2020 Subaru Ascent review: Winter-weather warrior
The Subaru Ascent's sole update for 2020 is the addition of a rear-seat reminder system. Otherwise, this three-row SUV enters its second model year unchanged. We've already given this thing a thorough examination over the course of a year with our long-term tester, and after every ride we walked away impressed. But there's always something new to glean from more time behind the wheel, and driving through majorly schizophrenic February weather has given me more reason to appreciate the Ascent.
Easy on the daily commute
Most of the time, the Ascent is about as inoffensive as a manila envelope. Its appearance isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I think it works well with the rest of the current Subaru lineup, and with my Touring-trim tester riding on 20-inch wheels, it looks a little more cohesive than lesser models.
The interior is a little more expressive, and this Ascent is positively loaded with cushy complements. The brown leather is soft, and it plays well with the matte-wood trim scattered across the cabin in small bits. Storage positively abounds, with large cubbies in the doors, a purse-sized opening in the center armrest, additional pockets on the dashboard and yet another hidey-hole just below the climate controls. Throw 19 cup holders into the mix, and the entire family will have no problem making sure stuff gets stored at least somewhat securely. Visibility is the tops, too, with lots of glass allowing me to check blind spots with ease. The third row is also super simple to fold up or down, requiring a single cord pull through the trunk, and it's just as easy to slide into, thanks to a dead-simple tilt-and-slide mechanism.
The Ascent might not lead the pack in capacities, but it's properly competitive. While the second row's space is competitive against cars such as the Hyundai Palisade and Chevy Traverse , the third row is a little tight for larger humans and its space falls behind the competition. Cargo space is decent, offering 17.8 cubic feet behind the third row or 47.5 cubes with those seats folded down.
The Large Adult Subaru's dry-road demeanor is equally vanilla, which should be perfect for most families shopping in this segment. Under the hood of every Ascent is a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four producing 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. The engine is more than happy to shove the Ascent around with impressive haste, enhanced in no small part by a (slightly annoying) throttle that likes to blast ahead with even the slightest hint of engagement. It'll get you up to speed on the highway, and then some, in no time flat for a mass-market family vehicle.
Connected to that four-pot is a continuously variable transmission, the sole cog-swapper available on most Subaru models these days. It's a completely fine thing, knocking off the occasional simulated gear shift under heavier throttle applications, working its way up and down the tachometer smoothly in less spirited situations. It's a great combination, although I think a Snow mode with muted throttle inputs would go a long way to improving the foul-weather drivability (more on that in a minute).
Fuel economy is a mixed bag. While the EPA rates the 2020 Ascent Touring at 20 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway, I was never able to achieve those numbers. Some of it's likely due to my local highways' 70-mph speed limits (and 80-mph flow of traffic), but most Roadshow employees had the same struggles with our old long-term Ascent.
In the snow
I'm the guy who reads the weather reports and memorizes the radar map before setting out on a long journey, but nothing could have prepared me for what I hit on my way home from the 2020 Chicago Auto Show earlier this month.
Somewhere between Jackson and Ann Arbor, Michigan, about two hours from home, the snow came. This wasn't some namby-pamby dusting, either. Full-on whiteout conditions appeared out of nowhere, catching dozens of drivers off guard as everyone slowed and crammed into a single line for safety's sake.
Despite all the momentum it carries, the Ascent is sure-footed in the snow. The car held its course easily, never wavering even as the snow began to accumulate on the road, obscuring lines and curves. My tester's standard LED headlights created an awful lot of bright reflections on the incoming snow, obscuring my visibility, but I doubt it would have been any better with halogens. I kept the seriously powerful front and rear defrosters on full and used intermittent blasts of wiper fluid to keep salt residue from further obscuring the road ahead. I never experienced icy buildup on the corners of the windshield, which has happened in other cars and can quickly become a safety issue.
While the Ascent handled the whiteout like it wasn't even there, later post-snowfall driving highlighted the SUV's average all-season tires. The stock set of Falken Ziex all-seasons are confident enough at higher speeds, but at lower speeds they combine with the touchy throttle to provide more wheelspin than I'd like. The Ascent's stability-control system lets you commit to a surprising amount of yaw, so I hope you learned how to countersteer. Any consumer who hasn't already stretched their budget on the Ascent should invest in a set of proper winter tires or at least replace the Falkens with better all-weather rubber from Continental or Michelin. Be prepared to pony up, though -- 20-inch tires do not come cheap.
Check the tech
The Subaru Ascent packs a powerful technological punch, hitting buyers with both safety and creature-comfort features that hold pace with the competition.
While base Ascents make do with a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, my Touring tester packs the upgraded 8-inch screen. The Starlink infotainment system doesn't have the latest graphics, but it's still plenty capable, with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto coming standard across the board. Navigation is available on higher trims, but I prefer smartphone mirroring to Subaru's built-in stuff. Wi-Fi connectivity is sin here, too.
Subaru has long touted its safety record, and its standard complement of butt-saving tech only highlights that further. Every single Ascent comes with EyeSight, which covers automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. This hands-on system works great, keeping the harsh movements to a minimum, but the lane-keep assist does try a little too hard to keep you in the absolute middle of the lane, which can get spooky when passing a truck that continues to drift ever closer to the dashed white lines. Thankfully, the systems are easy to turn off if you prefer to go it alone.
New for the 2020 model year is a rear-seat reminder system. It's a simple one, remembering whether or not the rear doors were opened prior to starting a journey, and offering up a reminder to check the rear seat at the end of a trip. It's annoying for me, because I'm of the "How could you ever forget about a living thing in the back seat?" mentality. But you know what? If it helps save even one life, it's worth the chime that comes when the ignition is turned off.
How I'd spec it
The 2020 Subaru Ascent Touring has everything I could possibly want in a three-row family SUV, but all that kit comes at a price -- this top-trim tourer has a window sticker of $46,055 after accounting for the $1,010 destination charge.
Personally, I'd opt for the penultimate Ascent Limited trim, which starts at a far more palatable $39,345. If you want the larger screen and some extra creature comforts, a $2,950 Tech Package adds the 8-inch display, in addition to better audio and a panoramic moonroof. That brings the price down to $43,305 after destination -- a little better, especially if you can live without the ventilated seats and wood trim.
Down to brass tacks
The Ascent is pretty evenly priced against its biggest competitors. The Chevy Traverse offers more space, but its interior quality is the pits (a GM issue in general). The Honda Pilot is perhaps a bit more fashionable, and it offers rear-seat entertainment while the Ascent does not, nor does the Pilot mandate a CVT. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are hot new contenders that ramp things up in the style department, but both of those new three-rows can get expensive in a hurry. Suffice it to say, comparison shopping in this segment might take some time.
But if you do opt for the Ascent, I don't think you'll be let down. It drives well in all manner of weather conditions, there's plenty of space for families to store stuff and its standard safety tech should offer a whole lot of peace of mind.