Can the Subaru Ascent keep up with its ever closing rivals?

Can the Subaru Ascent keep up with its ever closing rivals?

Image by RJA1988 from Pixabay

In the present wave of SUVs and crossovers, Subaru needs no introduction for sure. With its roots tracing back to as early as 1954, Subaru is better known today for its boxer engines.

And, yes that proud nameplate up at the nose also assures great dependability, ruggedness, and yes a good value for the price. Though the Japanese manufacturer serves the market today with several models, it all started with the Outback and Forester. The very first models, which earned Subaru, the reputation it enjoys today. No surprise, these two models still hold firm their nicely balanced package at an affordable price which makes them favorite of the masses. However, the ever-expanding market of SUVs was only getting more and more competitive. Come 2019, Subaru also came up-front bold with its all new flagship 7-seater SUV, the Ascent.

Not something very remarkable at the first glance though but the 2019 Subaru Ascent was surely something very fresh and new to the Japanese tray. A 7-seater full-blown SUV which along with its extra versatility also enhanced the core raw attributes of a Subaru. The basic DNA was still in line though placed beautifully. We are talking about a tall and rugged stance, straight lines, clean presentation, and a thoughtful and simplistic interior layout. Most importantly it feels more spacious and airy than a Forester. Thanks to the tall and wide proportions though which also makes its third row a bit more accommodating than the Outback. Even on the power front, it was something bonkers but had more than ample power to push its active lifestyle. Above all, not only did the Ascent offer decent driving dynamics but also an acceptable economy.

Perhaps it had all the right boxes checked that one would ideally look for in a big 7-seater SUV.  Combine that all and at a price point of around $30,000, the all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent put forth itself as a very competitive midsize family SUV. Two years down the line though, not much has changed around the 2021 Subaru Ascent apart from some minor tweaks. It’s still capable, practical, and fuel-efficient while being raw to its core. However, in the last couple of years, its prominent rivals did get a revamp surgery for an enhanced counter-strike to the threat from their segment. The all-new Ford Explorer has had an update this year and the 2021 Chevrolet Traverse also gets some major cosmetic tweaks. Even the Honda Pilot after its design update in 2019 did catch upon some nimble tuning for its 2020 and 2021 models. However, how big of a threat are these prominent and fresh rivals, to the Subaru Ascent is what we try to find out right below in terms of power and performance, comfort, efficiency, and practicality.

Power and Performance

Even in terms of power, the Subaru Ascent brings an all-new platter on Subaru’s table. Unlike the 2.5-liter turbo used in the WRX STI, the Ascent boasts of a 2.4-liter turbocharged pot capable of making 260 hp and 277 ft-lbs of torque. All the power is distributed among all four wheels via a CVT transmission. While on paper, the Ascent may not be as powerful as the Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Traverse, it does feel very inviting to drive. Where the Ascent surprises the most is with its brisk take-offs. Power comes in quick and linearly while startups and even the slightest press on the accelerator gushes the Ascent ahead with great force.

Talking about power, this large Subaru has enough potential to keep your city-dwelling and weekend offroading needs in complete check. Though the transmission is too active in its business being a CVT one does need to get some time before getting complete authority of the powertrain. Talk about performance and the Ascent doesn’t disappoint either. The actively engaging powertrain is good enough to push a 2021 Subaru Ascent from 0-60 in just 7.0 seconds. Though its acceleration figure is not as good as the lighter and more powerful Honda Pilot, it surely gives a tough time to the Explorer and Traverse. Interestingly though, along with the Pilot, the Ascent holds the first spot in the pack here in terms of braking efficiency. Thanks to their joint feat of 117 feet before coming to a full stop from 60 mph. Thanks to its effective weight distribution and a super-efficient AWD system.

Models 2021 Subaru Ascent 2021 Ford Explorer 2021 Chevrolet Traverse 2021 Honda Pilot
MSRP $32,295 $32,225 $29,800 $32,250
Engine 2.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 2.3-liter Turbo Inline-4 3.6-liter V6 3.5-liter V6
Transmission CVT 10-Speed Automatic 9-Speed Automatic 9-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain AWD RWD FWD FWD
Power (hp @ rpm) 260 @ 5600 300 @ 5500 310 @ 6800 280 @ 6000
Torque )ft-lbs @ rpm) 277 @ 2000 310 @ 3500 266 @ 2800 262 @ 4700
0-60 mph (sec) 7.0 6.8 6.9 6.1
60-0 mph (feet) 117 121 125 117
Curb Weight (lbs) 4430 4345 4362 3982

Take the Subaru Ascent out for a drive and it continues to mesmerize you even further. Despite being the heaviest among the lot here, the Ascent rewards you with great control and dynamism. The suspension is nicely balanced and along with the standard AWD system ensures optimal grip and traction around fast cornering. Body movement is surprisingly minimal and is something where the Explorer and Explorer do struggle a bit. Even the overall ride quality and comfort is pretty decent which are only interrupted to a certain extent by the seeping road and tire noise.

Where the Ascent surprises the most is with its handling. Even around sharp bends there is very little sign of understeer. Despite its weight and proportions, the Ascent has a very nicely tuned steering, Though the steering is not the most responsive as is the case with other rivals in the segment but is surely talkative. At every moment of time, the drive does get to know what’s happening underneath the wheels. Apart from these, the Ascent also has you covered for your off-roading needs. Thanks to an impressive 8.7-inches of ground clearance, a standard AWD system, and software-controlled traction and hill-descent control system.

Fuel Efficiency

What actually makes a mid-size SUV family-friendly is its comfort, practicality, and of-course fuel efficiency. While beautifully checking on the former two elements, the Subaru doesn’t fail to impress in the fuel efficiency department as well. Thanks to its overwhelming 23 combined mpg on mixed usage. What makes this figure is the fact that the Ascent is also the heaviest among the lot here. That’s exactly how precisely and efficiently the Ascent’s powertrain, weight-distribution as well as AWD system have been tuned.

Models 2021 Subaru Ascent 2021 Ford Explorer 2021 Chevrolet Traverse 2021 Honda Pilot
MPG City 21 21 18 20
MPG Highway 27 28 27 27
MPG Combined 23 24 21 23
Fuel Tank (gallons) 19.3 18.6 19.4 19.5

Perhaps the solid economy is one among the several forte’s of the Ascent. The family SUV also gets a handy 19.3-gallons of the fuel tank which is not the best in class but surely on the average part of things. Among the rivals here though the Ford Explorer has a very marginal edge with its 24 combined mpg but is let down by its relatively smaller 18.6-gallons fuel tank. The Honda Pilot has an almost equally large tank as the Ascent along with a similar 23 combined mpg as the Subaru. Thanks to Honda’s lighter construction. The Chevrolet Traverse though stands at the bottom with its 21 combined mpg, courtesy of its gas-guzzling V6.

Comfort and Practicality

 Hop inside the 2021 Subaru Ascent and the very first thing that you notice is the spaciousness and thoughtfulness. Though a bit dated when compared to its arch-rivals but the Ascent does impress with its clean dashboard layout. The dashboard and center-console is mostly draped in plastic but at no point, it feels lethargic or cheap. The interior build quality too feels sturdy with everything put together solidly. You have a 6.5 or 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment based upon your trim level. The infotainment system’s clean graphics and interface make it very easy to use. Even in terms of modern-day connectivity, the 2021 Ascent comes loaded with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. Audiophiles would spare no time to drool into the available 14-speaker Harman-Kardon Audio.

The Ascent also covers your comfort needs very well indeed. Based on your selected trim level, the Ascent can comfortably seat up to 8 people with good comfort. The seats in the first and second row are wide and thick with very good bolstering and under-thigh support. Thankfully, the second-row is not as upright as a Ford Explorer and has a comfortable recline angle. Although the base trims have a comfortable cloth upholstery the premium leather surfaces in the higher trims add up a fair amount of premiums into it. The higher models also enjoy power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation along with heated rear seats. In terms of features, you also get a panoramic sunroof, tilt and telescopic leather steering with heating, illuminated vanity mirrors, interior air filtration as well as 3-zone climate control.

Models 2021 Subaru Ascent 2021 Ford Explorer 2021 Chevrolet Traverse 2021 Honda Pilot
Front row (Head, Leg and Shoulder room in inches) 41.3/61.1/42.2 40.7/61.8/43.0 41.3/62.1/41.0 40.1/62.0/40.9
Second row (Head, Leg and Shoulder room in inches) 40.0/60.3/38.6 40.5/61.9/39.0 40.0/62.2/38.4 40.2/62.0/38.4
Third row (Head, Leg and Shoulder room in inches) 36.3/57.2/31.7 38.9/54.6/32.2 38.2/57.5/33.5 38.9/57.6/31.9
Standard Cargo Capacity (cu-fts) 17.8 18.2 23.0 16.5
Maximum Cargo Capacity (cu-fts) 86.5 87.8 98.2 83.9

What makes the even slightly old-school interior presentation of the Subaru Ascent still appeasing is its roominess and thoughtfulness. All the controls are laid out within easy reach of the driver along with a very good seat height. In terms of space though, the Ascent is not the longest in its class. Thanks to its skillfulness, the Ascent offers plenty of space for adults in the front two rows for adults to ease a bit in longer journeys. However, in terms of third-row space, it’s the most cramped in its class and is better suited for kids.

Thankfully, the Subaru Ascent addresses its small loopholes with very good practicality. In fact, the best in class. To startup, a 2021 Subaru Ascent offers a decent maximum cargo capacity of 86.5 cubic-feet to pack-up your expedition packages. Even the standard 17.8  cubic-feet of space with all the rows upright is good enough to hold your shopping bags. Though the Ascent’s cargo space is not as generous as the Chevrolet Traverse, it should do away well, considering its overall package. Other than this, the Ascent also offers 19 cup-holders throughout its cabin. Yes, 19. 14 of them being distributed in the first two-rows and 5 in the third. Even the door-bins can very comfortably hold large one-liter bottles and the glove-box is decent too. The Ascent surely takes good care of your small necessities.

So, does the Subaru Ascent stack up well against its rivals?

Well, the Subaru Ascent still holds very firm and good ground among its segment. While its appointments, seat-room, and cargo space may not be as good as its rivals but there’s a lot of things, which back the Ascent unique proposition. As a buyer in the aforementioned segment of 7-seater SUVs, what you essentially look for is the balance of everything put together or overall value.

That’s exactly where the Ascent gets all the things right. It’s rigged, spacious has all the bells and whistles you could see at this price, has the third row, offers good efficiency along with an overwhelming cargo area as well. What further adds points for the Ascent is its off-road capability brought together by its high-ground clearance and Subaru’s legendary symmetrical AWD. Its powerful and responsive powertrain also couples really well with its brisk dynamics owing to its size and heft. Put these all together and the 2021 Subaru Ascent still presents an irresistible overall package in its segment.

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