2022 Subaru Ascent review: Maestro of mainstream
Three-row SUVs don't get much more middle of the road than the Subaru Ascent, which is as versatile as it is strait-laced.
Subarus are rarely the best in their segment. Competing vehicles tend to look nicer, offer more features and have better interiors. But damn if these practical Japanese cars and crossovers aren't always a bedrock-solid choice, easy recommendations thanks to standard all-wheel drive and exemplary crash-test scores. For drivers in need of a practical three-row SUV, the 2022 Ascent perfectly epitomizes the Subaru brand.
The Onyx Edition trim is new for 2022, falling right in the middle of the Ascent's five-trim lineup. Spicing things up, this variant comes with a variety of visual enhancements including a blacked-out grille, black window trim, black badges and black mirror caps. The vehicle rolls on 20-inch wheels that are treated to -- you guessed it -- a black finish. Inside, the carpeted floor mats feature special logos and there are black interior accents.
Onyx Edition Ascents come standard with LED head- and foglights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry with pushbutton start, plus a power liftgate and heated steering wheel. They also feature tri-zone climate control and USB ports in all three rows. And if you're really thirsty, 19 cup and bottle holders are included at no extra cost.
A no-frills affair
The Onyx Edition Ascent's interior is honest and utilitarian, but if you're a frill-seeker you'll want to look elsewhere. The dashboard design is rugged (if a bit busy), and attractively textured soft plastics are liberally employed throughout the cabin. Perforated materials and contrast-color stitching help keep things from looking too dour.
But not everything is praiseworthy. Some of the hardware buttons for the infotainment system feel low rent and there's a hodgepodge of chrome and painted-silver accents sprinkled throughout. Arguably, though, the worst part of the Onyx Edition's interior is the black plastic trim on the dashboard and doors. Glossy and embossed with a mesh texture, it looks bad and feels worse, making a "zizz-zizz" sound when you run your fingernails back and forth across it. This Ascent also comes standard with StarTex synthetic upholstery, which is water-repellent and dirt-resistant. It doesn't feel anywhere near as nice as quality leather, but it should be easy to clean and hold up to years of abuse, important considerations in a family hauler.
The entry-level Ascent features a 6.5-inch infotainment display, but all other versions come with an 8-inch touchscreen. Subaru's Starlink multimedia array won't win any beauty contests and it's certainly not the best system available today, but it's friendly to use and responsive enough. Embedded navigation is optional in the Onyx Edition, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the entire model range.
The Ascent gets high marks for passenger comfort. The front bucket seats are ergonomically friendly and there's plenty of space in the second-row captain's chairs, which adjust fore and aft and tip and slide for easy access to the third row. That aft-most bench is a little tight on headroom (though no worse than in rival vehicles), but it's still decently comfortable because the bottom cushion is a good height above the floor, so your knees aren't at chin level when sitting back there. I also love the little grab handles on the top of the second-row seatbacks. They make accessing the third row just a little easier.
The Onyx Edition is offered in a seven-passenger configuration, though the Ascent can seat up to eight people. When it's time to haul cargo, this vehicle serves up 17.8 cubic feet of space with the third-row seat up and 86.5 with both back rows folded, figures that are in lockstep with competing models.
Punching above its weight
Just one drivetrain is offered in the Ascent. Providing hustle is a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four that is both smooth and discreet. This engine cranks out a respectable if not astounding 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. These figures are right in line with the heat other three-row SUVs are packing these days. The Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander , for instance, both have a skosh more horsepower, but this big, bad Subie is endowed with a bit more twist. Unless you count the Dodge Durango, Ford's Explorer is about the only rival with a clear advantage, its available 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 handily outmuscling the competition, especially in ST trim.
The Ascent's engine is matched exclusively to a continuously variable transmission, one that provides eight simulated gears when shifted manually. This unit does an admirable job providing strong performance and good fuel economy. Thanks to abundant torque and favorable gearing, this SUV practically leaps off the line when you tap the accelerator. This gusto carries through to higher speeds, too. No, the Ascent isn't sports-car quick, but its performance is strong. I do wish, though, that the "gearbox" were a bit smoother. This is an odd complaint for a CVT since they don't really, you know, shift, but occasionally this transmission feels clunky, shuddering slightly at lower speeds.
Rounding out the Ascent's powertrain is standard all-wheel drive, which is completely transparent, at least in dry, summer conditions. This system would be a godsend in winter slop or on wet roads, but it should also help make this SUV a stable towing platform. All in, the Ascent is rated to drag up to 5,000 pounds, a figure that's right in line with the competition.
Overall, the Ascent's mechanicals should get you 20 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. Combined, the Ascent is rated at 22 mpg, a figure I've managed to beat without much effort. According to the trip computer, the Onyx Edition model I'm testing is returning an impressive 23.5 mpg. Curiously, according to the EPA, lower-trim Ascents are slightly more efficient than higher-end models.
Refined and responsive, the Ascent's powertrain is a winner, but the vehicle's other dynamics could be improved. My chief complaint is the steering, which is loose and imprecise, too light on center and overly boosted. I get it, nobody buys a three-row SUV for canyon carving, but competing vehicles offer more precise steering and feel nimbler than the Ascent.
This SUV's ride quality is refined, neither so stiff that it crashes over bumps nor too soft that it wallows like a hog when hustled. The structure feels like it was carved out of a steel billet and is completely unyielding, with no quivering or shakes when driven over broken roads.
That solid foundation helps provide excellent crash performance, a major consideration of any family-oriented vehicle. This Subaru earns a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the highest score the smash-'em-up organization hands out. The vehicle received "good" crash-test scores across the board, comes with excellent accident-prevention technology, has easy-to-use child-seat anchors and has bright LED headlights."
The automaker's EyeSight suite of driver aids is standard across the Ascent range. This includes items like lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Lane centering is bundled, too, though it's far from the best available today, constantly beeping when road markers end or if you turn past a certain point while cornering. This feature also tugs awkwardly at the wheel sometimes, paradoxically making it harder to drive. Fortunately, lane centering is easy to switch off. Automatic high beams are included at no extra charge and all models, save the base version, come with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
In the thick of it
This 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition SUV checks out for an eminently reasonable $41,320 including $1,125 in destination fees, a total that's right in line with the average new-vehicle transaction price these days. That figure is padded by a $2,200 options package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, cargo-area cover and adds embedded navigation to the Starlink infotainment system. Not only is the Ascent a roomy, comfortable and incredibly safe three-row SUV, it's also a strong value.
Even though I'd rather have a Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride or Honda Pilot, which are more upscale and better to drive, I can't fault anyone for buying a Subaru Ascent. This family-hauler is an eminently logical choice, one that's in the thick of the three-row SUV segment, competing on equal terms with rivals like the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse.