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Subaru Ascent breathes new life into Subaru and mid-size SUV segment

The 2020 Subaru Ascent offers three rows of seating, with available bench or captain chairs in the second row. The SUV is built on the Subaru Global Platform and is powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine. The Ascent comes with Subaru’s high-torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.
The 2020 Subaru Ascent offers three rows of seating, with available bench or captain chairs in the second row. The SUV is built on the Subaru Global Platform and is powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine. The Ascent comes with Subaru’s high-torque Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.

Credit: Metro Creative News Service photo

Credit: Metro Creative News Service photo

Ascending a stale segment

Subaru Ascent breathes new life into Subaru and mid-size SUV segment

Before writing this review, for accuracy purposes, I had to do a little research. I was scheduled to get into the third-row SUV from Subaru. I honestly thought 2020 was the first year for this SUV. Nope. 2019 was the debut of this brand-new vehicle from Subaru.

I remember seeing it hyped on the car show circuit, but it all seemed to blend together. And it seems like just in the last couple of months that I’ve seen commercials for the Ascent. Subarus commercials are always well done and on point. So, with apologies, let me pronounce that the nearly brand-new Subaru Ascent is my tester for this week. And it’s new to me, as I didn’t drive the first iteration of the Ascent.

Subaru is one of those brands that is kind of niche. It has a specific following and personality, too. I generally like that. I’ve been a fan of the Outback since it began back in the 1990s (don’t make me guess which model year as I’m clearly bad at those).

That being said, the Ascent is a smart addition to the Subaru family. It still has all that charm of a Subaru, with a spunky rebellious side and the distinctive Subaru-like station wagon look. In the all-too-generic segment of gelatinous three-row SUVs, the Ascent stands out. That’s a good thing for sure. The Ascent won’t have mass appeal, but the Subaru fans will embrace it, along with other consumers who may like an SUV that is a little bit of a rebel.

Turbocharged 4-cylinder engines are all the rage, and the Ascent joins the party with a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine. It makes for 260 horsepower. This is a smallish number for a vehicle of this size, but honestly, as is the case with many turbocharged 4-cylinders, it outperforms its numbers. The continuously variable transmission is really the only downside to the Ascent’s powerplant.

That comment is nothing even personal – I have yet to find a CVT I like. When combined with the turbo, there’s noticeable lag, plus some weird, inconsistent shifting. That’s all typical for CVTs.

The Ascent has a 5,000-pound towing ability which is impressive and will be one of the big selling points for the Subaru fans out there. Perhaps you’ve owned an Outback for a long time and your family has grown or you’ve got an RV to pull. That’s the gap the Ascent fills and it does so quite well.

Inside, the Ascent is good, not great. But again, this is part of the charm of the Subaru brand. Similar to Jeep, appointments are meant to be less lavish and more off-road ready. As such, the Ascent has a nice interior with good-enough touchpoints. There is some noticeable road noise. Overall road comfort is adequate.

Legroom in both the second row and the third row is impressive. I was especially impressed with the third row, as generally many three-row SUVs are only suited for small children, but in the Ascent an adult could fit comfortably back there.

I don’t get into a lot of Subarus; in years prior, I would’ve been (justifiably) critical of the infotainment system and lack of technology. Some say that’s part of the charm. But in the Ascent, the infotainment system is good. It’s intuitive and well organized. It’s the best infotainment technology I’ve experienced in any Subaru.

The Subaru is configured in seven- and eight-passenger setups with the second row being a bench seat. My tester had captain’s style seats in the second row and was the seven-passenger Touring trim. On the top-of-the-line Touring, there is only a seven-passenger configuration available, no eight-person. My tester had an MSRP of $46,055.

Fuel economy for the all-wheel drive Ascent is good for this segment. It has an EPA rating of 20 mpg/city and 26 mpg/highway. I averaged a little over 22 mpg in my week in the Ascent.

It may not be new for 2020, but the Subaru Ascent is refreshing for both the Subaru product line and for the very stale mid-size SUV segment.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

2020 SUBARU ASCENT LIMITED

  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $46,055/$46,055
  • Mileage.......................................... 20 mpg/city; 26 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 260 hp/277 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. CVT
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Lafayette, Indiana