I have to start out by admitting I haven’t been much of a fan of Subaru for the last few years. Every Subaru vehicle I’ve driven has been woefully underpowered and had rough edges on the finish and drive experience. One of my most recent drives almost got me into an accident when I misjudged its ability to merge into traffic due to its sluggish acceleration from a stop. When I had a chance to drive the new 2019 Subaru Ascent, I assented but with some reservations. Was this going to be another car that left me baffled why so many owners are passionate about the brand?
The good news is that the 2019 Subaru Ascent AWD Touring Edition is a terrific 7-passenger SUV and has indeed restored my faith in the brand. I had a week of driving a Crystal White Pearl Ascent throughout Colorado and it performed admirably.
As one of my Subaru-loving friends also eloquently phrased it, “[The Ascent] looks like a Subaru after hitting the gym”:
As you can see, the Ascent has those classic Subaru lines, but bigger, as you’d expect for a vehicle with a third row of seats. Starting out as a brand that focused on affordability and off-road capabilities, Subaru has also managed to add a lot of luxury features and comforts to the Touring model, including heated premium leather seats, a terrific sound system and lots of vehicular smarts and tech.
Let’s start the tour with a view in the back hatch, however:
In this view, the third row seats are folded down, offering up a lot of cargo space as Subaru owners have grown to expect. Close inspection of the folded-down seats reveals that the third row bench is a 60/40 split, something I really like for the added flexibility of dealing with long cargo (like skis) while still having that extra seating spot. That’s important because with the second row seats being two captain’s seats due to the Touring package it’s a trade-off of comfort over a bench that would offer a third passenger somewhere to sit without climbing awkwardingly into the back row. For some families, a four seater with space between the middle passengers is going to be a huge win, but for others this is a curious configuration, 2 + 2 + 3 (the available 8-seat configuration means you can opt for the middle row to be a bench if you prefer).
You can’t see it too clearly in the above photo, but there are also four – count ’em, four – cup holders accessible to the third row passengers, two on each side. In fact, Subaru boasts that there are 19 cup holders, including driver and passenger door spaces. Let’s do the math here; if you have a 7 passenger configuration, even with two beverages each you’ve still got plenty of cup holders to spare. So what do you put in ’em? The very back on the right side also includes two USB charging ports and a convenient slot adjacent for your smartphone while it’s charging. Small, but appreciated touches for modern youngsters.
Moving a bit further into the cab area, there’s a very nice control console for the second row passengers:
That’s a lot of controls, and the inclusion of USB charging ports and a 120V plug are sure to be much used by most families. Heck, I used it to charge my computer en-route to meetings too.
Finally, the front seat and main dashboard of the Ascent Touring edition:
A straightforward control layout that was easy and comfortable to use. Notice in particular the small additional multi-function monitor screen on the top of the dash. I didn’t find it particularly useful, but it does let you peek at the view in front of your vehicle if you’re fitting into a tight space or worried about the edge of a curb or similar. It can also display various status info, entertainment updates or directional data if you’re using the navigational features.
Speaking of which, the entertainment system was really solid with no weird user interface oddities. That’s rare, in my experience, and at times I suspect that the nav system designers don’t actually use their own devices to drive around. Subaru nailed it with the Starlink nav system with its bright 8-inch screen. I took a shot at night so you can see what’s perhaps the most notable feature:
This is the APPS view and I’m also showing the buttons on the dash related to the system. Subaru includes both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. So nice to know that a vehicle is platform agnostic when it comes to the favorite smartphone brand of its drivers. I do which, however, that wireless CarPlay was supported too, but last I heard, only BMW had that particular feature implemented.
Having said all of these positive things, let’s turn toward something that Subaru did wrong: Adaptive Cruise Control. It’s all accessed by the controls on the right side of the steering wheel:
First off, props for adaptive cruise control at all; dumb cruise control is just that, dumb, and it’s about time all car manufacturers ensured that the only option was adaptive across their entire vehicle lineup. But the Subaru implementation does some things I haven’t experienced in any other car, including requiring you to enable cruise control every single time you start the car. It doesn’t automatically understand the “set speed” gesture (middle button on the right pushed down), and then the faster and slower switches were in 5mph increments. Most bizarre. So if I set cruise control for 58mph, a single up-click would move me to 60mph, then a single down-click would move me back to 55mph. Weird. Why not just increment and decrement by 1mph like every other car on the road?
There’s also a user interface mistake on the controls too, with the preferred following distance setting for adaptive cruise control split onto two buttons, one above and one below the middle control area. Most vehicles just have a single button that lets you increase, increase, drop back to minimal distance, increase, increase, etc, in a loop. Easy, and one less button. Instead, it took me a while to realize that the second button was part of the control and I had a really huge following distance for a while.
Speaking of the dash, here’s the main gauge display:
Can the Ascent Touring really go up to 150mph? I didn’t try it to find out, but it’s a powerful drive so it’s undoubtedly going to be able to drive the speed limit – and above – anywhere in the United States. But also look at the fuel efficiency display too: 20.6 mpg. EPA ratings are 20/26 for a combined 22mpg, but even with a fair amount of highway driving, I wasn’t getting that level. 20.6 is not very impressive and given that Subaru has always had a reputation as a fuel efficient vehicle line, this was even more disappointing.
Still, if you need the space for 7 or 8 passengers or want to have your crew riding in style while enjoying all the features that make Subaru a popular car brand, the Ascent Touring might well be a solid choice. It really does have some nice lines:
No question, there were some quirks to the vehicle that would bug me long term, most notably the frustrating adaptive cruise control, but the positives far, far outweigh these quirks. The 2019 Ascent with its zillion upgrades for the Touring edition really is one of the best vehicles I’ve ever driven from Subaru and stands as a solid option for people looking for an SUV that’s actually able to handle bad weather and rough terrains in comfort. It has a fairly hefty price tag for a Subaru too, as reflecting all the luxury amenities and features, but with companies like Lamborghini entering the SUV marketplace (weird but true), the price is still accessible to most families. All in all, the Ascent Touring has really brought me back around to being a fan of Subaru. Well done!
AS DRIVEN: 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring AWD in Crystal White Pearl. 2.4 L turbocharged engine and high-torque lineartronic CVT transmission. Maximum towing capacity: 5000 pounds. Touring package includes 20-inch alloy wheels, panoramic dual glass moonroof, power rear gate, rear door window sunshades, and premium audio system. Base Price: $31,995. As Driven: $45,670.00.
Disclosure: Subaru loaned me this vehicle for a week so I could experience it and write about here on my site. Thanks, Subaru!