Baddek, NS. If you’re no fan of crossover or sport utility vehicles, best to stock up on cars now for later. With GM just recently unveiling their new Chevy Blazer ahead of Ford and their highly anticipated Bronco, the present and the future belongs without a doubt to the utes.
Subaru’s no stranger to exploring alternatives to cars. Between the mid- and late-90s, they’d launched the hyper-popular Outback wagon-cum-SUV and one of their all-time sales champions, the Forester. Roughly ten years after the Outback, Subaru attempted once more to leave a mark in the car business, but the B9 Tribeca did no such thing despite a valiant design exercise. Ok, it was ugly.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is not revolutionary like the Outback or Forester in the sense that it will start something. It is however, a demonstration of Subaru’s vast knowledge and understanding of what consumers want all the while giving them a little more than they expect and need.
Keeping it in the family
Unlike the Tribeca which was a radical departure for the generally conservative car company, the Ascent looks unquestionably like a Subaru from every angle. The grille, the headlights and the overall shape of the Ascent are immensely close in similarity to the Outback and the new 2019 Forester which was revealed at last spring’s New York Auto show.
The character line, the vehicle’s profile and the way it sits are all, once again, Subaru. Built on the new Subaru Global Platform, the same architecture that underpins the latest Impreza and upcoming Forester, it also sports the same 220mm of ground clearance meaning they all hover above ground at the same level.
Convenience and Touring versions roll on 18” wheels while the Limited and Premier get 20s. All get raised roof rails which add the SUV’s visual appeal – spot a utility without rails and tell me it doesn’t look like something’s missing.
A cabin for all and everything
Subaru’s using “The SUV for all you love” line to introduce and describe the new 2019 Forester but I think it is better suited to the Ascent. In it, “all” is truly possible. I’ll start from the back and work my way to the front.
With the 3rd row in place, 500 litres of trunk volume are easily accessible. There’s a small storage compartment below the floor for smaller items and the tonneau cover. When the row is stowed, more than 1,300 litres are ripe for the picking. The beauty is that the large hatch opening is only millimeters wider than the boot floor’s width which means wider items can easily slide in the rear. Accessing the third row is a one-handed, two step deal – Subaru’s designed two steps in the floor to get in the rear. Once in place, and with the 2nd row forward, there’s room enough for real humans to sit, if only for a while.
The 2nd row bench is wide and comfortable for three. The optional captain chairs are great to keep elbows apart but, in all situations, the amount of storage spots in the doors and the USB slots make sure all will be powered up and happy.
Up front, the driver’s seat is power operated and both 1st row perches are heated as standard. Here too, Subaru’s thought of storage for everything to go along with loads of technology and displays. Base models get a 6.5” infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, STARLINK and Bluetooth. Higher trims gain an 8” display, navigation and an extra 6.3” display at the top of the dashboard, and more.
Turbocharging is good
What better than an all-new engine to go along with an all-new vehicle? The horizontally-opposed flat-4 cylinder boxer engine is alive and well in 2019 with a turbocharger and 2.4 litres of displacement. Output is rated at 260-horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm. With it, say goodbye to the old 6 cylinder engine. Back for more however is a CVT transmission that’s been reinforced for the application and the available 5,000 lbs towing capacity.
The 2.4T is a gem of an engine. Not only is it smooth and torque-rich but weighs 6 kg less than the current WRX’s 2.0litre turbo engine. I’d love to speculate here but let’s just say that this mill’s future is bright.
The CVT’s programmed gears number 8 and are perfectly staged for the daily commute. Under hard acceleration, the 2.4 delivers solid forward thrust however runs out of breath at higher engine speeds. Modulating the throttle and keep engine revs around the 3,000 rpm mark is ideal.
If all this sounds like it should be noisy, Subaru’s gone and invested lots of time, money and efforts into making the Ascent one of the quietest most refined crossovers available today under $75k. Pushing the 2.4T was irresistible but never did its signature flat-4 rumble reverberate into the cabin.
Massive energies also went into the vehicle’s ride quality. It’s as though Subie’s engineered a layer of duvet into the chassis and the suspension. There’s a zone in the wheel-travel that is undisturbed regardless of the road’s surface. My drive partner and I opted to visit the Cabot Trail. Parts of it are in disrepair, and being repaired, while other portions of it are brand new. At no point was the Ascent unable to keep the peace onboard. We were absolutely impressed with the ride comfort.
My only gripe was steering. On-center feel was vague and even when loaded, as in driving through a curve, the level of assistance would vary without reason. Feedback was next to nil and required faith in the Ascent’s suspension, chassis and tires. The good news is that not once did it let us down unless I was driving as though being chased by the local constabulary.
At $35,995, the base Convenience Ascent features the 2.4T, CVT, symmetrical AWD with X-Mode, Subaru’s award-winning EyeSight driver assist system and loads more. This is not a stripper model, as you can tell, despite the stripper-like price. The top line Premier is $49,995 and serves only to offer a luxury alternative to luxury SUV buyers.
The Touring is your best bet thanks the upgraded interior trim, and it retails for $40,995. The captain chairs add $500 on all trims. The alternative to the Touring is the leather-clad Limited for $46,495. It also throws in a Harman Kardon 14-speaker audio system, a heated steering wheel, power passenger seat and some tasteful chrome body moldings.
I’ve become rather smitten with the idea of a larger 3-row utility vehicle however not one of the full-size monsters. The Mazda CX-9’s still one of my favorites despite the growing pains, along with the VW Atlas for its cavernous cabin and the Dodge Durango for being a badass.