Rising Above the Outback
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | January 2018
A new 3-row crossover from Subaru debuted at the LA Auto Show, which will bring the brand back into one of the hottest segments in the market. The Ascent won’t hit showrooms until next year, but it should help the brand extend its reach in the U.S., and sustain its momentum.
What is this vehicle?
The 2019 Ascent marks Subaru’s return to the 3-row SUV game for the first time since 2014, when the Tribeca left the market. While the Tribeca was smaller and more upscale than most of its competitors—telegraphed by its swanky Manhattan neighborhood namesake—the Ascent is a more conventional approach.
It’s dimensionally similar to the larger competitors in the mid-size segment, like the Ford Explorer, so it has one of the most spacious interiors in the class, and can carry up to 8 people up the mountain.
Who is this vehicle for?
Big families and carpoolers can finally check out Subaru, and the brand can retain even more of its fierce loyalists who might have looked elsewhere when the Outback no longer met their needs.
Subarus are highly popular in the Pacific Northwest and mountainous regions like Colorado, since the brand has been built on its all-wheel drive heritage. This expansion into one of the hottest segments in the industry is likely to broaden that appeal further, especially given Subaru’s reputation for high quality.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
The Ascent will let you enjoy Subaru’s quality and the unique aspects of its brand—covered below—in a brand new type of vehicle. Not only can it fit 8 passengers and a remarkable array of cargo, it can also tow up to 5,000 lbs, the highest rating Subaru has ever achieved.
Interesting facts about Subaru!
- Subaru has the highest loyalty in the business for a car brand.
- For 15 years—from 1997 to 2011—Subaru offered nothing but AWD vehicles in the U.S. market. Currently the only car breaking the mold is the rear-wheel drive BRZ sports car.
- Subaru includes its Symmetrical AWD badge on all these vehicles, but few shoppers actually know what it means: while most other vehicles use transverse engine setups, Subaru’s is longitudinal (the crankshaft runs front-to-back, notside-to-side) so it’s able to distribute the weight of the system equally across the vehicle, offering better traction management. Subaru says it also has fuel economy benefits.
- Every Subaru has a Boxer engine, also known as “horizontally opposed,” meaning its cylinders are arranged in an H pattern, rather than a single row or V as on most other engines. It allows the engine’s weight to be set lower in the vehicle for better handling. The only other brand to use this layout consistently is Porsche.
What Excites Us / Top Likes:
1 – It’s equipped with a torquey but efficient four-cylinder turbo engine, and along with its continuously variable transmission this should make for some solid fuel economy numbers. While horsepower, at 260, is up only slightly from the Tribeca’s six-cylinder engine, torque goes up by 30 lb-ft to 277, which gives it an advantage over every V-6 in the segment, aside from the Explorer’s turbo V-6. As for the rest of the turbo fours, it only falls short of the Mazda CX-9’s, which has significantly less power (227 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque).
2 – The Ascent’s carrying capacity is its trump card, with 153 cu. ft. of interior space, just under that of the new VW Atlas and close to the segment-best Chevy Traverse. It combines this with the ability to up to 5,000 lbs. of equipment, meaning you can bring along ATVs, a boat or even a decent-sized Airstream.
The rear doors also open up nice and wide, so getting in and out is easier. And Subaru was definitely thinking about the 3rd-row passengers when they included airline-inspired grab handles on the 2nd-row seats help with the exit. Making it easier for use is what it’s all about!
3 – It has a decent list of standard features, including 3-zone climate control, a STARLINK multimedia 6.5” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and even 19 cup and bottle holders…19!!! And you can get an 8” screen by upgrading from the base model to a Premium, Limited or Touring trim, including a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and up to 8 USB ports.
4 – Also standard is Subaru’s EyeSight advanced safety system, which includes forward automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and even a head-up display. The Ascent also has the option of a reverse auto braking system.
Its other available safety baubles include Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Automatic Collision Notification and steerable headlights.
5 – It’ll be made in America, at Subaru’s plant in Lafayette, IN.
Items to make better (Least Favorite things):
1 – The Ascent seems to lack a feature that is getting much more common in 3-row SUVs these days, which is a boon to families with child car seats: a tilt-slide 2nd-row seat. Pioneered on the Nissan Pathfinder, the right side 2nd-row seat can slide forward even without removing an empty child seat. With this capability, there’s no need to switch to 2nd-row captain’s chairs—and give up a seat—for easy 3rd-row access. This feature is getting more common on new entries to the segment, with Chevy, GMC and Volkswagen including it on their new 3-row crossovers.
2 – Subaru touts the Ascent’s 360-degree visibility, but it’s achieved via separate (and optional) camera systems that don’t integrate images together. Several other entries now have systems offering a bird’s eye view of the vehicle that makes parking these behemoths a much easier task.
For full specifications and equipment go to:
For a thorough review of the new vehicle, check out our YouTube video featuring Dominick Infante from Subaru Product Communications.
Segment and Competitors:
The other available 3-row crossovers are:
- Ford Explorer
- Toyota Highlander
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- Chevrolet Traverse
- Honda Pilot
- GMC Acadia
- Kia Sorento
- Nissan Pathfinder
- Dodge Durango
- Buick Enclave
- Volkswagen Atlas
- Mazda CX-9
Pricing and Availability
The Ascent will go on sale in early Summer as a 2019 model. Subaru has yet to reveal pricing, but has said that it will start in the “low $30,000s,” which would put it in line with the rest of the segment.