for all of this, but the ground clearance and AWD alone will get you pretty far as long as you’re comfortable driving in dirt or snow. Oh, and Subaru actually roof-rated the factory roof rails for car-top tents, a first in the segment, and a legitimate acknowledgement from Subaru that this is a very common use for its customers. It offers trailering up to 5,000 pounds. Subaru spokes-folks say that most Subaru customers don’t want to tow boats or personal watercraft—they want to tow campers. And now there’s the right rig just for that.

It’s Massive Inside
The seven-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe boasts what seems like a very capacious 80 cubic feet of cargo space. But the Ascent smokes that, with 86.5 cubes—and slays the Highlander, Pilot, Explorer Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9. A more legit measure, cargo behind the second row, so you can still cart a pair of groms and all your family gear, is 47.5 cubes, also besting the Santa Fe as well as all the aforementioned rivals. And Subaru’s been insanely clever about packaging the interior, too. Not only are there an astonishing 19 cupholders (no joke), using high-strength steel enabled them to make the Ascent stiff enough that they could cut a wider-opening rear hatch. Yes, you could technically do that with any crossover, and then you’d throw it through a corner and it would flex so much that it would handle poorly; you need stiffness to enable a huge hatch, and, to beat a dead horse, here too they’ve bested all rivals. Further, rear passenger doors open wider, making it easier to load a child seat, and the door cutouts there, as with hatch opening, is also wider, making exiting from the third row easier. Note that you can order yours with either second-row captain’s chairs (meaning, no center seat), or a bench. That former configuration fits seven; the latter seats eight. And either way, Subaru doesn’t charge extra.

Good Tech
The Ascent starts at $31,995, and that trim level includes both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (meaning you can keep your eyes on the road rather than you phone). There’s also Subaru’s EyeSight tech that includes automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control and standard lane keeping. The latter two worked pretty well during tests, which is important because the technology could help keep you safer when you’re driving with a carload full of kids. Stock tech also includes three-zone climate control and brake hold, which keeps the car stopped once you’ve halted the vehicle at a light or in traffic, so you can take your foot off the brake in stop-and-go traffic. Higher level models also offer a digital rearview mirror, which uses the backup camera to show you the cars behind you, an ideal setup for when you cram the Ascent with kids and gear on that family camping excursion and otherwise wouldn’t be able to see rearward.

It Drives Like a Subaru
It might sound like damning with faint praise, but the best thing we can say about the Ascent is that it feels a lot smaller than it actually is. During testing on serpentine, woodsy roads on the Oregon Coast, it felt like a five-passenger sedan rather than an eight-passenger family barge. Steering is hardly sports-car tight, but it’s accurate with inputs, with little of the numbness that plagues too many crossovers in this segment. And although the all-new 2.4-liter boxer four-cylinder only makes 260hp, it makes all of its 277 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000rpm, so it’s quick off the line and also quick for passing. Subaru even showed how 45-65mph passing while towing a 5,000-pound trailer bested all but the Toyota Highlander. Not that the target buyer likely tows that much with regularity, but it shows Subaru did its homework to make sure its smaller four-cylinder engine wouldn’t be outclassed when you do take that family vacation. And speaking of that, 22 combined MPG (on higher trim levels; 23 for the base model) and 500 miles of range per fill-up is dang reasonable for a family rig of this size. And, yep, that matches or bests all the competition—as Subaru seems to have done by every single metric we can think of for this pretty damn great new Ascent.