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ROAD TEST: 2019 Subaru Ascent Premier’s engine ‘smooth, punchy’


The 2019 Subaru Ascent is powered by a 260-horsepower, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is powered by a 260-horsepower, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine. - Justin Pritchard

Other than their offices and factories, the all-new Ascent is the biggest thing Subaru builds.

This new crossover recently joined the brand’s lineup for a simple reason: to give loyal shoppers a place to go, once they’ve outgrown their Outback or Forester.

Normally, this meant waving goodbye to the Subaru brand, and heading off to buy an Acadia, Explorer or Pilot.

Now, with the massive Ascent on the scene, Subaru fans have a three-row, eight-seat option that doesn’t require switching to another brand.

Ascent is longer than Highlander or Pilot. There’s more cargo room than CX-9. And with nearly 20 cup holders and eight USB charging ports and the gigantic size of this thing, you practically hear the “Canyonero“ theme song from the Simpsons playing in your head whenever you look at it.

Like all crossovers, Ascent has some strengths and weaknesses worth understanding to help determine where it should sit on your test-drive hit-list if you’re in the market.

The most notable strength is the size. Ascent’s big body enables big door openings, which make for easy boarding and exiting. This is aided by the thin rocker panels, and a relatively low ride height.

Just slide sideways, step over the thin rockers, and you’re in. You could get in and out of the Ascent 324 times a day without any fuss.

Those sitting in the first or second rows can expect more than ample space to kick back and relax. Behind that, a great big cargo hold is wide and deep and square, even if the load-in height is a little on the tall side. Four-person trip to the cottage for a week? You’ve got all the room you need.

Third-row seats flip up when needed, and as an average-sized human adult, your writer can report that they’re easy to get to without much fuss, thanks to a wide walk-through path enabled by tipping and sliding the middle-row captains chairs ahead. I can also report that while I could physically sit in these seats, they are best left for the kids.

Or, fold all seats down, and you basically turn the Ascent into a mini cargo van. I loaded in multiple 80-inch-long Ikea bookcases (packaged, unassembled), without issue.

Ascent also nails the ride quality equation, and I’d bet a considerable sum that you’d have trouble finding a difference in ride comfort between the Ascent, and glitzy posh-ute at twice the price.

Most commonly, it’s comfortable, smooth, relaxed, upset by virtually no surface, and very, very quiet. If you want your great big crossover to be a great big and very quiet rolling social lounge, you’re nicely covered off.

Just note, the 20-inch wheels can result in elevated noise and harshness levels on some surfaces: that’s par for the course, but it’s very nicely managed here.

The powertrain is another asset. The new 2.4-litre flat four turbo engine serves up 260 horsepower and plenty of low-end torque. It’s sufficiently responsive from low enough revs that it never makes much of a sound. If you’re a light-footed driver who loves a smooth engine you won’t often hear from, you’ll like this.

Give it the beans, and the turbo four proves surprisingly punchy, generating a pleasing shove into your seat and steaming along with authority (and that signature Subaru boxer engine growl). The top-mounted intercooler is force-fed cool outside air to chill the boost, and the engine runs like an absolute top at 25 below.

Ascent’s AWD system is as expected: there’s minimal wasted wheelspin and nothing required of the driver. Take off on a slippery hill, accelerate in deep snow, throttle through a corner, doesn’t matter: whatever you throw its way, the system just sorts it all out, expertly processing the surface beneath to keep you moving. Best, Ascent always seems to know where traction is, and is not, and makes excellent use of it.

Shuffling of power between the axles is precise and fast and virtually invisible. Just point the steering, press the throttle, and let the engineering sort it all out for you.

My tester was on winter tires, which made all of this work even better. Ditto the braking: stops came quick and straight, with minimal squirming or sliding, even in emergency situations on slippery surfaces.

Unsurprisingly, it feels like a beast in the snow. The worse the conditions you drive in, the more you can expect to feel liked you’re getting your money’s worth.

The EyeSight safety system is predictable and confidently consistent — adjusting your position in traffic via the cruise, alerting you if you’ve left your lane, and alerting you if you’re at risk of a rear-end collision. It’s high tech and very effective and becomes trustworthy in quick order.

Headlights are also noteworthy. Thanks to plenty of powerful white light cast far and wide, the performance is above-average. Finally, the interior design is nicely upscale, makes great use of rich materials and texture, and is mostly trimmed to make you feel like you’re sitting in something that reflects the price-tag. A clever slash bisects the dashboard on its horizontal plane, which looks cool but also doubles as a handy and wide storage nook.

Just note that the various display screens do let the modern cabin down a little and look like their graphics and colours could use an overhaul. If you’ve seen the touch screen interface in a recent comparable Ford, Dodge or Volkswagen, you’ll be a little disappointed with the appearance of the one in the Ascent.

Other gripes include an unwelcome whine from the CVT transmission during the first few minutes of a cold drive, until the fluid within heats up. Until it does (usually in two minutes or less), the transmission sounds like a busted power steering pump in an old pickup truck.

Further, steering feels a little too quick for the softness of the Ascent’s suspension. This means, at times, you’ll work a little harder to steer at speed, without making Ascent feel like you’ve startled it.

Ultimately, if you want to tackle nasty winter driving conditions with absolute confidence, and be very comfortable, safe, and surrounded by a boatload of room while you’re doing it, this machine needs to be on your radar.

Despite a few minor gripes, Ascent simply feels and performs admirably, in virtually all of the areas that matter to shoppers in this segment.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Ascent
  • Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, 260 horsepower
  • Drivetrain: Symmetrical AWD
  • Transmission: continually variable transmission (CVT)
  • Features: Blind-spot monitoring, heated leather, rear camera mirror, navigation, automatic lights, power tailgate Harman Kardon audio system, EyeSight safety system, heated steering wheel
  • What’s hot: very big, very comfortable, unfailingly good AWD system, smooth and punchy engine, huge on flexibility, mostly-lovely cabin
  • What’s not: Transmission noise when cold, steering is a little too quick
  • Starting price (Ascent Convenience): $36,000
  • As tested (Ascent Premier): $50,000

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