Chances are good that if you live in the Puget Sound area, you own a Subaru and love it, or you know someone who owns a Subaru and loves it. Or both.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Subaru Outback is the best-selling car in Washington. The Subaru Forester is the best-selling car in Seattle. Nationally, in the past two years Subaru has been number one and number two in brand loyalty, that is, the number of buyers who traded-in a Subaru and bought another Subaru.
Subaru’s specialty has always been compact cars, but the company strayed from its roots with the ill-fated Tribeca midsize SUV that was discontinued in 2012 because of poor sales. Subaru lovers, it turned out, wanted their Subies small.
Subaru is creeping into new ground again with the all-new 2019 Ascent three-row midsize SUV. Most of the industry talk has been about the Ascent attracting buyers who need more room for passengers, ubiquitously described as “families.” But I was skeptical, mainly because Subie lovers don’t have lots of kids. Many of them don’t have any kids at all, or their kids are adults. And hello, they’ve already demonstrated their devotion to small cars.
As it turns out, one of the Subaru lovers I know revealed a great justification for the Ascent. She owns a Crosstrek but she and her husband are planning to get an Airstream travel trailer, and the Crosstrek’s 1,500-pound towing capacity doesn’t cut it. So they’re getting ready to make the brand-loyalty move of trading-in the Crosstrek and buying an Ascent. Bingo!
For the record: Outback’s towing capacity is 2,700 pounds, Forester’s is 1,500 pounds, and even Tribeca’s was only 2,000 pounds. At 5,000 pounds, Ascent has the highest towing capacity of any Subaru in history.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is available in seven- or eight-passenger configuration, achieved by a choice of second-row captain’s chairs or bench seating. Subaru’s famous symmetrical all-wheel drive system is standard, naturally.
There are four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring, and pricing starts at $32,970 including the destination charge.
All models are powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine delivering 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, completely capable of motivating the Ascent, happy to operate on regular-grade fuel and consuming it at the rate of 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic that does its job impressively.
My tester was the Ascent Premium model with a bench seat. Features not found on the base model but standard on the Premium include blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert; an all-weather package adding heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats and windshield wiper de-icer; dark tint privacy glass; rear seat automatic climate control panel; spill resistant cloth seats; and Subaru’s Starlink Multimedia Plus system with 8-inch touchscreen and the expected assortment of technology including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, satellite radio and so on.
The Ascent is tall, sizable and sturdy. Somehow it seems much bigger than a midsizer, maybe because it’s a Subaru and Subarus are supposed to be small, right? But it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, so there’s that, and on twisty roads the Ascent does handle like a big SUV.
Passenger cabin quietness and comfort are off the charts. So is build quality. One of my favorite things inside my Ascent tester was its handsome non-leather seats, made of modern synthetic fabric seemingly tough enough to last forever. And, from an environmentally responsible perspective, which is a Subaru hallmark, fabric seats are preferable to leather.
The Starlink multimedia system is a good one, defined by the fact that it doesn’t cause frustration. Another nice feature of Ascent’s interior is a gigantically deep bin in the center console, so convenient for stashing the bigger items that most vehicle bins can’t accommodate.
2019 SUBARU ASCENT PREMIUM
Base price, including destination charge: $35,170
Price as driven: $36,630
Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.