Subaru is a crafty bugger. They want us to think the name Ascent alludes to what this three-row crossover might be capable of, but there's no doubt it has a subtler meaning – one referring to the brand's meteoric rise in the sales charts, of course.

Just 20 years ago, Subaru was merely a quirky and obscure Japanese brand known primarily for all-wheel-drive and horizontally opposed cylinder layouts. These days they're the darling of the outdoorsy set, and a top choice for anyone in need of all-terrain capability and oodles of space. The new 2019 Ascent, the biggest Subaru yet, hopes to capitalize on this perception and help Subaru find success beyond the Forester and Outback.

Best Value

Subarus have always been a strong value, and the Ascent is no exception. Four trim levels are available, and each offers an impressive feature count considering the price point. For our money, though, we would be hard pressed to not opt for the second-from-top Limited trim.

With a base price of just under $40,000, it includes standard features such as Subaru's 8.0-inch Starlink infotainment system, 20-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated seats front and rear, a heated steering wheel, and LED lights. While there's a few options on tap, such as a panoramic roof and a 14-speaker sound system, we would only spring for the no-charge captain's seats. Otherwise, Subaru has included everything worth having and then some with the Limited.

Here's our Limited as it would roll out of the Lafayette, Indiana assembly plant:

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Ascent Limited
  • Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder
  • Output: 260 hp / 277 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Continuously variable transmission
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 20 city / 26 hwy
  • Options: Second-row captain's chairs ($0)
  • Base Price:$39,970 (including a $975 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$39,970

Performance

Subaru Ascent

Subarus offer many things, but performance generally isn't one of them. As novel as the boxer four-cylinder engine layout is, it doesn't offer much in general athleticism. Case in point is the lumbering Ascent and its 2.4-liter turbo four. With 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, it's competent around town. But moving around 4,500 pounds is no easy task for any four-cylinder, and the Ascent simply isn't as sprightly as we'd like. Fuel economy sits at 21 miles per gallon city and 27 highway for the bottom two trims and 20/26 for the heavier top two trims, numbers which are on par for the class.

The Ascent has a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which everybody loves to hate. Subaru, however, has done a good job of masking the design's inherent tendency to moan and groan. It mimics the gearshifts of a traditional automatic, and most drivers probably won't know – or care – that their transmission is of the continuously variable variety. Subaru has also upgraded it to handle up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, though we can't imagine that boxer-four enjoying two and a half tons of added weight.

Style

In what was probably a wise move, Subaru didn't deviate from the familiar silhouettes of the brand's popular Forester and Outback when styling the Ascent. From afar, this big-boy Subie looks more like an Outback than anything else, even though the Ascent's 196-inch shadow is a good size longer than its comparatively-diminutive sibling.

Of course, Subaru didn't just up-size their smaller offerings to make their three-row crossover. There's a number of unique details here, such as dramatically squared-up fenders, a larger and more upright trapezoidal grille, and a hatch that's noticeably more erect and SUV-like than the Outback's sloping rear door.

One look at the interior and any comparisons to Outbacks or Foresters fall apart. It's clear Subaru has gone decidedly upscale with the Ascent, with higher-spec models in particular offering luxury amenities aplenty. Features such as contrasting-stitching leather upholstery, heated seats for the front two rows, tri-zone climate control, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen all are present and accounted for on at least two of the four Ascent trim levels. If one pulls out all the stops on the ordering sheet, there's also a 14-speaker Harmon-Kardon stereo, panoramic moonroof, and rear-seat entertainment system.

All these doohickies and gizmos are nestled in a cabin that's well laid out and crafted with quality materials. It's attractive, functional, and well-assembled, and should please buyers of all stripes. There's plenty of room as well: 47.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the third row folded, and up to 86.5 cubic feet with the second row lowered. Second-row occupants enjoy 41.5 inches of head room and 38.5 inches of leg room, both dimensions bettering what the Chevy Transverse and Toyota Highlander can boast.

The Best and Worst Things

In a segment where most manufacturers charge extra for all-wheel drive or demand you step up to more expensive trim levels to get it, it's standard on the Ascent across the board. Couple that with a laundry list of standard convenience and safety features, and the Ascent really is a strong value, even in base trim.

Really, Subaru, you couldn't have put your 3.6-liter boxer-six under the hood of at least the top-spec Ascent Touring? As promising as the Ascent is, it's still a 4,500-pound crossover that's saddled with a 2.4-liter turbo four. Considering that much of the competition offers six-cylinder power on their higher trims, the four-pot Ascent will be a hard sell for buyers considering the $40,000-or-more Limited and Touring trims.

Right For? Wrong For?

Subaru Ascent

For those younger parents who are still holding on to that dear old Forester or Outback they've had since college, but need to upgrade due to the demands of family life.

Anyone who doesn't need third-row capabilities or 5,000-pound towing capacity.

The Bottom Line

Subaru enjoys incredible brand loyalty and an enviable brand image, and it's hard to imagine the Ascent failing to find its place in the hotly-contested mid-size crossover market. With familiar styling, a well-done interior, and an enticing value, we have no doubt that the 2019 Subaru Ascent will find success in a sea of stiff competition – and help the brand further ascend the sales charts.