Autotrader: The 2020 Subaru Ascent review: Subaru’s roomy family crossover

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Until recently, Subaru loyalists looking to move up to larger, 3-row SUV had to leave the family and seek elsewhere. Thankfully, the 2020 Subaru Ascent eliminates this issue, welcoming home all those who were forced to abandon the safety, excellent resale values and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive for which Subaru vehicles are famous. Looking and driving like a gigantic Outback, the 8-passenger Ascent has comparable interior space and general packaging as some of the most popular and well-rounded large family crossovers (especially the Honda HMC, +0.52%   Pilot).

Those cross-shopping the Ascent to other large family crossovers will find a bit more space inside and a boxy shape with big windows for greater versatility. They’ll also enjoy a less claustrophobic rear seating area for the kids. Feature content is generous, especially in terms of safety and infotainment tech. AWD is standard, and you get a class-leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It is a Subaru, after all. Whether you’re a Subaru loyalist or not, the Ascent is a well-rounded family choice.


The 8-passenger Subaru Ascent has plenty of space.

What’s new for 2020?

For 2020, the Ascent gains a rear seat reminder that alerts the driver to check the rear seats before leaving the vehicle. 

What we like
  • Abundant space even for this segment
  • Standard AWD and accident avoidance tech
  • Lots of standard user-friendly infotainment features
  • Excellent crash test scores
What we don’t
  • Not exactly a looker
  • Throttle response may be too abrupt for some
  • Accident avoidance tech constantly beeps at you
How much?


Fuel economy

Every 2020 Subaru Ascent comes with a 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine that produces 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque — a capable amount, but less than many competitors. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard, along with AWD. All of its rivals have AWD as an option.

Fuel economy is estimated to be 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in combined driving. These lower by one mpg in the Limited and Touring trim levels.

Standard features and options

The 2020 Ascent is a large, 3-row crossover that can seat seven or eight passengers depending on whether it is ordered with the second-row bench seat or captain’s chairs. There are four trim levels: base, Premium, Limited and Touring. Pricing below includes the $1,010 destination fee.

The base Ascent ($33,005) comes standard with AWD, 18-in alloy wheels, the EyeSight Driver Assist package (forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control), roof rails, automatic headlights, a backup camera, 3-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, four USB ports (two front row, two second row), the Subaru Starlink infotainment system (a 6.5-in touchscreen, Apple AAPL, +0.16%   CarPlay, Android Auto and a variety of smartphone connection apps), and a 6-speaker sound system that includes a CD player, satellite and HD radios and a media player interface. The sliding and reclining 60/40-split second-row bench seat is mandatory on the base trim level.

The Premium ($35,405) adds rear privacy glass, dual tailpipes, blind spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system, increased towing capacity (5,000 pounds), the All-Weather package (heated front seats, heated mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer), rear climate controls, an 8-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, stain-resistant cloth upholstery, an 8-in Starlink touchscreen, an auxiliary audio jack and in-car Wi-Fi. Second-row captain’s chairs are a no-cost option. The Convenience package adds a power lift gate, proximity entry and push-button start, reverse automatic braking and an auto-dimming mirror. These items are also included in the Sporty package along with 20-in wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a cargo cover and integrated navigation.

A Rockford Fosgate audio system upgrade and two third-row USB ports are available as dealer-installed options on the base and Premium.

The Limited ($40,355) adds 20-in wheels, adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, adjustable driver thigh support and lumbar, driver memory settings, a heated steering wheel, a 4-way power passenger seat, heated second-row seats, leather upholstery, leather dash and door trim, upgraded gauges, the Convenience package content, rear door sunshades and two third-row USB ports. The second-row captain’s chairs are a no-cost option. The Technology package adds the panoramic sunroof, a cargo cover, integrated navigation and a 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround sound audio system. The Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade is also a dealer-installed option.

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The Touring ($46,055) adds the Technology package content plus special exterior design elements, a front parking camera, an enhanced backup camera, automatic wipers, ventilated front seats, Java Brown leather upholstery and wood-look trim. The captain’s chairs are mandatory.


The Ascent comes with an abundance of safety equipment, much of which is optional on competitors. This includes standard AWD, stability and traction control, front side air bags, driver knee air bag and full-length side curtain air bags, plus a backup camera, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on all but the base trim, while reverse automatic braking is included on the Limited and Touring trim levels.

See: 7 family sedans with the highest safety ratings

In crash testing, the government gives the Ascent its highest rating of 5 Stars overall, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Ascent excellent marks in all crash and collision avoidance test, as well as making it as a Top Safety Pick + choice.

Behind the wheel

If you’re a current Subaru owner, you’re bound to feel right at home in the new Ascent. You’ll just need to get used to the extra square footage, as there’s no ignoring the fact that there’s now more metal around you. Various control inputs like steering (it’s a little too numb on center), throttle response (it’s surprisingly sharp) and the unusual CVT power delivery (it simulates gears but does so at seemingly odd times for optimal acceleration) should be familiar to those who’ve driven a recent Outback, but perhaps a little unusual for those coming from another brand.

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Handling is sure-footed, benefiting from both standard AWD and a “torque-vectoring” system that uses the brakes to improve corner ability. The previously mentioned numb-on-center steering does somewhat negate these handling talents — the Ascent never feels as engaging as a Mazda CX-9, for instance. Ride comfort is excellent, as even the optional 20-in wheels on our test car didn’t result in tiresome impacts over rough pavement. Interior noise is kept nicely in check.

The interior design should also seem familiar. The driving position should be comfortable for a variety of driver sizes, and we especially liked how easy it is to reach the touchscreen. Competitors can make taller drivers lean uncomfortably forward. The touchscreen itself is also one of the easiest to use, comes with abundant features and even looks quite good. If there’s one technology complaint, it’s that the accident avoidance tech is a little too hypervigilant, with excessive beeping and warnings (for example, the adaptive cruise control atypically beeps when a car is simply detected ahead).

The Ascent is also exceptionally spacious, even for this segment. A tall adult can fit in all three rows, meaning your kids will be that much more comfortable (and have room to grow). The Ascent’s boxy shape and large windows also make it less claustrophobic back there. Cargo space is better than most competitors, including the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander and the Mazda CX-9, especially behind the raised third row. Big, chunky, functional roof rails are also standard, making it easy to mount whatever won’t fit inside.

Other cars to consider

2019 Honda Pilot: The Ascent is incredibly similar to the Pilot in terms of its interior packaging and space (the Subaru is a wee bit bigger), no-nonsense design and interior quality. Its infotainment system is harder to use than Subaru’s.

2019 Mazda CX-9: If you’re willing to sacrifice some utility for sharper styling and a more engaging, car like driving experience, the CX-9 is a great choice. It’s still plenty practical and its cabin is surprisingly luxurious.

2019 Toyota Highlander: The Highlander is all-new this year, with about the same interior room as the Ascent until you reach the 3rd-row seat, then things get really cramped. The Toyota TM, +0.60%  Highlander comes with a more powerful standard V6 engine, as well as a 4-cylinder hybrid model.

Used Acura MDX: Acura’s dependable family workhorse has long been the go-to choice for more practicality-minded shoppers who still want some luxury flair and pampering. A used or certified preowned model is a good bet given the MDX’s solid reliability history.

Autotrader’s advice

Although the base Ascent is well-equipped, we think paying extra for the Premium trim is your best bet. For $2,400, you get key extras like a power driver seat, heated front seats, rear privacy glass and, crucially for parents, stain-resistant upholstery. You can also get it with no-cost second-row captain’s chairs, which are popular, but do reduce seat count and versatility

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