It’s the biggest Subaru sold today. The three-row Ascent SUV comes with all-wheel drive and enough seating to accommodate up to eight passengers. Powered by a torquey turbocharged 260-hp flat-flour engine bolted to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Ascent earned a 27 mpg rating on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test route. That’s marginally better than the last Mazda CX-9 and Kia Telluride we tested from this segment. The Ascent’s comfortable ride, massive touchscreen infotainment, and long list of standard safety features are admirable. But its significant road noise and a cramped third row keep the Ascent from, well, ascending to the top rank of the mid-size three-row SUV segment.
What’s New for 2023?
Subaru refreshes the three-row Ascent for 2023 with a new grille design, revised lighting elements, and improvements to its standard equipment. The 6.5-inch and optional 8.0-inch infotainment displays have been replaced by a vertically oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, and driver safety assistance such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist have been improved within Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite. The Ascent now offers an optional 360-degree camera, and a Cabin Connect interior speaker system to help communication between first- and third-row occupants. The Onyx Edition gains green interior stitching, a panoramic sunroof, and additional drive modes with hill-descent control.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We think the Premium model packs the best balance of desirable features and overall value. Every model has all four wheels spun via the same plucky turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain, but the base Ascent and the Premium have slightly better EPA fuel-economy ratings than the top two trims. Compared with the base model, the Premium gets standard upgrades that include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot. Those who want to ditch the second-row bench seat for a pair of captain’s chairs will need the 7-Passenger Convenience package, which isn’t offered on the bottom-rung Ascent. We’d choose that option on our Subie, since it also adds hands-free passive entry, a power-operated rear gate, and rear automated emergency braking.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
With the company’s trademark all-wheel-drive system, the Ascent is well suited for four-season family road trips. Its 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder powertrain delivers middling acceleration—a 6.7-second 60-mph time—and can be noisy under harshness, but it’ll pull a camper trailer or speedboat. While the Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) contributed to a sometimes-noisy ride during our testing. The gearless gearbox was otherwise receptive and steady. Paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel are there for those who want more control over the transmission. It took some getting used to the Ascent’s throttle response, which was particularly abrupt at low speeds around town. Meanwhile, the Subaru has a comfortable ride; though our test vehicle wore 20-inch wheels it did a good job of isolating us from bumpy roads and soaked up harsh impacts. Unfortunately, we noticed a lot of wind and road noise while cruising on the highway. While the Subaru lacks the fun-to-drive nature found in the Mazda CX-9the sizable three-row was nicely composed in normal driving. Its light and accurate steering responded to quick maneuvers and felt relaxed at higher speeds. The brake pedal on our test vehicle was firm and progressive, with no play or touchy feedback.
Towing and Payload Capacity
Every Subaru Ascent has a 5000-pound towing capacity. During our 40,000-mile long-term test with one, we put this capacity to the test by hauling an assortment of toys such as snowmobiles and even an Airstream camper. During these hauls, the fuel economy of the Ascent often dropped to single digits.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The Ascent is expected to earn 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those who select the top-tier Limited and Touring models will lose 1 mpg in both categories. Still, the Ascent has above-average EPA estimates and confirmed the latter in our 200-mile real-world test. The top-of-the-line Ascent Limited earned 26 mpg on our route, matching its EPA highway rating. However, rivals such as the Chevy Traverse and Honda Pilot proved to be even more efficient despite having lower government ratings. For more information about the Ascent’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Ascent’s interior has all the hallmarks of a large crossover, with a raised driving position and versatile seating configurations. While the cabin accommodates a crowd, its third-row passenger space trails larger, roomier alternatives such as the volkswagen atlas. Too bad only the top two models are available with desirable features such as heated rear seats, a memory driver’s seat, power-adjustable passenger seat, and leather-trimmed upholstery. The Ascent can pack up to eight people inside, but in our testing it only held five carry-on bags behind the third row. While that was one less than we fit in the Traverse, the Subaru also had less interior cubby storage than most rivals. Still, it remains a capable travel companion with some clever cargo solutions. These include Velcro straps in the cargo area to hold up the load floor if you need the added room. Our test vehicle had the optional second-row captain’s chairs that use multiple levers for adjustments and will fold nearly flat.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Subaru infotainment system lacks the customization settings and intuitive controls found on premier competitors. Still, it has features that consumers love, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The standard 11.6-inch touchscreen has large onscreen icons that are easy to see and respond to your inputs quickly. While touch-only means there are more opportunities for driver distraction, the screen’s position and large icons mitigate this issue.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Subaru doesn’t save the best safety and driver assist technology for the top trims, either. Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite is standard on every Ascent. For more information about the Ascent’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Subaru’s warranty coverage is thoroughly average and fails to offer the complimentary scheduled maintenance that some competitors do.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $42,920 (base price: $36,630)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve flat-4, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 146 cu in, 2387 cc
Power: 260 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 277 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shifting mode
Suspension (F/R): control arms/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 13.1-in vented disc/13.0-in vented disc
Tires: Falken Ziex ZE001 A/S, 245/50R-20 102H M+S
Wheel base: 113.8 in
Length: 196.8 in
Width: 76.0 in Height: 71.6 in
Passenger volume: 148 cu ft
Cargo volume: 18 cu ft
Curb weight: 4600 lbs.
CD TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.9 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 19.4 sec
Zero to 120 mph: 33.8 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.1 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.5 sec @ 91 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 178 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.79g
CD FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 20 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 22/20/26 mpg
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