Subaru plugs a big gap in its lineup this year with the debut of the new Ascent crossover.
A three-row gap to be precise.
The midsize 2019 Ascent ($31,995) is Subaru’s largest vehicle and its second attempt to crash the three-row party. A previous effort, the Tribeca, failed to excite buyers. That won’t be a problem with the Ascent.
Certainly, it checks all the right boxes.
Checking the boxes
Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers a class-competitive 23 mpg combined and can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Third-row legroom and headroom rivals the segment-leading Honda Pilot. Cargo space is also generous.
Standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance continue the Subaru tradition of building sturdy and comfortable cars that excel off-road.
A limited version of Subaru's EyeSight driver assist technology is standard on all Ascents, adding adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning.
The base Ascent doesn’t qualify for additional driver-assistance features, but higher trims fetch a more comprehensive suite of functions.
Premium trim will lead
Otherwise, standard gear includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen, automatic power door locks, four USB ports, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, raised roof rails and 19 (!) cup and bottle holders.
One step up from the base model, the Premium ($34,195), will be the volume leader. It sweetens the pot with a power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear-seat climate controls, spill-resistant cloth upholstery, a windshield wiper deicer, and an upgraded multimedia system with an 8-inch touchscreen, voice recognition and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The Premium also includes blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and bumps the towing capacity to 5,000 pounds from the base model’s 1,500-pound limit.
The top-of-the-line Touring ($45,670) gilds the lily with premium leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting, a sunroof, chrome exterior accents, 20-inch painted alloy wheels, automatic wipers, a 120-volt household-style power outlet, a total of eight USB ports and a front-view camera display that operates at low speeds.
More utility than luxury
Still, it probably doesn't come as a surprise to learn that the Ascent doesn’t have luxury-class aspirations. Cabin design is functional but in no way distinguished. Indifferent materials quality and the occasional lapse in fit-and-finish can be found throughout the lineup, though upper trims offer higher-quality trim.
Though firm, the Ascent’s ride is supple and compliant. Unwanted body motions are well controlled, but body lean is evident during cornering.
Steering feel is light and the system provides little feedback. It’s accurate, though, and a solid on-center groove makes for good straight-line tracking.
Occupants will feel the jolt of a pothole — especially in models with 20-inch wheels — but the impact quickly dissipates. Our Premium tester wore 18-inchers, which were reasonably tolerant of broken road surfaces.
Soundproofing, new platform offset flat-four rumble
Extensive soundproofing measures include an acoustic windshield and front-door glass. A sturdy new platform reduces the dread NVH — noise, vibration and harshness.
Powering the Ascent is a new turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four engine. It makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque and is mated with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It produces the characteristic ragged rumble of a horizontally opposed engine, but little of the dissonance makes its way to the ears of occupants.
The transmission effectively simulates gear shifts and lapses into the familiar CVT drone only when pushed hard.
Ascent runs the 0-60 sprint in a click or two under 7 seconds, which is off the pace set by the segment leaders. Midrange power is adequate for (cautious) two-lane passing.
Typical of Subarus we’ve driven before, exaggerated throttle tip-in produces a sudden spurt of acceleration when prodded from a standstill. Driving the Ascent smoothly in city traffic calls for a light touch on the gas pedal.
Since its late-summer debut, the Ascent has become Subaru’s third best-selling vehicle, helping extend the company’s remarkable run of 83 consecutive months of yearly month-over-month growth.
And its assault on the three-row segment has given other makers a fresh face to worry about.
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2019 Subaru Ascent Premium
Vehicle base price: $31,995
Trim level base price: $34,195
As tested: $36,300 (includes destination and handling)
Options included keyless access with push-button start; auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, reverse automatic braking and power liftgate with automatic close and height memory.
Tow rating: up to 5,000 pounds
EPA rating: 23 combined/21 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified