2019 Subaru Ascent long-term update: Dashing through the snow

We're spending 12 months with a long-term Ascent, and one of its first big tasks was surviving the drive from Detroit to Albany. In a snowstorm.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read

There's nothing quite like prepping for a winter road trip while watching the forecast get more ominous as the departure date approaches. Sure enough, there was snow on the horizon when I departed Detroit, heading to my home in Albany, New York. It was the day after the close of the Detroit Auto Show , the event giving its swan song as a winter show before making the welcome shift to a balmier month in 2020. 

Andrew Krok on the team had earlier taken delivery of Subaru's new three-row SUV in Detroit, welcoming it to the long-term fleet with a quick trip down to Chicago and back. My journey, though, would be one-way, moving the car out to New York, where it'll spend the rest of the winter months. That meant a 10-hour, 650-mile introduction for me to  Subaru's biggest car ever. 

Roadshow's long-term 2019 Subaru Ascent is a big, comfy family-hauler

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Read the in-depth 2019 Subaru Ascent review

Cargo space is often at a premium when road tripping, but the Ascent's 47.5 cubic feet with the third row of seats folded was hardly troubled by my single carry-on. So, I made use of the handy straps for pulling the third-row seatbacks upright, just to keep my roller from sliding around too much during the drive. Subaru's seatback mechanism isn't quite as posh as the powered seats in the back of our now-departed Discovery long-termer, but it's far quicker.

Likewise, I quickly got the power driver's seat positioned where I wanted it and, thanks to the Android Auto compatibility, my phone was up and streaming the Ursula K. Le Guin novel I'd downloaded just a few moments later. Next was navigation. I turned to the integrated system first, but found it so clumsy-looking and -feeling that I gave up and tapped the "Go Home" button in Google Maps before slotting the CVT into Drive. 

Pulling into traffic for the first time, I was surprised by the clumsy throttle feel. It had a surprisingly abrupt tip-in that saw the car lurching forward with just the lightest of pressure on the accelerator. I wondered whether I was being a little lead-footed, but Krok noted the same issue in his testing. I've since gotten used to it, but this is a curious way to tune a family hauler. Suffice to say if you take an Ascent home, you'll want to hit your kids with an extra dose of Dramamine for the first few school runs.

2019 Subaru Ascent

Third-row seatbacks are easy to flop up or down thanks to the straps on either side. 

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

On the highway, though, the Ascent is a cruising dream. While the big SUV's handling is competent enough to be reassuring when the road does turn, more important is how well the suspension handled the many concrete separation joints and asphalt imperfections on I-90. At no point did I find the ride to be fatiguing. And, with EyeSight watching the road ahead, the car maintained a safe speed and distance when I encountered a dose of traffic outside Cleveland, all without my having to touch the brakes.

The adaptive cruise control even stayed enabled after I drove through a snow squall, when about an inch of ice and snow had built up on the front of the car. Many purely radar-based adaptive assist systems will shut down as soon as their sensors are covered, as I learned with our long-term Nissan Leaf. So long as the Ascent could see the road ahead, the cruise kept cruising. 

That said, I have found EyeSight to be somewhat less comprehensive than ProPilot Assist when it comes to lane keeping. While Nissan's system does a great job of keeping the car centered, Subaru's system engages later, resulting in you ping-ponging back and forth if left to its own devices. EyeSight also has a tendency to wander a bit when facing exit lanes and merging. 

Together, the Ascent and I managed 10 hours of I-90 doldrums without issue, beating the worst of the snowstorm home while delivering a respectable 25.3 miles per gallon -- just short of its rated 26 mpg on the highway. With 480 miles of remaining range showing on the clock after every fill-up, I usually needed to stop to fuel myself long before the car did. The most pleasant surprise at the end of the trip? I didn't hate that CVT attached to the 2.4-liter turbo -- which, by the way, doesn't require premium fuel. 

Next time I'll give some impressions of what the thing is like to live with day to day, including how my dogs are getting on back in the third row. I'll also recount what a beautiful luxury the MySubaru app is, enabling me to warm up the car in the airport parking lot before I even get off the plane.