Safety for all. The Subaru Ascent was already one of the safest midsize crossover SUVs in the class, but the 2021 model ups the ante with even more standard safety features.

The 2021 Subaru Ascent now comes with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, adaptive LED headlights, automatic high-beams, and seat belt reminders for the back rows.

The new features come in addition to the Ascent’s already lengthy list of standard safety features, which includes forward automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning.

In crash tests, the Ascent also received perfect safety scores. The IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick Plus award, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it a five-star safety rating.

Incredibly versatile. Midsize SUVs have quickly become the go-to family vehicle because of their versatility, and the Ascent shows exactly why.

In the segment, the Ascent has one of the larger cargo areas. With the third row in place, it can hold 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space. That figure expands to 47.5 behind the second row and 86.5 cubic feet in total.

Beyond the spacious cargo area, there’s a nifty storage compartment underneath the cargo floor and the seats are highly adjustable. The second row can slide fore and aft for more cargo capacity or easier access to the third row.

Second-row captain’s chairs are also available on every trim beside the base one to make getting to the rear seats easier.

Lackluster standard infotainment system. While the base Ascent comes well equipped with features like a power liftgate, 19 cup and bottle holders, tri-zone climate control, roof rails, and 18-inch wheels, the standard infotainment system misses the mark.

The base 6.5-inch touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but is small compared to other standard infotainment systems and is light on features compared to ones found in rivals. The system, though, is easy to use and has physical knobs for a few functions, which is helpful.

The available 8-inch touchscreen that’s standard on everything besides the entry-level trim is a worthy upgrade. It’s a more competitive size and adds wi-fi hot spot capability. Navigation and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system are also available with the larger touchscreen.

Subaru Ascent

Unrefined engine. Unlike a lot of its competitors, the Ascent only has one powertrain, which is a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

Producing 260 horsepower, the engine is down on power compared to SUVs with V6s, and it doesn’t have a great transmission to get the most out of it. The Subaru comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission in place of a conventional automatic. While the powertrain gets the job done, it’s not as refined as others in the class.

With a combined fuel economy rating of 23 miles per gallon, according to the EPA, the Ascent is one of the more efficient in the class. That’s one of the upsides from the turbocharged engine.

Unfortunately, dig into the throttle occasionally or go for a road trip, and fuel economy will take a dive. That’s one of the downsides with a small, turbocharged engine for such a large vehicle.

Go-most-places capability. Subaru’s known for making rugged vehicles, and the Ascent lives up to the automaker’s heritage with a standard all-wheel-drive system. That’s a rarity for the segment.

Not only is AWD standard, Subaru’s X-Mode is also included. It optimizes the engine, transmission, AWD system, and traction control system to ensure the driver always has traction.

If you plan to do some light off-roading, the Ascent offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance, hill descent control, and active torque vectoring as standard.

Final thoughts. Against the hordes of midsize SUVs, the 2021 Subaru Ascent stands out for all the right reasons. Standard all-wheel drive is something you won’t find on a lot of other competitors, neither are the Ascent’s lengthy list of standard safety features. Its enormous cargo area is impressive, as well.

The Ascent’s engine isn’t refined and doesn’t have the raw output to match competitors. The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen isn’t anything to brag about, but that problem is easily solved by going with the available 8-inch unit. All in all, there isn’t too much to complain about with the Ascent.

The Kia Telluride is more luxurious, comes with a more powerful V6 engine, has a larger infotainment system, and is backed by a lengthier warranty. The Mazda CX-9 is the athlete of the segment with a more enjoyable chassis, but isn’t as powerful, can’t tow as much, and has a smaller cargo area. But the CX-9 feels more upscale, has a larger available 9-inch touchscreen, and is more efficient.

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