Mountain Wheels: Subaru’s 2019 Ascent is coming soon to every driveway near you
As we spent a few days in Oregon last week with the much-anticipated 2019 Subaru Ascent, the company’s first full-blown SUV, I joked with the staff that I could sell maybe 500 of them in an hour in the Dillon City Market parking lot. Maybe more. And maybe not even in an hour.
Yes, the Ascent will likely soon usurp the Outback as the most ubiquitous vehicle in Colorado’s High Country communities, an up-to-eight-passenger SUV that blends all that you love about Subaru with the scale and amenities American families have come to expect.
Starting at $31,995, the new vehicle hopes to capture that missing piece of the market that Subaru has so far not managed to corner, at least outside of Colorado: child-raising families, who love the products up until their collection of kids and kid-related gear means that even the Outback no longer suits their needs.
Does Subaru’s venture into the land of the large ruin the overall experience? No, Ascent still offers you the purity and occasional peculiarity of the Subaru brand, though its (not kidding) 19 cupholders, the ability to mount three child seats in the 56-inch-wide second row and its family-and-gear-swallowing capacity will certainly create some new customers for the growing company.
Scale is a considerable issue here, especially for those of you who pine for the company’s earlier days of austere and diminutive offerings (minus, perhaps, the Tribeca, the company’s first attempt at a neo-SUV, the lessons from which they say they have applied to the new vehicle).
They’ve managed to render the Ascent with stylistic choices that make it look like a very, very large Forester up front — the grille may now be a little too large for its own good, but it’s trying to make an impactful statement — while the rest of the cabin is a well-executed but more upright and capacious reinterpretation of an Outback, in the rear. Roof rails are standard and engineered to support equipment for the current roof-camping craze, in addition to gear boxes and racks.
And while the vehicle’s overall bulk (196.8 inches overall, and 4,430 pounds) might suggest a major diversion from the Subaru driving experience, we were quite impressed with handling and overall presence that hardly seemed like an eight-passenger goliath.
Road travel was smooth and the vehicle confidently ate up some twisty coastal logging roads, while a short off-road demonstration at a gravel quarry suggested that Ascent’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance and the X-Mode AWD-optimization gear will give you better-than-average campsite or deep snow control.
Symmetrical all-wheel drive is of course standard, and a brand-new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine provides the vehicle with a fully mountain travel-worthy 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque — plus it also runs on regular gas, versus some of its competitors. Highway mileage is between 26 and 27 MPG, and a big tank means you can get about 500 miles of travel between fill-ups.
A new electronic CVT transmission with eight manually shiftable “gears” provides smooth handling, and combined with an optional trailer brake controller, will also be important on the passes as the Ascent can haul up to 5,000 pounds of trailer. We tried this out with a full-sized Airstream trailer and despite being dwarfed in size, Ascent was fully up to the pulling duties.
Capacity and rear-cabin comfort has been accentuated and purchasers will have the choice of a sliding, three-passenger second row or free-standing captains’ chairs — perhaps better for separating feuding siblings — plus a genuinely adult-sized third row, better suited to three more kids. Those in the very far back still get their own USB charging points, lighting and vents; an optional, cabin-wide panoramic sunroof adds light and visibility for everyone.
Both the second-row doors and rear cargo access are very wide and if you flatten everything behind the front row seats, you’ll have an 86.5-cubic-foot storage space. It’s still 47.5 cubic feet behind the second row or a comfortable 17.6 cubic feet if all the seats are occupied. Recognizing the vehicle’s new mission, Subaru suggests the Ascent will hold 230 soccer balls. Go for it.
Safety is understandably key to the Ascent experience and the EyeSight collision prevention package is standard on every vehicle, with additional tools such as steering-responsive headlamps, reverse-automatic braking and even an enlarged third row frame construction all factored into the vehicle’s DNA.
Ascent’s infotainment package has also been updated, with an optional eight-inch touchscreen and a thunderous 792-watt, 14-speaker Harmon-Kardon stereo setup. Subaru also adds a wifi hotspot and buyers will have the option of adding a traveling entertainment package that includes two kid-proofed iPads and Harmon-Kardon headphones.
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