Space and versatility. The 2020 Subaru Ascent, the brand's mid-size crossover, is relatively new to the market after a 2018 debut, but it's quickly become a recognizable name.
The Ascent combines typical Subaru ruggedness with crossover utility and capacity – and that capacity is considerable. Cabin space is generous, with firm and comfortable seating and plentiful head room.
Even better, the seating arrangements are flexible. The second row slides back and forth with the tug of a lever, increasing cargo flexibility and making third-row access easy. That third row can seat three, although it’s best if passengers are small or skinny. On all except the base model, second-row captain’s chairs are a no-cost option – an unusual and welcome advantage over rivals.
Cargo capacity is excellent as well. The Ascent can hold 17 cubic feet even with the third row in place, or 47 cubic feet with the third row removed and 86 with everything folded. Even against spacious rivals like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the Ascent stacks up well.
Limited (but adequate) options. Subaru’s option configurator follows the “less is more” philosophy, largely confining options to a few well-structured packages. All Ascents get the essentials, starting with a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, plenty of USB ports, and compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Better still is the next step up from base, the Ascent Premium, which adds a power-adjustable driver’s seat, an 8-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, and blind-spot monitoring.
Speaking of active safety tech, Subaru’s is good. Both automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are standard across the lineup, along with lane keeping assist.
However, the minimalist attitude is off-putting at points. The base model, for instance, is only available in black, gray, silver, or white – anything else requires a trim upgrade.
Petite but feisty engine. In contrast to the V6 engines employed by many of the its competitors, the Ascent sticks to Subaru’s heritage with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
That’s a small engine for the class, and it’s a little down on power – 260 horsepower against the 280 hp or 295 hp of the Pilot or Highlander, respectively. The Subaru also gets a continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of a conventional automatic. It’s not the most refined package, especially under hard acceleration.
But the little engine keeps up better than expected. That’s thanks in part to a healthy torque figure of 277 pound-feet. The torque also helps the Ascent to a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, which is good for the class.
The CVT is in place to help fuel efficiency, but the Ascent isn’t particularly thrifty. With the standard 18-inch rims, it gets an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon combined, which is adequate but unexceptional for the class. Top honors here still go to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
Adventurous as always. Subaru has built its reputation on rugged and adventure-ready vehicles. The Ascent continues that ethos. All-wheel drive is standard, with minimal penalties on either fuel economy or price. The Ascent has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and with the capable all-wheel drive system, it’s competent away from the pavement.
The usual unpainted cladding gives the exterior a venturesome edge, but we appreciate the interior upgrades even more. The Ascent starts with tough-wearing cloth upholstery, and the top trim Ascent Touring boasts charming and durable saddle leather. Plus, the cabin has no fewer than 19 cup holders, so no one has to argue over beverage space on road trips.
Final thoughts. Standard AWD and excellent versatility make the 2020 Subaru Ascent a promising adventure vehicle. The powertrain isn’t refined, but it’s punchy enough to keep up with the competition. Feature selection isn’t always flexible, but thoughtful standard features like the captain’s chairs and adaptive cruise control should win the Ascent its fair share of showroom victories.
The Ascent is far from the most polished crossover on the market, but it puts together enough of the right pieces to be worth your consideration.