May 30, 2024
Wheels

Ascent SUV offers 3-rows, distinct style, impressive safety

Subaru’s ‘wagon-like’ design provides useful space, great drivability

With a base price of $34,395, the Subaru Ascent 3-row SUV offers a lot of room, impressive safety features, and Subaru's capable all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.

The 2024 Ascent may not be one of those SUVs you see dozens of scattered throughout the store parking lot – but it probably should be. With a base price of $34,395, this 3-row SUV offers a lot of room, impressive safety features, and Subaru’s capable all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.

Subaru offers the Ascent in several configurations from the Base ($34,395) and Premium ($36,995) to the Onyx Edition ($41,795), Limited ($42,095), and Touring ($48,695). Having driven the Base model, and recently testing the Onyx Edition, this is one SUV that really flies under the radar of a lot of consumers. Out West, where mountainous terrain and extreme weather require a minimum of AWD, Subaru is everywhere.

Of course, not unlike Jeep and VW, Subaru has its cult-like following that worships the brand’s distinct look and deservedly its iconic off-road capabilities. Add in better-than-average safety and it’s no surprise families are beginning to take notice.

On the outside, the Ascent got a facelift in 2023 that delivered a few modern touches to the front and rear design, as well as adding in several cabin features that elevated the three-row SUV. The addition of the Onyx Edition filled the popular choice for a “blacked out” appearance.

As an SUV with three rows, Ascent struggles a bit to not look big and bulky. Featuring Subaru’s distinct wagon-like stance and lower ground clearance, it manages to be different, though it’s still awfully big. Making it bigger, but planted solidly, are 20-inch black, painted rims. The Onyx Edition deems the flat-black roof rails and rear silica spoiler.

Up front, the grille is a notable feature that is accented by a center chrome bar and chrome inlets in the lower fascia. It’s a nice touch of refinement that moves rearward to the windshield over sweptback LED lenses that wrap the chiseled corners. From this point, it looks pretty Subaru-like, with the high roof rails (700-pound capacity) capping off the top profile line.

Cabin

Three-row SUVs promise roominess and Ascent does not disappoint. Onyx has two captain’s chairs in the second row, but a bench is available in lower trims. Maximum cargo capacity measures 72.8 cubic feet with both rows of seats folded flat.

Front-row passengers are treated to power seats in the Onyx level, along with heated and ventilated seats. Row two passengers have heated seats, and the entire cabin has 19 cupholders. Adults have no business trying to sit in the third row, though it will easily accommodate those it was intended for – the kids. One of the unique features added in 2024 was Cabin Connect, which uses the back speakers to allow the driver to speak directly to the rear passengers.

One of the big changes in the cabin was the addition of a larger touchscreen. Today’s Ascent features an 11.6-inch display that runs Subaru’s latest Starlink software. The display has replaced most of the physical controls previously on the dash. Climate controls reside below the touchscreen. Overall, I found the system to be quite intuitive to use with top-notch response time. Look for wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connections, as well as voice commands.

Performance

The Ascent’s powerplant is a capable 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo engine producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. This is not an engaging accelerator for speed enthusiasts, though it easily handled my highway merges and passing maneuvers throughout my weeklong test.

I have not been a fan of continuously variable transmissions and I cannot say this one is much different with its seemingly lifeless responses to jabs on the gas pedal. As EVs become the norm, the need for CVTs will fade away, and I can be happy again. This was not the “rubber-band” response I have gotten from so many CVTs, but it’s not enough for me. On the upside, the 2024 Subaru Ascent gets you 19/25/21 mpg.

Safety

Subaru’s standard AWD system is quite adept. The X-Mode system is standard on all Ascents, as is hill-descent control. Although the Ascent is not a rugged off-roader, it’s plenty safe in rain and snow. All Ascents include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane-centering assist.

As a family vehicle, Ascent is a safe option for rural or urban settings. Most notable is the Subaru EyeSight collection of safety features. The most significant change was a new automatic emergency-steering system with any Ascent equipped with active blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems. At speeds of up to 50 mph, the Ascent should slow down when it detects an imminent collision and try to steer around it.

I buy into the iconic Subaru brand because it has always delivered safety, AWD confidence, and for those who want off-road capability – it’s there from the low-end to the highest trims. For three-row space and Subaru’s standard AWD, my Onyx Edition’s $47,520 price seemed well in line with other competitors’ offerings.

• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations and new vehicles.