“This doesn’t feel like other Subarus,” my wife said, buckling herself into the 2020 Subaru Ascent.
“It’s so tall,” she said. She cranked her seat heater to Scorch. “And it just feels different.”
Diane is the family’s certified Subaru expert; she’s been driving her Impreza Sport since 2002.
And she was right. The Ascent, now in its second year, is a different sort of Subaru. The three-row CUV is Subaru’s largest vehicle. It sports a cushy ride, modern cabin tech and high-quality interior materials.
The Ascent cabin is quieter and occupants are better isolated from engine, wind and road noise than in other Subarus. Its softly sprung suspension smooths out rough road surfaces while delivering a solid and settled ride.
If other Subarus have a hiking-boot gestalt, the Ascent is more comfortable shoe.
Some touchstone Subaru signifiers survive; the turbocharged four-cylinder engine that powers the Ascent still uses the opposing-head architecture employed these days only by Subaru and Porsche.
Full-time all-wheel-drive is standard and, unlike most of its competitors, the Ascent has abundant ground clearance and can handle mild off-road duties.
Properly equipped, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Consider the Ascent a near-mainstream crossover from a company with an iconoclastic bent.
The 2020 Ascent is available in 7- and 8-passenger configurations and in four trims; base ($31,995), Premium ($34,395), Limited ($39,345) and Touring ($45,045).
Ascent debuted last year and receives only modest updates for 2020. Leading the list is an alert system that reminds drivers to check the back seat for items they’ve placed back there.
Three-zone automatic climate control is standard across the line, as are automatic power door locks and power side mirrors.
All Ascents are equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
With all those systems activated, the Ascent is a chatty vehicle. The stream of beeps, bells and chimes initially bewildered me. But by the end of my test week, I’d come to understand most of what they were trying to tell me.
Soft-touch surfaces line the Ascent’s dashboard, door panels and armrests. The seats and door panels in our Limited tester were upholstered in soft leather.
Strong and thrifty
Only the Limited and Touring are available with such features as a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, driver's seat memory settings, power-adjustable passenger seat and leather-trimmed upholstery.
There’s plenty of casual cabin storage and such details as a felt-lined glove box and center-console bin lend Ascent a “class above” feel.
Other details — the hard-plastic center console and a rough edge or two — detract from it.
All Ascents are powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
The Ascent runs the 0-60 sprint in a respectable 8 seconds and has plenty of passing power.
It’s one of the most frugal of the three-row crossovers, delivering 23 mpg in combined driving.
Built for comfort
The CVT has eight simulated gear ratios which can be managed by steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Under hard acceleration, it is prone to lapsing into the familiar CVT drone.
Standard on all models is X-Mode, which eases the Ascent down slippery slopes. Auto Vehicle Hold holds it stationary while at a stop.
The large CUV is tuned for comfort, not engagement. Its chassis dynamics are relaxed and the lightly weighted steering system is numb and incommunicative, though a solid on-center channel enables steady tracking.
Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and is available with onboard WiFi. The system is managed via a touchscreen with large, colorful icons. Its menu structure is straightforward but relegates some key climate functions — i.e., the heated seats and steering wheel — to secondary screens.
You don’t have to be a Subaru veteran to appreciate the refinement, comfort and utility the Ascent represents. Diane isn’t likely to relinquish her ancient Impreza any time soon, but she has a new soft spot for a certain three-row crossover.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2020 Subaru Ascent Limited
Vehicle base price: $31,995
Trim level base price: $39,345
As tested: $43,305 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio; panoramic moonroof; navigation; storable cargo area cover
EPA rating: 22 combined/20 city/26 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified