Pricing for the 2021 Subaru Ascent starts at $36,995 in Canada, $32,295 in the US.
The Ascent is a genuinely competent midsize 3-row SUV and I keep forgetting about it.
No matter how much I’ve championed minivans of late, midsize 3-row SUVs are growing in numbers, popularity, and are unlikely to ever be replaced by true people-movers. The segment continues to see new entries and the war is heating up. Among the many members of the group is the Subaru Ascent which suffers no real shortcomings but does lack appeal, for some.
Subaru is a brand that has no real weak link in its product line. It is this approach to building vehicles that have cemented Subaru’s reputation and created an extremely loyal fanbase. Despite this, the Ascent trails most of its competitors in sale volumes both in the US and Canada. The explanation lies in the Subaru brand and its relatively small market footprint.
Conservative Exterior, Premium Interior
Another reason could be styling. With the exception of the BRZ, WRX STI, and the new Outback Wilderness, all others are quite “Japanese conservative”. This certainly applies to the Ascent as it follows Subaru’s no-nonsense approach to design. This is not to say that it is not attractive, but many vehicle owners crave attention, and these consumers must account for a large portion of buyers.
From the Limited trim, the Ascent rolls on 20-inch wheels. Except for the Premier trim, which sports a high-gloss grille, all look nearly identical. This approach favours more conventional owners. Should Subaru ever offer an Outdoor or Sport trim (Wilderness?), they’ll likely be popular.
The cabin, on the other hand, has far more going on. The well-laid-out dashboard is a mix of surfaces, textures, and cleverly integrated storage areas that adds a dash of youth to the vehicle. The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen is replaced by an 8-inch unit from the Touring on, which itself heightens the satisfyingly premium interior.
All three rows of seats deliver plenty of room. The end row is easy to access even for an average human adult while the second row, when fitted with the available captain chairs, is top-notch. The Subaru Ascent is not the longest in its segment which explains its average truck dimensions. Even so, at 498 litres behind the 3rd row and 1,331 litres behind the 2nd, the Ascent is more than capable enough of handling all family duties.
The $42,495 ($43,095 with Captain Chairs) is the most value-packed trim. It features a power liftgate and more. The tested Limited, which is priced at $47,995 ($48,595 with Captain Chairs) includes a heated steering wheel, rear heated seats, rear door sunshades, leather seating surfaces, and 20-inch alloy wheels. With the exception of the heated steering wheel, the Touring is the better Ascent.
One of the reasons is the 18-inch wheels. Assembled on Subaru’s Global Platform, the Ascent’s ride quality is generally very good. The solid architecture keeps the large SUV together and composed however the 20-inch wheels and accompanying narrow sidewalls allow some road irregularities to filter through. With the 18s, the ride would be dreamy.
The chassis is, as described, well sorted. Subaru’s tuned the electric power steering to a level that encroaches upon over-assistance. This does make parking maneuvers a breeze however there’s little to no semblance of communication between the steering wheel and the front tires.
Most importantly for the Ascent, is that it is delivered with a horizontally opposed turbocharged 2.4-litre 4-cylinder. Its 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque are superbly attainable and the included Lineartronic continuously variable transmission is not a liability. Its eight pre-programmed “gears” or “shifts” all but completely negate typically associated rubbery throttle response. Only when slowly rolling on the throttle while already moving does the transmission hunt for proper engine revs. Driven with enough self-control, the Ascent will return between 10L and 11L/100km.
The amount of power is more than adequate, enough to tow up to 5,000 lbs., and to merge onto the highway with little effort. The standard as always Subaru symmetrical full-time AWD system functions invisibly and with assurance. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and X-Mode (a mild off-road mode), the Ascent is unlikely to ever come across a road or terrain it cannot conquer, within reason.
Among the dozen or so members of the 3-row midsize SUV segment, the 2021 Subaru Ascent is a perfect middle ground offering. In other words, it does everything very well without excelling at any particular task. This ability to handle all situations makes the Ascent an extremely versatile and likable SUV.
Others like the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, and Dodge Durango (it’s old, I know) are all viable alternatives. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, despite garnering awards and praise, need to prove their reliability for another while before I will put them on my suggested shopping list.
The bottom line is that any of the Japanese offerings are worthy.