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2019 Subaru Ascent first drive review: Finally, a proper 3-row SUV

Subaru loads its newest model with tons of features, safety tech and… 19 cupholders.

2019 Subaru Ascent

Read the in-depth 2019 Subaru Ascent review

You might remember the Tribeca, Subaru's first stab at a three-row crossover SUV. New for the 2006 model year, it stumbled out of the gates with its controversial looks, soldiering on as a slow seller until being axed in 2014. An uncharacteristic one-and-done dud for Subaru, few people lamented the model's demise.

Of course, from failures often come grand successes, and with America's midsize SUV market once again a hot commodity, Subaru is reinvesting in the segment in a big way with this all-new 2019 Ascent. Think of the Ascent as a plumped-up Outback with more traditional SUV looks, room for eight, and no trace of the Tribeca in sight.

I was able to spend a day cruising the back roads of Oregon in the new Ascent in high-end Limited trim, and was immediately charmed by its comfortable driving demeanor and its wealth of family-friendly features.

All the elements needed

What kind of features? Up front are available heated and ventilated seats, a flip-down, wide-angle rearview cabin mirror, two USB ports and all kinds of little storage cubbies. The second-row captain's chairs also feature available heating, and there are two-USB ports and an optional 120V outlet. Like my test model, the captain's chairs can be swapped out with a bench seat, and Subaru says there's room for three child car seats across. The third row reclines for more comfort and has two available USB ports, with an accessory to add two more for a total of eight USB ports throughout.

Also peppered throughout the cabin is available three-zone climate control, and -- wait for it -- 19 cupholders. Nineteen. That's enough for 2.375 Diet Dr. Peppers per person, assuming eight are aboard with the second-row bench seat.

The third row is easy enough to climb into, thanks to a wide rear door opening and a lower step-in. However, my 5-foot, 9-inch frame doesn't fit unless the adjustable second row is pushed forward a few inches. There's plenty of room for most kids, but the Ascent won't make for ideal team transportation to your adult softball league's away games.

That's some serious soda storage, Subaru.


Instead, drop your kids off at school and head out on a Costco run, with 86 cubic feet of space accessible through a handy 47-inch-tall opening. That space bests much of the competition, including the Ford ExplorerKia SorentoMazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander, although it falls short of oversized rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse. The Ascent's load floor isn't perfectly flat, but it's close. Folding up the second row leaves 47.5 cubes for hauling gear, while behind the third row is 17.8 cubic feet. Subaru thoughtfully notes that you can fit a large dog crate behind that third row, because, hey, it wouldn't be a Subaru without a pup or two.

Interior design won't be winning any awards for innovation, but the materials are certainly better than we've seen from Subaru lately. Nothing rattled or vibrated during my short time with the vehicle and I found the driver's seat to be a comfy place to spend the day.

On the safety front, the Ascent is the first Subaru to feature EyeSight as standard equipment. This suite of driver's aids includes adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist, as well as a head-up display. A unique bit of tech is Lead Vehicle Start Alert, a kind of alert for inattentive drivers. When you find yourself distracted by your Little Darlings at a light and the car in front of you takes off without you noticing, the Ascent will sound a warning chime.

The Ascent kinda looks like an Outback that's put on a few pounds. 


Unfortunately, advanced driver assist tech like blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are not available on the base model. The Ascent has pretty good visibility, but I'm always more confident piloting a 16-and-a-half-foot vehicle through the city when it has blind-spot monitoring.

Available only on the top-of-the-line Touring trim is a 180-degree front-facing camera and a digital rearview camera, perfect for when the Ascent is packed to the gills with cargo, blocking the view out the back window.

Starlink tech

A 6.5-inch touchscreen running Subaru's Starlink infotainment is standard, and it features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I'd spend the extra coin and upgrade to the 8-inch system. With the aforementioned smartphone integration, there's really no need to get navigation, but the 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade is nice. The Subaru comes with a panoply of pre-installed apps like iHeartRadio, Yelp and Subaru's own eBird, crowdsourced bird-watching app. Only in a Subaru.

For the first time, you can get 4G LTE Wi-Fi in a Subaru. When parked, I used it to check my email while out combing the wilds of Oregon, and it provided reasonable download and upload speeds, and it'll likely be a sanity-saver when the kids want to stream Netflix on their tablets.

So, the Ascent's features and technology seem to be on point, but what about the drive? Subaru has answered the call of the wild here, as well, with a new 2.4-liter flat-four turbocharged engine, knocking out 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. For those keeping score, that's more torque -- but fewer ponies -- than the Honda PilotNissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Regardless of where it sits on the power spectrum, I found the boxer engine to have excellent acceleration, with plenty of midrange torque to perform lane changes and power out of turns. Naturally, it'll take a full load of kids and clutter to know for sure, but the Ascent seems to have plenty of power.

Getting that power down to the road through the standard all-wheel drive system is the latest version of Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. CVTs aren't my favorite, but this one does the job with minimal fuss or noise. You can even shift manually using the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters through eight predetermined ratios, if that's your thing. Even so, while competent, this SUV never feels particularly athletic or engaging, the way a Mazda CX-9 can. The Ascent drives just fine, with a steady brake feel and light-ish steering weight, but it's far from sporty. Folks will feel comfortable, safe and secure, not bold and brassy.

Heated and cooled front seats? Don't mind if I do.


The Ascent features a special X-Mode for when the driving goes to the dirt. This drive setting helps keep power delivery to more of a 50/50 split front to rear, and modulates the throttle so you don't bury yourself in soft sand. I've tried this feature on other Subarus, and it works well enough for light off-roading. With a tow rating of 5,000 pounds (the most-ever of any Subaru), the Ascent can get you and your toys to where the rough stuff begins, but maybe not where it ends.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent starts at $31,995 but a top Touring model will set you back $44,695. My Limited with optional navigation, panoramic roof and upgraded stereo rang up at $42,920, including destination.

Subaru has been missing out on the large SUV game for quite a while now, but it seems the delay will ultimately be beneficial. With its myriad features, the 2019 Ascent should be great for families, but its utility could also be useful for adventurous singletons or young couples. The Indiana-built Ascent hits dealerships this June.

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. 

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.