We tested the 2020 Subaru Ascent and found it was great all around and best in one area we didn’t expect.
What is it?
The Subaru Ascent is a three-row crossover from Subaru capable of carrying seven or eight passengers. It is Subaru’s largest vehicle and it has now just entered its third model year. The new Ascent checks off all the right boxes for those families looking for a well-rounded full-sized crossover.
Pricing and trims
There are four trims of the Subaru Ascent. The Base Ascent starts around $33K. There also Premium, Limited, and Touring Trims. The most expensive Ascent Touring we could configure cost $46K including destination. Our test vehicle was the trim we think many families will opt for, the Premium. Our tester had the “7-passenger Sporty” Package and an as-tested total price of $39,665. This much vehicle is an awfully good value at under $40K.
The Ascent earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating. There is no higher safety rating than that in the U.S. market. The testing by IIHS implies that the Limited and Touring trims have better headlights than the Base and Premium trims. However, we looked closely at the ratings and found it was a lack of glare that made the top two trims better, not really the performance of the lights from the driver’s viewpoint. The bottom two trims were found to have excessive glare visible to oncoming drivers.
Our Premium trim Ascent had every driver aid expected. We did note that the lane departure warning is annoying. It cannot be shut off without illuminating a yellow warning icon. It also then flashes a warning occasionally to remind you it is off. When left on, it constantly provides false warnings in rural or urban locations where moving aside for walkers, joggers, bikers, and road obstructions is constantly required. The upshot is that you tune it out, rendering it useless. A haptic/tactile feedback system (vibration in the wheel or seat) that could be turned off, or adjusted for sensitivity would have been much better. We didn’t note any false positive alarms from the forward collision prevention system.
Subaru’s Ascent uses a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The engine produces 260 hp, but more importantly, a very strong 277 lb-ft of torque from a low 2,000 RPMs. In normal driving, the Ascent pulls strongly and feels like a premium vehicle. It compares well to the Volvo XC90 and the Mazda CX-9, both of which also use boosted engines. After a week of testing, we still were not sure about the constantly-variable transmission (CVT). In general, this tester prefers CVTs in family vehicles. However, the programmed “shift” sensations feel a bit abrupt when the vehicle is driven assertively. There is also a bit of rubber-banding in normal driving. The engine uses regular unleaded, and we found the EPA Combined 23 MPG estimate to be spot-on.
Ride and handling
The ride quality of the Ascent Premium is its best feature, particularly when compared to its peers. Over broken roads and potholes the Ascent is supremely smooth. The cabin isolation from road imperfections is the best in any vehicle, of any price, we have recently tested. It is dramatically better than some expensive European crossovers we have tested this past month. Maybe we should not be surprised by this, but it was something every adult passenger we carried mentioned, and it was the first thing we noticed ourselves. This comfort comes at no expense in handling sharpness. The Ascent is rewarding to drive in all situations.
Seating & Interior
Inside, the Ascent is spacious and roomy in every respect. The Ascent has the same interior passenger volume as the popular Honda Pilot (153 cubic feet). The seats of our Premium trim Ascent were cozy cloth, which we loved. We wish there had been adjustable lumbar support and a bit more thigh length to the seats, but a great price tag comes with realistic limitations.
One interior design choice we were not overjoyed by was the shelf across the middle of the Ascent’s dash. That space is all hard slippery plastic and too shallow for things like a passenger’s smartphone. The small hood atop the infotainment display also seemed vestigial. It showed only characterized info that would have fit easily into the infotainment or gauge area. Our Ascent Premium tester did not have a heated steering wheel but did have a huge panoramic moonroof that negates carrying a roof-top soft cargo bag between the roof rails. If only buyers could pick and choose such features.
Our seven-passenger Ascent Premium was outfitted with two second-row captains chairs. We love this setup, since it still has three more seats in the way back for occasional passengers. We transported third-row passengers from ages 17 to 77 and none had any access or comfort complaints. One rear seat passenger was six-foot-four inches tall. The space between the second-row chairs is useful for real-world items like purses and gym bags. It also helped a lot with loading and unloading the third-row passengers. Subaru did a great job with packaging in the Ascent. The alternative seating offered on this model is three seats in both the middle and third row (which adds up to eight seats total).
The cargo volume of the Ascent is 17.8 cubic feet with both rear rows up. That is about as much as a typical compact/midsized sedan trunk. The cargo volume is a generous 86.5 cubic feet with both rows stowed. This volume of storage is a smidge more than the Honda Pilot offers. The spare tire is up under the rear floor. In our testing, the Ascent was real-world user-friendly. The cargo space with all the seats up is very generous, but not so big that your items roll four feet in turns. The privacy glass meant we could use the inside of the second and third row for storage in most situations without worry about smash and grabs.
Infotainment and controls
The infotainment system of the Ascent Premium is good all around. The controls are simple to operate and easy to learn. The touch-screen is hassle-free and the steering wheel controls do everything you will normally need. We used Android Auto with the Ascent and found it worked perfectly. We also used the native navigation Subaru included (not sure why) and found it to also be very good in city use. The audio is on par with other vehicles at this price point. The main screen could be larger, and it could tilt slightly in the direction of the driver. Small improvements could make this system equal to the best in the class. Bear in mind we tested a lower trim level.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent gives shoppers who would otherwise default to a Highlander or Pilot a great third option. If you are already a Subaru fan, this is the slam dunk choice if you need a vehicle larger than a Forester. The Ascent is perfectly-sized for the segment and makes no mistakes. The excellent ride comfort is well worth considering if you live in an area with bad roads. We give the Subaru Ascent two thumbs up and appreciate that Subaru provided us with an affordable Premium trim that many families will opt for to test and review.
Note: Some images show different trims than that tested.