Base Price: $40,720.
As tested: $43,670 (Includes options package featuring Harman Kardon premium audio with 14 speakers; panoramic power moonroof; Starlink 8-inch multimedia system; 2nd-row captain’s chairs).
What’s all the excitement about?: All-wheel-drive is standard; New Onyx trim features blacked-out grille and wheels; a third row for the tykes.
Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to CVT (continuously variable transmission) with paddle shifters.
How’s the performance?: Not thrilling to drive but competent on corners and comfortable on the highway.
Fuel economy: EPA says 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined.
Subaru’s largest SUV has a daring new look for 2022. The Onyx edition offers a cool aesthetic, with blacked-out grille and darkened 20-inch wheels. Inside, washable synthetic leather seats are quickly ready for the next adventure.
Most folks shopping the three-row midsize are more focused on Subaru’s signature feature, standard all-wheel-drive, and the family seating of up to eight. They’ll find plenty of cargo space, cubbies and 19 cup/bottle holders. Yeah, that’s 2.37 holders per thirsty occupant, so bring a back-up bottle.
The Ascent, like the rest of the Subaru lineup, can take the family on light off-road adventures with help from its ground clearance of 8.7 inches, traction management system and hill descent control. It can handle dirt roads full of puddle dips and jutting rocks, and this Subie can drag along a boat or a couple of ATVs with a tow-rating of up to 5,000 pounds.
For those who prefer asphalt, it’s equally adept on pavement. Steering is responsive and it has a tight 38-foot turning circle. Its four-wheel independent suspension system is tuned for comfort. Parking sensors front and rear help guide it into tight spaces at the mall.
The Ascent, which debuted as a 2019 model, looks a lot like Subaru’s Outback: Same grille and simple headlight design but on a taller front. By today’s design standards, Subaru would be among the last to the dance floor.
The Ascent gets the same powertrain this year, a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine paired with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that is smooth but somewhat noisy. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel enable the driver to get fake eight-speed performance from the otherwise gearless transmission.
But even paddle shifters don’t deliver a truly energetic ride. The direct-injected engine brings 260 horses with 277 pound-feet of torque, and it takes seven seconds to reach 60 mph. There is some lean on corners, though Subaru’s active torque vectoring enhances grip and stability.
On the highway it is stable and confident with ample passing power. The ride is comfortable for the long hauls but more could be done to isolate the cabin from wind and road noise. But that’s a good excuse to turn up the premium Harman Kardon Surround audio system with 14 speakers.
The EPA says to expect an uninspiring 20 mpg around town, 26 highway, and 22 mpg when mixing it up.
Ascent’s cabin is roomy and comfortable with family-friendly materials that are easy to clean. Top trims like the Limited get heated leather seats, with 10-way power on the driver’s seat and four-way for the passenger.
Instrument gauges flank a reconfigurable driver data display. A separate screen atop the dash contains off-road info and particulars on Subaru’s X-Mode, which controls the engine, torque and braking to meet snow, dirt or mud conditions.
An 8-inch touchscreen is home to navigation and infotainment with compatibility to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system is not as elaborate as some but has big icons, is responsive to inputs and easy to learn.
In the second row, available captain’s chairs are plush but restrict capacity to seven instead of eight. The rear seats are heated, fold flat, and have a pair of USB ports, climate controls and sun shades. The third row, like most, is tight on leg room and best left for kids and young teens.
At the rear, a hands-free power lift gate accesses 18 cubic feet of space, but fold down the third row for another 30 cubes. With both rows folded, there is 86.5 cubic feet. Those numbers aren’t best-in-class (VW Atlas is No. 1) but it’s not not far behind.
Subaru has an extensive list of safety features beyond its AWD, including its EyeSight driver-assist package with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, lane departure warning and reverse automatic braking.
It’s an uphill battle for the Ascent against heavyweights like the Toyota Highlander, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Kia Telluride, with as much as four times the sales. And while there have been some reliability issues in the first couple of years, Consumer Reports magazine says they appear to have been corrected.
The Ascent is ready to serve those with a hunger for exploring and a thirst that requires (are you kidding?) 19 cup and bottle holders.