2019 Subaru Ascent: A family cruiser worthy of the Subaru brand [First Look]

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2019 Subaru Ascent (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Though Subaru sales seem to be going through the roof lately, the automaker realized it was missing a key demographic when it came to vehicle sales: people between the ages of 35 and 54.

You know, the years someone might be raising a growing family.

Subaru gets cult-like loyalty from its owners who are young and single or empty nesters. But those couple decades, which require extra seats for carpool and cargo space for sports gear, found owners defecting to brands that offered 7- and 8-passenger vehicles.

It’s not that Subaru didn’t try to tap this market previously, but the brand miscalculated on style, ride and handling with the defunct B9 Tribeca.

A mistake the automaker corrects with the all-new 2019 Ascent.

The styling purposefully and strongly resembles the other vehicles in its lineup with the bold grille and nicely sculpted lines on the hood and surrounding the wheel wells.

But what really makes this a vehicle families will want is it’s well equipped – even at a base level.

Starting price for the Ascent is $31,995, and standard features include all-wheel drive, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, the EyeSight safety system, four USB ports and a whopping 19 cup holders.

Oh, and it can fit three car seats across the middle row when equipped with the bench seats. There are very few other large SUVs that can do this.

Want more features? Level up for less than $3K and add things such as heated front seats, available captains chairs in the middle row (for a $0 add), rear climate control and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot for up to 8 devices.

Ascent only has four available trims for the 2019 model year, so adding features in increments is easy, and the price difference between the base and top-tier trims is around $13K. The exact trim pricing is:

  • Ascent: $31,995
  • Ascent Premium: $34,195
  • Ascent Limited: $38,995
  • Ascent Touring: $44,695

The base two models come with spill-resistant cloth seating surfaces and weird etched plastic accents on the dash and doors. Limited and Touring add leather seats and replace the plastic accents with leather ones.

Other available features include heated middle row seats, power rear liftgate, passive entry, push-button start, navigation, premium audio, a panoramic moonroof and a 180-degree front camera.

A key must-have for active families includes high-level safety.

And that’s why Subaru made EyeSight standard on the Ascent. Of the competitive set, only the Toyota Highlander has a similarly standard system that includes things such as emergency front braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.

Other available safety features starting at the Premium trim include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic reverse braking.

One interesting thing to note is the Ascent has just one engine choice: a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine. Most of the competitive set are equipped with V-6s.

So with 260 horsepower, this is about 20 horsepower less than most of the base engines available to competitors. But what the engine lacks in horsepower it gains in torque. Looking again at base engines, the Ascent has an average of about 20 more pound-feet of torque than its competitors.

And this gives the little engine the ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds.

During our daylong test, we spent time doing things Subaru owners might do – taking back roads, tackling highway speeds on the interstate, towing a 4,300-pound trailer and getting a little dirty with gravel and sand.

While I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 4-cylinder engine and a 4,500-pound vehicle, I walked away impressed.

Hard acceleration is decent, though not heart pounding. And it holds its own in some mild off-road situations.

The true surprise, however, was with the towing exercise. Subaru set up a tight course that included a slalom, acceleration and hard-brake area, and while I felt a slight tug of the trailer, the Trailer Stability System did its job. The vehicle maneuvered well and I didn’t feel a lot of bounce or lag.

The one thing to note, however, is the side mirrors weren’t quite large enough to see around the length of the trailer, so mirror extenders might be a good idea if you’re planning to tow at all.

During the initial planning phases of the Ascent, Subaru targeted the Toyota Highlander ($31,030), Ford Explorer ($32,140), Honda Pilot ($30,900), Nissan Pathfinder ($31,040) and Mazda CX-9 ($32,120) as its primary competitors. Since its reveal, however, we can certainly add the Volkswagen Atlas ($30,750) to the competitive set.

While Ascent sits in the middle of the price range of these vehicles, it’s important to note it’s the only one that comes standard with AWD and it has more cargo volume behind every row – except for the third row of the Explorer, which boasts 21 cubic feet of cargo volume vs. the Ascent’s 17.6.

Each of the above vehicles has pros and cons. For example, I love how the CX-9 drives, but it sacrifices third-row legroom and cargo volume. The Explorer certainly has more in-cabin space, but the high beltline makes it seem large and lumbering while driving.

Overall, I really liked the ride, handling and general comfort of the Ascent. It’s the little things, such as the available adjustable seat bottom, that make a huge difference in how this vehicle fits a wide range of drivers and passengers.

Plus, while the vehicle truly fits a family of eight, it doesn’t drive like a boat.

Huge bonus in my book.

Ascent is available in dealers now, and will surely give its competitive set a run for its money.

The Bottom Line

I really liked the all-new Ascent, and anyone who loves Subaru will love this all-new 8-passenger vehicle. It’s comfortable to sit in, easy to drive and chockfull of family-friendly tech.

My favorite thing about Subie’s new addition, however, is it takes the whole family into account with easy-to-access third row seats, available heated outboard middle-row seats, reading lights in the third row, an available 180-degree front camera, a WiFi hotspot for up to 8 devices, 19 cup holders and up to 8 available USB ports.

A family road trip never looked so easy to execute.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Subaru covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.