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Subaru Plays To Strengths With Ascent

December 15, 2018 GMT

Subaru’s all-new Ascent represents the brand’s first foray into the full-size sport-ute/crossover segment since the loveable-but-admittedly-oddball Tribeca folded its tent roughly five years ago. Pricey and not particularly roomy or fuel efficient, the Tribeca failed to build the sort of following enjoyed by the Japanese automaker’s other models. The Ascent aims to correct the situation, and a recent weeklong test drive strongly suggests it will appeal to the Subaru faithful. Rather than striking out in new or provocative directions, the 2019 Ascent aspires to bundle together the established strengths of the brand — no-nonsense design, all-weather friendly AWD, predicted reliability, excellent outward sightlines and a roomy interior — and simply offer more of it. There are four trim levels offered — Base, Premium, Limited and Touring — with prices starting just shy of 32 grand and rising more than $12,000 for Touring-equipped models. Given that the guts of all Ascents are the same — a turbocharged 2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder (or “boxer-four”) gas engine driving a standard AWD system via a continuously variable transmission (CVT for short) — the extra coin covers mainly additional creature comforts and safety-minded technology systems. On top of the Base model’s list of standard equipment, the Premium trim package adds heated side mirrors, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, upgraded cloth upholstery, upgraded media system with 8-inch infotainment touch-screen interface and voice controls, rear-seat climate controls, blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert sensors, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a 5,000-pound towing capacity (the most in Subaru’s history). Limited models up the ante (as well as price) with a set of 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, automatic high beams and LED fog lights, heated outboard second-row seats, third-row USB ports and more. Topping out the line is the Touring, which sports a laundry list of premium-level appointments, including upgraded leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, interior ambient illumination, frontward camera view, heated steering wheel, a 120-volt power outlet, a grand total of eight USB ports, additional exterior bling and a rearview mirror camera display. Our Touring test sample was thus a lovely thing — easy and entertaining to live with. Its $45,670 asking price made me wonder how many buyers will pop for all the extra frills and tech when lower trim levels offer essentially the same vehicle for thousands less. In any event, the newest addition to Subaru’s stable left me with the impression the company could have a hit on its hands. As mentioned, the Ascent offers more of just about everything that makes the brand so popular. Thanks to its open and airy cabin, expansive greenhouse and no-nonsense approach to instrumentation and controls, it comes off as a bigger and beefier version of the popular Forester wagon. The exterior design follows the conventional crossover style, albeit led by the brand-identifying front fascia and grille. The turbocharged boxer-four delivers power smoothly with little in the way of lag. The EPA estimates the Ascent will wring 22 miles out of a gallon of regular in combined driving, a figure that closely matched our own observations. Acceleration is brisk enough for the daily commute and highway mergers, but just that. Handling and steering response are precise, with the front and rear independent suspension system tuned to deliver both a quiet and well-controlled ride quality. There’s plenty of room up front and in the second-row captain’s chairs, the latter of which offer easy access to the split-folding third row. While roomier than the Tribeca, the third row is best left to the shorter set. The 18.5-cubic-foot cargo hold swells to 86.5 cubic feet with the third row folded flat. Instrumentation and controls are easy to read and operate, particularly the large and clearly marked infotainment interface. Again, the layout suggested a larger version of the Forester. Our tester’s dark gray color palette was complemented with faux wood accents that contrasted nicely with the saddle-brown leather upholstery and panel inserts. In all, it was a calming and comfy environment in which to get from points A to B. 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring Vehicle type: Four-door, seven-passenger sport utility vehicle Base/as-tested prices: $44,695/$45,670 Engine and transmission: 2.4-liter turbocharged horizontally opposed four-cylinder (260 horsepower, 277 foot-pounds torque); continuously variable transmission EPA estimates: 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined The good: Torquey and powerful turbo-four engine offers 5,000-pound towing capacity; reasonably quick and nimble for a three-row family ute; standard all-wheel drive system; spacious and comfortable cabin offers room for seven and commanding, unobstructed views of the world outside; smooth and quiet road manners; well equipped with the stuff you need even in lower trim levels; understated but handsome exterior design that has “Subaru” written all over it; loads of safety tech; generous cargo capacity. The bad: Price quickly rises when ascending (ahem) the trim levels; normal-sized drink containers rock back and forth in the Big Gulp-oriented cup holders. Bottom line: Subaru returns to the full-size SUV/crossover fray with an entry that plays to all the brand’s strengths.