The mid-size SUV category is chock-full of extremely popular and competitive options. From the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, to the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, breaking into this segment with a brand new vehicle is a treacherous climb up a steep mountain of well established and recognized competitors. The brand new 2019 Subaru Ascent however does well to make a bid for the top spot. We were invited out to a recent ride and drive event to get our first taste of this all new offering from Subaru.
Long time fans of Subaru will remember the Tribeca which up until 2014 was Subaru’s offering into the blitzkrieg market of mid-size SUVs. The first two model years of the Tribeca saw a high amount of negative feedback with the platform quickly receiving a redesign. Chief among the complaints was the… “interesting” …stylistic choices that Subaru made.
The redesign of the Tribeca put it’s styling much more on par with the rest of the Subaru line up, but with limited trim and package options combined with quickly dwindling sales, the Tribeca was abandoned after the 2014 model year once again leaving Subaru without a three row vehicle.
Worry not however, because while other manufacturers expected Subaru to be licking their wounds they were quietly hard at work taking the hard learned lessons of the Tribeca and putting them to work.
Part 1: The Exterior
Debuted at the LA Auto Show on November 28th 2017 the new Subaru Flagship looks set to summit the mountain and claim the top spot in the Mid-Size SUV class. Built as Subaru’s first true three row vehicle it boasts top of the segment size and power while retaining all of the qualities that Subaru customers have come to expect.
Starting with the exterior of the car Subaru has taken the positive attributes that have made both the Forester and Outback such high selling vehicles. The tall window design borrowed from the Forester combined with the interior trappings that made the Outback so popular the Ascent brings a lot to the table. The main area that we see as place for stylistic improvement is the rear end. The plastic cover that hides the tow hitch and trailer connections looks like it was tacked on a bit as an afterthought. The rest of the exterior preaches simplistic design which is visually pleasing but perhaps doesn’t inspire the desire and excitement that is commanded by the more performance orientated Subaru models.
Clocking in at 7 inches longer and 5.7 inches taller the Ascent makes the Outback look much more like the station wagon that it evolved from. The Ascent however joins its fellow Subarus on the Subaru Global Platform that Subaru has created for the chassis of their cars. This modular design brings with it an extremely easy to produce design and top rated safety ratings making it easier for Subaru to produce its projected volume of 5,000-8,000 units per month while maintaining the product quality that it has made its brand synonymous with.
Continuing the sermon of safety the Ascent now features Subaru’s Eyesight Safety System as a standard feature. Toyota made their version of active safety features standard for the 2018 model year so this move is not a groundbreaking one, but something that is nice to see Subaru join in doing. It is a trend that we fully expect to percolate throughout the rest of the automotive industry in due time.
Part 2: The Interior
If there are two things that U.S. buyers are looking for in a new vehicle it is cup holders and usb outlets. The Ascent boasts 19, yes 19, cup holders and a standard 6, with an optional 2 extra, usb plug ins to keep everyone well hydrated and entertainment devices charged.
The Ascent will be offered in both 7 passenger and 8 passenger configurations with the change coming from the replacement of the second row bench seat with a pair of captains chairs. The Premium and Limited trims will have the option of either layout at no additional cost while the Base will only come in an 8 passenger configuration and the Touring only in a 7.
During the Street Drive portion of our Ride and Drive we were able to experience the Ascent from every row and get a sense for how much room it truly offered. Compared directly to the Toyota Highlander the Ascent does offer a significant improvement in 3rd row leg room for full size adults. Combined with the stadium style seating position of the 3rd row it has actually become a place to no longer be feared on those longer trips. Being relegated to the 3rd row is no longer a punishment for being the youngest sibling. Be warned though if you stand over 6 feet tall you will find the head room in the 3rd row to be lacking.
Cargo space in the Ascent is formidable. It has more storage room with the 3rd row in use than the Toyota Highlander and provides adequate space when all three rows are down. As Subaru is targeting the Ascent towards families the storage space with all seats in use is impressive.
Technology is rampant in the Ascent with Android Auto and Apple Car Play coming standard on all trims. Subaru also finally brings in remote start and a bevy of smart phone connected services with their Second Generation Starlink system.
Limited and Touring Trims also enjoy some added cameras for increased visibility. The front facing 180 degree camera is indeed a helpful feature and has a surprising field of view. The Touring Trim also adds in a smart rear view mirror, something Nissan featured as early as 2014 incidentally. It is a nice feature for the times when you do obstruct the rear of the vehicle, but any other time it feels a bit gauche and gimmicky. Perhaps with more time getting to use it, it may prove to be more useful.
Part 3: How It Drives
Getting behind the wheel of the Ascent you immediately notice three things. 1) The forward and peripheral visibility is impressive. 2) The seats, particularly in the Limited and Touring trims are extremely comfortable and supportive. 3) The steering wheel feels smaller than what is in the current Outbacks which lends to a nice feeling in the hands.
Setting off down the road you immediately notice the light steering and quick steering rack. The 13.5:1 rack combined with the, albeit heavily assisted, electric power steering give the Ascent a “light on its feet” feel with a minimal amount of driver input needed to turn through tighter corners. The heavy assistance does lead to a noticeable lack in feedback and feel through the steering wheel however. The suspension at slow speeds over rougher roads feels almost too soft and a bit bouncy, but once up to speed does smooth out nicely giving the Ascent a comfortable ride.
Power delivery in the Ascent comes from an all new 2.4L turbocharged boxer engine. The engine builds on the design used in the current Forester XT but produces an impressive 260 horsepower and a very noticeable 277 ft/lbs of torque. Acceleration in the Ascent is quite impressive with the torque peaking from 2000-5000 rpms.
Power delivery is very linear and even with a full compliment of passengers still moves the Ascent along at a rapid rate. Acceleration under load, i.e. towing conditions was nothing to write home about but certainly did the job. During the towing test portion of the Ride and Drive we pulled a 2000lb trailer around a course performing a full throttle acceleration and an emergency stop maneuver. Braking with the trailer was actually quite impressive. The Ascent features a standard trailer sway assist to help keep things all in line.
So there you have it! Your first look at the all new 2019 Subaru Ascent! With over 5000 pre-orders already in production the Ascent looks poised to come out swinging in a heavy hitting market segment.
Photo Credit to Subaru Of North America