Test Drive: 2019 Subaru Ascent is a bold move

All of the drivers who try out our test cars have their quirks, including one who seldom has anything good to say about Subarus. The Subaru fans in our roster were gratified to learn the newest model, a midsize sport-utility vehicle called the Ascent, received uniformly favorable reviews. The Ascent reflects a bold move by Subaru, best known for durable, rugged subcompact and compact crossovers.

Subaru tried to go big, or at least bigger, once before, without much success. It may be that the debut 2006 B9 Tribeca was downright ugly, and the improved looks of later models proved insufficient to bring much love Tribeca’s way.

The Ascent is reminiscent of Volkswagen’s new Atlas SUV, though with a taller stance and a more rugged personality. Available in base, Premium, Limited and Touring trim lines, it’s priced between $31,995 to $44,695.

Subaru wrings every possible bit of horsepower out of the Ascent’s 2.4-liter boxer Four, and it this model needs every pony. For one thing, it’s a fairly heavy car, weighing 4,603 pounds. It also comes with a continuously variable transmission. In our experience, CVTs sap performance, compared with the alternatives. All Ascents have the same engine, transmission and all-wheel drive systems.

Performance therefore ranges between leisurely and confident. On the plus side, the car is quiet inside. And, like all Subarus, it handles well, thanks in part to the boxer’s low center of gravity.

In almost every respect, the Ascent is well thought out and well executed. We looked with considerable favor on the sliding second-row seats, which enable passengers to move the seats forward or back, depending on how many passengers are in the car. Also impressive were the Ascent’s 5,000-pound towing capacity, and the 86-cubic-foot cargo box created by lowering the second- and third-row seats.

In Touring trim, the Ascent is a luxury SUV, well equipped with technology. Built in Lafayette, Ind., the top-drawer Ascent has adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, remote keyless entry, three-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, heated front and second-row seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear-view camera, steering-responsive headlights, push-button start, panoramic dual glass power moonroof with power sunshade, perforated leather-trimmed upholstery, and power liftgate.

Dominating the center of the dashboard is an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, providing access to a navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, and satellite radio.

The Ascent struck us almost immediately as a right-sized vehicle, balancing sticker price, seating capacity, cargo room, fuel economy, interior comfort and technology. The market seems to agree. Available since June, it has seen sales soar from 1,897 that month to 5,859 in October.

The Ascent also performed better in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests than any vehicle we can recall testing. It received top scores in every category and was rated a Top Safety Pick Plus.

2019 Subaru Ascent Touring

Price: $45,670

Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer Four, 260 horsepower, 277 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 4,603 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear

Ground clearance: 8.7 in.

Wheels: 20×7.5-in. alloy in dark gray with machine finish

Tires: 245/50R20 102H all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 17.6 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 86 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 5,000 lb.

Fuel capacity: 19.3 gal.

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.