What Is It?
The 2019 model year marked an important milestone for the Subaru lineup: the Ascent SUV premiered as the largest vehicle in the brand’s history, with three rows and seating for up to eight occupants. With Ascent, Subaru provides a new path upward for loyal Outback owners who have outgrown their cars but don’t want to leave the brand. The 2020 Subaru Ascent offers consumers all the safety and capability that made Subaru a household name in the U.S. — as well as important amenities such as increased space, multiple USB ports and a plentiful 19 cupholders — giving the SUV proper cred to fill the growing-family gap in the automaker’s lineup.
For testing Subaru provided a 2020 Ascent Limited painted in Abyss Blue Pearl. The Limited is one step down from the top-line Touring, and it comes well equipped with many standard features. Our tester included an optional 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, a panoramic moonroof, a stowable cargo cover and 7-passenger seating with captain’s chairs for a total MSRP of $43,305. Competitors to the Ascent are numerous and include the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento and Chevrolet Traverse.
The Ascent is easily recognizable as a Subaru thanks to styling cues that reflect the rest of the brand’s SUV offerings. Ascent has a larger hexagonal grille flanked by C-shape headlights styled after the horizontal pistons within the automaker’s iconic Boxer engine. Larger fender flares and lower body-side cladding gives the vehicle a rugged look. The overall shape intentionally stays true to the popular Outback, but with larger proportions.
With Ascent Subaru ups its interior game, creating an environment both stylish and spacious. The center console has plenty of storge, and doors contain thoughtful cubbies / bottle holders. A shelf above the glovebox holds small items, and an additional space beneath the climate controls in the center stack can easily hold a phone — conveniently placed above USB ports. We also appreciate Ascent’s two-tone treatment, which gives the SUV a premium look.
Front seats are big, comfortable and stylish; our test drives confirmed that occupants could easily spend hours up front on a long road trip. The driver’s seat bottom extends — another welcome feature during long stints in the saddle.
Much improved over previous versions, Subaru’s touchscreen interface features a highly visible screen with large buttons. We appreciate that the volume and tuning knobs remain on the unit for easy audio control. Climate functions operate via separate buttons, so there’s no need to dig through menu items to adjust cabin temperature or airflow. An additional display on top of the dash provides vehicle information such as fuel economy and EyeSight status.
Our Ascent came equipped with second-row captain’s chairs, which we prefer over the bench seat. The comfortable individual seats offer plenty of head- and legroom, and the space between helps to keep kids separated. Rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls as well as two USB ports.
The third row is designed to hold three people but it is a tight fit — typical for a three-row crossover. However, there is a surprising amount of legroom for third-row passengers and more cupholders for drinks and storage, as well as available USB outlets to keep handheld devices operational. Access to the third row is relatively easy with a low step-in height, a wide opening and a second row that easily folds and slides forward.
Even with all rows in place, the 2020 Subaru Ascent has a reasonable amount of cargo space — enough for grocery bags, luggage or other items. The third row can easily fold flat to create considerably more room for gear. (A favorite feature is the storage space beneath the floor for the cargo cover.) The liftgate is power operated for convenience; unfortunately there’s no way to open or close it manually, which would be handy when trying to shut it on a tightly packed rear cargo area.
Under the Hood
A 2.4-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder Boxer engine powers the Ascent, producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque is available at a low 2000 rpm, giving the Ascent a spritely feel. The engine gets teamed with a high-torque Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The CVT has an 8-speed manual mode that can be actuated by paddle shifters on the steering column.
According to the U.S. EPA, the 2020 Subaru Ascent has fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city / 26 mpg hwy / 22 mpg combined. We put several hundred miles on the Ascent and saw 23 mpg on the readout in a mix of city and high-speed highway driving. Given the performance and size of this largest Subaru, the numbers seem relatively on target.
As with every Subaru (excepting the sporty BRZ), the Ascent has standard full-time all-wheel drive as well as active-torque vectoring for improved handling in slick conditions. The Ascent also gets X-Mode, which can lock the variable transfer clutch for better traction in difficult off-pavement conditions. With 8.7-inches of ground clearance, the Ascent becomes a capable companion when the pavement ends or snow begins.
All Subaru Ascents come with the brand’s innovative suite of advanced driver-assist features called EyeSight. This camera-based system includes automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, as well as pre-collision throttle management. These accident avoidance features help the Ascent earn the designation of Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
On the Road
A bit surprised when Subaru introduced the Ascent without V6 power, we quickly discovered the new turbocharged powerplant to be fully capable of moving this 3-row SUV. The Ascent feels quick off the line, and passing on two-lane roads is a breeze — full throttle results in a simulated downshift of the CVT, which gets the vehicle moving around slow traffic quickly and safely.
Cruising down a long highway at 80 mph is no problem for Ascent, which feels smooth, stable and comfortable; even at high speeds the cabin remains quiet. On several occasions we checked the speedometer only to discover the SUV traveling much faster than intended. Much of this drive also took place in the pouring rain, but Ascent remains cool and collected on wet roads, even when passing through standing water at highway speeds.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Subaru’s adaptive cruise control works well, matching the speed of the vehicle ahead, then quickly returning to its original speed when the lane is clear. Unfortunately the system beeps every time it registers a vehicle ahead, then beeps again when the vehicle is no longer in Ascent’s path — which becomes annoying on a long road trip.
Parts of the Washington coast are considered state highways, so driving on the beach is legal in specific areas. The 2020 Subaru Ascent easily cruised down stretches of coastline in the soft — and often wet — sand, and looked right at home on beaches of the Pacific Northwest.
The Ascent became a welcome addition to the Subaru lineup when it arrived for the 2019 model year, bringing a stylish new look and a comfortable, spacious interior. With a solid new platform, a powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive traction, the Ascent is also a great vehicle to drive no matter what the road — or beach — conditions may present. For everyday family duties or heading out on a road trip, the Ascent is a terrific option in a very crowded crossover segment, and certainly worthy of consideration.