2023 Subaru Ascent Review

2023 Subaru Ascent - Ascent enjoys refresh in 2023


The three-row Ascent represents the largest vehicle available from a diminutive automaker.   Subaru’s latest five-door, three-row crossover debuted in the 2019 model year based upon the Japanese automaker’s newest global architecture.  Our 2023 model year tester continues forward with this first-generation platform which undergoes a mid-cycle refresh this year bringing forth a new imposing front grille design, a greater degree of standard equipment, one new trim level and updated multimedia in-dash screen, among others.
Since its premier a half-dozen years ago, Ascent’s been assembled about two hours southeast of Chicago in Lafayette, Indiana at Subaru of Indiana’s huge facility adjacent to Interstate 65; its sole production facility outside of Asia operational since 1989. In February of 2023, the seven-millionth vehicle rolled off the line.
This is not Subaru’s first attempt at a three-row crossover.  Tribeca cruised dealerships from 2006 to 2014 with underwhelming results.  Ascent is designed with the American market in mind donning bigger dimensions than Tribeca.
With its 196 inches of length, Ascent easily qualifies as a mid-size selection skewing towards the mid-point of the spectrum.  Compared to the retired Tribeca, Ascent adds about seven inches of length and three inches of height. As with all Subarus, unibody underpinnings present a car-based platform, not a bulkier body-on-frame truck design.
The automaker’s lineup of crossovers, wagons and sedans features permanent  “all-wheel drive all the time in all vehicles” (well, almost all vehicles). It’s advanced, proactive, symmetrical all-wheel drive tweaks slightly depending upon the transmission utilized.   The lone exception? The low-volume, two-door, rear-drive Subaru BRZ that entered Subaru’s lineup in 2013 (and automotive twin to the Toyota GR86).
Subaru’s permanent, always active system integrates with the transmission, sending a balanced distribution of power to all wheels at the same time, eliminating under and over steer.  This design also incorporates Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). When sensers detect a loss of traction in a particular wheel, engine power gets distributed to the wheel’s maintaining the most traction.

Many rival all-wheel drive systems pitch a ‘part-time design,’ also known as ‘on demand’ where the vehicle defaults to two-wheel drive until slippage gets detected, after which all-wheel drive is engaged.
Subaru builds some of the most advanced unibody (car based) off-road ready vehicles available featuring all-wheel drive.  Larger SUVs with heavier truck-like body-on-frame construction offer superior off-road dynamics, but at a higher cost with additional weight. Ascent is a great compromise for Midwest adventures combining gentle off-road capabilities and on-road performance.
The Ascent teams with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than a conventional automatic transmission employing a set number of forward gears (seven speed, eight speed, etc.). A CVT includes an infinite number of gear ratios, eliminating the ‘gear hunting’ sometimes felt with automatics.  While delivering a pleasant, smooth experience, it’s not designed with performance specs in mind.

Also standard in all Ascent trims, driver-activated X-Mode designed for speeds under 18 miles per hour assisting sure-footed travel.  If the pilot desires additional traction, this system mimics an off-road mode found in a manual transmission maintaining a low gear hold. The X-Mode also adjusts engine throttle delivering gradual torque to the wheels, greatly assisting if maneuvering out of deep snow or mud. Upper trims include a dual function selection including snow/dirt and deep snow/mud settings.
Subaru’s CVT design includes Active Torque Split where torque automatically varies from front to rear depending upon the situation.  In normal driving, 60 percent of the power is sent up front and 40 percent to the rear through a multi-plate transfer clutch.

All Subarus powered by internal combustion engines (ICE) feature horizontally-opposed ‘Boxer’ designs with pistons lying flat at 180 degrees, riding shallower in the engine compartment. The result is a low centerer of gravity improving handling and agility. This, coupled with double wishbone rear suspension, creates a stable environment for all onboard.
The sole Ascent engine, a 2.4-liter double overhead cam turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumps out an impressive 260 horsepower. The sizeable 19.4-gallon tank digests regular,  87-octane fuel. Some mid-size, three row rival crossovers offer an optional V-6 engine. Subaru’s spunky turbo four delivers decent road results with better-than expected fuel economy from an all-wheel drive selection.

Ascent remains strictly a gas-engine vehicle.  To date, Subaru’s all-electric Solterra crossover  remains the sole EV choice available.

Six trim levels grace the line up 2023, one more than 2022:  Base, Premium, Onyx Edition, Onyx Edition Limited (new in 2023), Limited and Touring. The somewhat elevated 8.7 inches of ground clearance measures as a good compromise between enough off-roading clearance and comfortable egress and ingress.  Drivers enjoy good visibility in all directions thanks to extra elevation.

Ascent shares a family resemblance with Subaru’s smaller five-door offerings, including the Forester and Crosstrek. All models feature adaptive headlights, which swivel as the steering wheel turns for improved illumination. A power liftgate adorns upper trims, but not Base or Limited editions with eight passenger seating.
Side door handles include a strap-like design while a black composite material frames door bottoms, lower bumpers and round wheel wells as an added layer of protection against dings from stones or other road debris. Large housing handling the swivel-type headlights stretches to front fenders and frames the large, black, front grille cover, now featuring lower-edge air ducts improving under-vehicle air flow. Subaru’s oval logo incorporates six star inserts and centers the grille. Wrap-around tail lights now include C-shaped ends (a reverse C dons the passenger side) on the hatch door.
The lowest-priced Base, eight-rider model starts at $33,895 before destination charge. All season tires come standard. Our Autumn Green Onyx Limited Edition checked in nicely equipped at $46,295. With no stand alone or option packages, the bottom line reached $47,520 after $1,225 destination charge.
Ascent offers either seven or eight passenger seating based upon the trim selected. Behind the third row, 17.6 cubic feet of room awaits; fold the third row, and space expands to 42.1 cubic feet. Also behind the third row, an under-floor storage area designed to handle the removable narrow, retractable privacy cover hardware.

Base models arrive solely with eight-passenger seating. Onyx, Onyx Limited and Touring editions are exclusively seven-passenger. Premium and Limited editions offer either-or for the same price. Seven-passenger designs include two second-row captain’s chairs while a bench design inhabits eight-seaters. Manually folding third-row seats include a 60/40 split.
Our Onyx Limited tester’s second-row captain’s chairs manually slid back and forth along a vertical floor track once seatbacks tilted forward using just one arm.  A workable entry aisle into the three-passenger third-row revealed a world where the trio of folks best be pre-teens. Two six-footers can squeeze into position with heads gently grazing the roof.
Back in the first row, the mechanical transmission shifter locates between front buckets with a familiar vertical slide design.  A front-side release button unlocks the tall shifter out of Park to select Reverse, Neutral or Drive.
Centering the dash, a sizeable 11.6-inch portrait-style multi-function, high-definition touch-sensitive screen with built in HVAC controls. It’s a lot to digest, but Subaru smartly includes a pair of twist dials, one on each side of the screen assisting when controlling the volume or selecting a terrestrial/satellite radio station frequency.  Push plates vertically flanking the screen offer short cuts when selecting front/rear defrosters or lowering/increasing inside temperature. Screen side edges meet up with sizeable manually-operated air vents creating a heart-shaped outline housing the screen and vents. At each end of the dash, air vents choose a square-shaped design.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone compatibility comes standard, an update from 2022.
The instrument panel behind the manually-operated steering column/wheel nicely blends together traditional analog and modern digital formats. It’s easy to interpret at a quick glance. Two chrome rimmed orbs occupy each end of the rectangular format with illuminating white spring-loaded type needles (left-side tachometer, right-side speedometer) while a digital message center with graphics resides in the middle. Also tucked withing the large orbs, quarter-sized inserts and dials monitoring temperature (left) and fuel gauge (right).

StarLink represents a grouping of Subaru safety driver aids working in tandem with dual radar-friendly cameras placed near the rear-view mirror and standard in all trims. StarLink teams together adaptive cruise control (automatically speeding and slowing the vehicle based upon the distance of the vehicle ahead), lane keep assist and forward collision mitigation warning of an impending collision and tapping the brakes.  Trims above Base include a third camera assisting with cross traffic alert warning, handy when pulling out of  a crowed parking spot as an audio alert pings when a car is about to wiz by. Also included, a side blind spot warning.

Subaru of America’s 2023 calendar year sales reached 632,086, a substantial 13.6 percent jump from the previous 12-month period. From Japanese, Subaru translates into English as ‘Unite’. Back in 2005, In a nod to globalization, Toyota, Japan’s largest automaker,  purchased an 8.7 percent stake of Subaru stock from General Motors.  By 2019 the percentage reached 20 percent representing Subaru’s largest stakeholder.

Price as tested:  $47,520
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged
Horsepower:  260
Wheelbase: 113.8 inches
Overall Length: 196.8 inches
Overall Width: 76 inches
Overall Height: 71.6 inches
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Curb weight: 4,570 pounds
Powertrain warranty: 5-years/60,000 miles

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.