2020 Subaru Ascent Review

Fresh off it’s introductory year success, the Subaru Ascent three-row SUV enters its second model year for 2020 with an array of new features and upgrades which improve upon the already-enticing offering.

Among the new features this year are a rear-seat reminder to help avoid children or pets being left in the vehicle. The system works by alerting the driver with an audible sound and a visible warning displayed on the gauge cluster display after the vehicle is turned off.

Other new features include a one-touch interior lighting switch, power-folding mirrors and a centralized close and lock button on the tailgate.

The Ascent remains the largest Subaru in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. It’s still classified as a mid-size SUV but has three rows and can seat up to eight passengers. As a father of three young boys who has previously owned a minivan, the thought of being able to replace it with an SUV is alluring. Many people seem to have a negative view toward the traditional family hauler three-row SUV is just the ticket.

The seat folding operation to access the third row is easy and can be done with one hand. Having captain’s chairs instead of the bench in the middle row makes access to the third row easier though the vehicle is only a seven-passenger in that case. USB ports in the second and third rows are a nice touch for those who need to charge their devices.

The interior of the Ascent departs from the dull interiors the brand used to offer and is a wonderful place to be. The brown leather seats and wood grain trim of the test vehicle made for a decidedly luxurious feel. The dashboard is a pleasure to look at and highly functional at the same time. High praise is warranted here because too often manufacturers have tried to remove too many buttons and features for the minimalist look but this only causes headaches. There are knobs for climate and audio controls which is what every vehicle should have. A traditional gear shifter is also a breath of fresh air compared to some of the contraptions I’ve seen of late.

The exterior styling is decisively Subaru and adapts nicely to the large SUV. There is 8.7 inches of ground clearance and the engineers have made it so you don’t have a huge step up to get into the cabin. This is handy for those outdoorsy types who plan to take the vehicle off the main road and up a ski hill or to the cottage. Standard adjustable roof rails mean you can strap on a bunch of stuff like kayaks, canoes or ski equipment very easily. If that wasn’t enough, the Ascent can tow up to 5000 pounds which was previously unavailable as a convenience in any other Subaru.

Subaru design an all-new engine to power the Ascent. It’s a 4-cylinder, 2.4-litre direct injection turbocharged unit making 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is continuously variable (CVT) but has a lock-up torque converter, paddle shifters and of course Subaru’s famed symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive system. Power is plentiful and the delivery is smooth but the CVT isn’t the sportiest of options. Fuel economy is excellent at around 10.5 L/100 km.

For daily driving the Ascent was near perfect. The ride is smooth and firm yet comfortable at the same time. Visibility is good in most areas although the front-end proportions are quite large and in the field of view. Steering and cornering were both quite good.

Compared to the competition, I’d say the Ascent has a leg up on just about everyone. The Honda Pilot’s infotainment system is a mess, the Nissan Pathfinder’s interior is antiquated and there’s a fun factor missing in the Highlander. The only thing lacking in the Ascent was a rear seat entertainment system. Many parents would rather choose to spend the money on tablets which can be brought anywhere so I get the decision not have one.

You can get into a base model Ascent for a very reasonable $38,808 with transport included. That’s a great price for an eight-passenger vehicle. The most expensive is the high-end Premier trim is $49,995 which is not all that unreasonable given the features.

While it remains to be seen how the new engine and vehicle perform in terms of reliability, the Ascent remains a top contender in this segment.