Forget everything you know about the forlorn Subaru Tribeca -- if you even remember it. Subaru has an all-new large crossover called Ascent. It's aimed at the heart of the three-row SUV market and vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander. Ascent seats seven or eight, depending on configuration and comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Riding a highly modified version of the company's new Global Platform, which underpins the Crosstrek and Impreza, the Ascent is Subaru's largest passenger vehicle ever. Despite that fact, with a length of 197 inches and curb weight of 4600 pounds Ascent falls in the middle of the large crossover pack. Inside, there are twin buckets up front, a three-place rear bench and either second-row captain's chairs or a three-place bench seat. Sole powertrain is a turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 260 horsepower and mates to a continuously variable automatic transmission. When properly equipped, Ascent can tow up to 5000 pounds.
With prices starting as low as $31,995 four models are offered: Base, Premium, Limited and Touring. Standard on all are automated emergency braking, lane-keep assist and Subaru Starlink multimedia with Apple Car Play and Android Auto support. The Premium adds and all-weather package and rear-seat climate control. Limited models add leather-trimmed upholstery, 20-inch alloy wheels, power tailgate and heated front- and second-row seats. The Touring adds exclusive brown leather-trimmed upholstery, navigation system, 14-speaker sound system, panoramic moonroof and front-view camera.
With "just" 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Ascent's engine is far from the most powerful in the class. Still, it provides enough force to motivate the 4600-pound crossover from 0-60 MPH in about 7 seconds -- class average and no more. With just one or two passengers aboard, the Ascent feels lively around town, but add some cargo or four or five people and progress slows considerably.
The continuously variable transmission tries to emulate a conventional stepped-gear automatic, but oftentimes slurs upshifts and muddies downshifts to provide a soupy feeling around town. It's not unnerving, but can get annoying in stop-and-go traffic. Further complicating matters is an engine design that is inherently gruffer, both at idle and in hard acceleration, than most competitors.
Ascent's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. Ascent does have 8.7-inches of ground clearance, active torque vectoring and hill-decent control. That gives it enough capability to handle the occasional dirt trail or snow-covered road no problem.
The Ascent is EPA rated at 21 MPG city, 27 MPG highway and 23 MPG overall. Those numbers are a tick or two above most competitors in the class. Regular-grade fuel is recommended, as well. In routine suburban commuting, 24 MPG is likely. If you spend a lot of time on the highway, you might see as high as 28 MPG. If your daily drive is a rush-hour slog, then expect no better than 20 MPG. With a 19.3-gallon fuel tank, the Ascender has a likely range of more than 440 miles, a bit more than most competitors.
As with most of its vehicles, Subaru takes a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to ride quality and road holding. Most models of the Ascent ride with decent comfort and good bump absorption. The Limited and above add 20-inch wheels that add a dash of sport without too much impact on overall ride comfort. Unfortunately, overly boosted steering, conservative all-season tires and a bit too much body lean keep the Ascent from being the most athletic-feeling in the class.
Wind and road noise suppression are excellent. As mentioned, the engine grows intrusive in hard acceleration. Overall, the Ascent is pleasant to drive and is easily one of the most comfortable crossovers in the class from a ride-handling perspective.
Ascent's interior places function over form but still manages to be modern and tasteful. Materials are price appropriate. Drives face a twin-dial setup with a center information cluster. The center stack boasts a small screen for vehicle data and a larger touch-screen for the infotainment system. Well-marked climate and ancillary audio controls are below and easily accessible. Standard support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play are much appreciated.
Subaru offers an impressive set of standard safety features, which is nice as many competitors make buyers pay extra for things like lane-keep assist for forward collision warning and mitigation. In addition, Subaru offers a digital rear-view mirror, which displays a view from behind the vehicle. When activated, the image is free from obstruction by rear-seat passengers or cargo.
Front seats are extremely comfortable with good support on longer trips. Head and leg room are quite good as well. Second-row captain's chairs are comfortable and offer plenty of room for large adults. The seats slide well forward, making it easy to access children in booster seats. The third-row seats are a bit thinly padded and don't really offer long-haul adult comfort -- but what vehicles in this class do? It's easy to get in an out, thanks to large doors and a low step-in height. Third-row access is among the best in the class.
Cargo capacity with the third-row seats in use is a middling 17.8 cubic feet. Fold the third- and second-row seats and capacity grow to a more respectable 86.5 cubic feet. Others in the class have more storage space, but Subaru also offers a covered bin at the back of the cargo hold that's fairly useful for small item storage. Interior storage abounds with lots of open and covered bins throughout. There's even an option to get 8 USB ports.
Bottom Line -- The Ascent is an extremely well-rounded large crossover competitor. Passenger and cargo space are good, the ride is comfortable, road manners are composed and plenty of safety and tech features round out the package. Other than the slightly gruff engine, complaints are few and far between. It's hard to imagine not considering the Ascent if you are in the market for a large and versatile vehicle.