Big SUVs and Crossovers are the Minivans for the new era. Everybody wants them because everyone needs more space for hauling cargo and their families. It’s not easy to choose the right one, as all brands offer several different versions, including Subaru. The Ascent is the biggest SUV in Subaru’s model lineup, and it was the latest addition which is first released in 2018. Although it was not the smoothest start for the brand, it’s a segment that failure is not an option.
Here we have the updated 2023 Subaru Ascent, with a completely new front fascia. It also represents Subaru’s new corporate design language while still looking undoubtedly like a Subaru. There are sharper angles, more rugged looks and more chrome pieces to look like a more premium vehicle. It still has a huge front grille and black plastic trims, but the biggest difference is the new headlight design that gives the Ascent a more aggressive look.
From all angles, the Ascent has functional and stylish design elements, but the differences are much more minimal in the rear end, but there are similarities with the front end. There is a huge chrome piece located in between the taillights. The rear bumper has a huge unpainted black surface for extra rugged looks, and it comes with dual exhaust tips located on each side, giving the Ascent a much sportier look. The distinctive C-shaped taillights are also a Subaru-specific design feature that you can also find in other models.
The interior design is also one of the biggest changes, but not so surprising for Subaru fans. It finally gets the huge 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen display that Subaru used in the Outback for the last few years. The previous Ascent used to have a 2-screen setup which can be confusing at first sight, but it is no longer the case. The infotainment system still has 3 different fixed areas, but it is quite easy to learn and navigate through. It might not be lightning fast, but there is minimal input lag, and the screen quality is decent for the price range.
On the other end, there are fewer physical buttons in the interior with the updated Ascent. The only physical button I was missing is the “Auto” HVAC button, which you have to go through the air conditioning menus to find. However, unlike the Outback, the Ascent remembers your settings and you don’t have to click the auto hold button or other settings every time you start up the car. Overall, I found the dashboard very easy to use, with the combination of the right materials for the price range, it gives you the living room impression with the right balance of simplicity and functionality.
More than 90% of the physical buttons in the whole interior are located in the steering wheel, which is actually less than the Forester and other Subaru models, but I still find it quite overwhelming especially if you are driving it for the first time. The rest of the interior is pretty similar to the other Subaru models, as you would find a lot of common parts in the interior.
The biggest gripe that I had is the analog cluster as all competitors switched to some sort of digital offering, but Subaru still insists on using fully analog clusters even in their biggest and most expensive SUV. You expect more from a brand which uses the biggest vertical infotainment screens available on the market. On the other hand, if you like that analog experience, it will be the right choice for you. On the positive side, it is extremely easy to read with its large icons, and the small TFT screen shows a lot of information. It comes with wireless smartphone integration, but also if you need to charge your phone, there are two USB ports located right in front of the shifter column.
When you opt for the top trim, you get the better Nappa leather seats, and I found the seats pretty comfortable even for large adults. The seating position is quite high even in the lowest position. In typical Subaru fashion, visibility is excellent, and the dashboard is not in the driver’s and front passenger’s way for a larger open space feeling. The front seats are very adjustable, including the thigh support which we usually find in premium entries.
One important reason that I like the Ascent is the flexible choices when it comes to the seat configuration in the rear. Like any other entries in this segment, it comes with a captain’s chair in the second row, but you can also opt for an 8-seat configuration with the lower trims if you want to carry more people. Base trim Ascent does not come with captain’s chairs, and the top trim does not have an 8-seat configuration, but you have two options with the other trims. Either way, our tester is the top trim, which means it only comes with a 7-seat configuration, and I found them just as comfortable with less adjustability. You can still move the rear seats front and back quite a bit if you need extra space for the third-row passengers.
Speaking of third-row passengers, the Ascent comes with a third row that can accommodate three passengers side by side, but the middle row isn’t meant for adults by any means. The Ascent isn’t the largest entry in this segment, so the third row isn’t meant for large adults in the first place. However, it will get the job done for short trips, and even for tall adults, you can survive in the back if you move the second-row seats a little bit forward. You also get cup holders and USB outlets in the third row, so the attention to detail is impressive for a family-oriented vehicle.
You can fold down the third-row seats manually, and even when they are up, there are 17.5 cubic feet (495 L) of cargo space, and it can go up to 42.1 cubic feet (1192 L) which can go all the way up to 72.8 cubic feet (2061 L) if you fold down all rear seats. Those numbers are impressive, but more importantly, the cargo area is quite square, making it useful even when the seats are up. You can also install rear or front-facing child seats to both second-row seats, and rear-facing child seats can be installed to the driver’s side third row seat.
Compared to smaller Subaru models, the biggest selling point is the standard 2.4L turbocharged boxer engine that comes standard even with the base trim Ascent. The new engine puts out 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque as low as 2000 rpm. Some entries in this segment still come with naturally aspirated V6 engines, but Subaru decided to keep it simple and small, therefore you would only find one engine and transmission option available. That makes the base Ascent much better value, and the top trim Ascent less special.
Regardless of your trim choice, you are getting a continuously variable transmission in all Ascent models, like any other modern Subaru. I find the CVT a great match with the 2.4L turbo boxer engine, as it offers punchy mid-range, you do not have to keep the RPMs high so there is less rubberband effect. Boxer engines aren’t known to be the smoothest option, but it also gives it a unique character. The Ascent is perfectly happy around the 2000-3500 rpm range, so it is a much smoother driving experience than naturally aspirated CVT offerings available.
As expected from a Subaru, the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive is standard on all trims, and the higher trims come standard with Dual X-Mode, which offers better traction on deep snow and mud, takes the Ascent further off the beaten path and light off-road conditions. It also comes with 8.7 inches (220 mm) ground clearance, which is one of the best in this segment. However, it would still not be ideal for hardcore off-roading, as it only comes with all-season tires, and the approach, departure, and ramp break-over angles aren’t high enough for serious off-roading.
Subarus are usually known for adventure, and towing is a very important part if you are pulling toys like larger boats, or campers. If you are looking for a Subaru and want to have the best towing capacity, Ascent can tow up to 5000 lbs which put it in direct competition with most of the other 3-row SUVs. It is not class-leading by any means, but 5000 lbs is a respectable towing capacity for a car with CVT.
There aren’t many things to say or brag about the driving experience, like any other 3-row SUV, the Ascent is meant to be a family hauler. However, even if you don’t have an outdoorsy lifestyle, the Ascent has great road manners, and it is a great daily driver that doesn’t feel big and bulky behind the steering wheel, but is big enough for large families with a usable third row and cargo space.
Like any other modern Subaru, you will find a rugged and functional interior with a lot of cupholders, cubbies and usable storage areas, but the Ascent offers extra refinement, better interior quality as well as significantly more seats and overall interior space for larger families. With the starting price of $40,995 CAD and standard AWD on all trims, the Ascent has the best value proposition in its class without a doubt, and that’s what makes it more appealing to the audience looking for a utilitarian 3-row with a reasonable price tag.
|Engine||Turbocharged flat-4, 2387 cc|
|Transmission & Drivetrain||Continuously variable automatic & Symmetrical AWD|
|Max power (combined)||260 hp @ 5600 rpm|
|Max torque (combined)||277 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm|
|0-100 km/h||7.1 sec|
|Curb Weight||4600 lbs – 2086 kg|
|Fuel Economy (as tested)||19 MPG – 12.5L / 100 km|
|Price (as tested)||$53,995 CAD|