Tech reviews

Great Family SUV With Vexing Safety Tech

Our 2024 Subaru Ascent Touring test car in Dark Mahogany Pearl
Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Subaru Ascent SUV was recently updated with fresh styling and upgraded technology.
  • I loved its edgier styling, safety features, turbo engine, and comfortable cabin.
  • I was disappointed with its unrefined transmission, intrusive safety tech, and fuel economy

The Ascent is Subaru’s first true contender in the brutally competitive bloodsport we call the family SUV market.

I first had the chance to test a 2019 Ascent Touring six years ago. The big Subie made such a strong impression that it was a finalist for Business Insider’s Car of the Year award that year.

I eventually bought my own 2022 Subaru Ascent Touring in Ice Silver Metallic.

After a few years on the market, Subaru gave the Ascent a mid-cycle refresh in 2023 with revised styling, updated infotainment, and new safety tech.

I spent a week on the roads of Atlanta with a 2024 Subaru Ascent Touring, dressed in an eye-catching Dark Mahogany Pearl paint job, to see if it can still compete against the latest from Honda and Toyota.

I found the SUV to be a well-made and capable family hauler with a great all-wheel-drive system and comfortable cabin, but its new tech and the overall driving experience still need work.

The Ascent’s arrival in late 2018 was a game changer for Subaru.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring we drove back in 2018.
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For Subaru loyalists, the Ascent was nothing short of a godsend. For the first time, Forester and Outback owners could upgrade to a larger, three-row SUV from the brand.

Subaru’s previous attempt at a family SUV, the B9 Tribeca, failed to garner any real consideration from most buyers due to its small size, poor performance, and oddball styling. Subaru reigned in the Tribeca’s weird looks and gave it more power in 2008. Unfortunately, those efforts failed to generate market traction and Subaru eventually gave up in 2014.

A slew of new rivals hit the market in the years after Ascent’s debut.

The 2023 Toyota Highlander.

Toyota introduced an all-new 4th generation Highlander in late 2019. That same year, Hyundai introduced the Palisade while Kia launched the Telluride. The Korean sisters have garnered both sales and critical acclaim.

In 2021, Nissan rolled out their long-awaited 5th generation Pathfinder while Honda followed suit with the new 4th generation Pilot in late 2022.

The 2024 Subaru Ascent is available in 8 different trim levels.

The Subaru Ascent’s new updated looks.
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The base 2024 Subaru Ascent starts at $34,195 in the US, while our top-spec Ascent Touring test car starts at $48,495. With fees, our test car carried an as-tested price of $49,931.

The revised front facia leads the Acsent’s mid-cycle updates.

Subaru updated the Ascent’s front facia in 2023 with a larger, more aggressive front grille.
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Subaru eschews anonymous but conservatively handsome styling for a much more edgy and aggressive look, punctuated by a large chrome bar across the front grille, redesigned angular LED headlights, and bumper cover. The new front fascia aligns the Ascent with Subaru’s new corporate aesthetics.

Here’s a closer look at the new LED headlights.

The Subaru Ascent’s LED headlights turn along with the steering wheel.
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The Ascent’s steering-sensitive LED headlights turn based on the steering wheel’s position to help the driver see better in corners or on winding roads.

Out back, the styling updates are less pronounced.

The Ascent revised rear-end design also features a prominent chrome bar across the tailgate.
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The only noticeable changes are minor changes to the taillights on the power liftgate. The center panel of the rear bumper can be removed to make room for an optional tow hitch. The base trim Ascent can tow up to 2,000 lbs, while all other trims are rated for up to 5,000 lbs.

The Ascent received redesigned wheels with 18-inch aluminum alloys standard on base trims and larger 20-inch alloys (seen here) available on higher trims.

The 2024 Subaru Ascent Touring with optional 20-inch wheels.
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Overall dimensions of the Ascent remain unchanged.

The Ascent and its a boxy side profile.
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It’s roughly 2 inches longer than the comparable Toyota Highlander but 3 inches shorter than the Honda Pilot. Ground clearance remains a robust 8.7 inches.

On the inside, I remain impressed with the Ascent’s cabin, especially, in Touring trim.

Subaru updated the Ascent’s dash with a larger 11.6-inch screen.
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The Ascent’s cabin is classic Subaru, not flashy, but the ergonomics are, for the most part, terrific. All of the buttons, knobs, and features are exactly where they should be. In other words, everything makes sense here.

The interior fit and finish are outstanding. Everything feels solidly put together with quality materials.

The Subaru Ascent is available with a second-row bench seat or captain’s chairs.
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Changes to the interior are headlined by a redesigned center console.

Subaru updated the Ascent’s dash with a larger 11.6-inch screen.
Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The 2019-2022 Ascents’ Starlink infotainment system lived in a standard 6.5-inch or optional 8.0-inch touchscreen. In addition, a small scrollable information screen that also served as the display for the Ascent’s front-facing camera sat atop the center console. All that and most of the physical climate controls are now gone.

All of those functions have been incorporated into a the touchscreen.

The Subaru Ascent’s Starlink Infotainment system lives on a large 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen.
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Thankfully, the physical volume knob and temperature adjust buttons remain. It’s a setup that originally debuted on the 2020 Outback wagon.

The content that once lived in the small info display now occupies a scrollable ribbon at the top of the main touchscreen.

Content from the separate info screen is now integrated into the main infotainment screen.
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This includes local weather, navigation, vehicle status, audio, media information, and controls for Subaru’s updated X-Mode traction management system.

The virtual climate controls occupy the bottom edge. Both the top and bottom sections are permanent fixtures of the screen.

The climate controls are located at the bottom of the large 11.6-inch screen.
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Subaru also gave the Ascent an optional surround-view camera that provides a 360-degree overhead view of the vehicle.

The Subaru Ascent’s backup camera is activated.
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I’m a big fan of this view that gives you a clear view of the Ascent’s surroundings. From 2019-2022, a front-view camera was available, but only on the Touring trim.

The new surround view system stitches images from its front, rear, and side cameras to create a birds-eye view of the Ascent.

I found Subaru’s TomTom-powered navigation system easy to use but its graphics dated.

The Subaru Ascent’s Tom Tom-power navigation system.
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Most of the time, I stuck with Google Maps via Apple CarPlay. Both CarPlay and Android Auto are now wireless. Most of the time, I stuck with Google Maps via Apple CarPlay. Both CarPlay and Android Auto are now wireless.

My fully loaded Touring tester came equipped with the 14-speaker Harman-Kardon QuantumLogic sound system. We enjoyed its rich and powerful sound.

Our Subaru Ascent Touring came equipped with the optional Harmon Kardon QuantumLogic surround sound system.
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Instead of going with a large digital display in the dash, Subaru has gone for the tried and true setup of a pair of large analog gauges flanking a central digital instrument display.

The Ascent’s instrument cluster features a pair of large analog gauges flanking a central digital information display.
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In front of the driver is a nicely contoured, leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel and a pair of paddle shifters.

The Ascents updated steering wheel.
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The steering wheel received minor updates during the refresh with the controls for the gauge cluster’s information screen now integrated into the button cluster on the left side of the wheel.

The Ascent Touring test car came with an optional rear-vision camera display embedded into the mirror.

The Ascent is available with a smart rearview mirror.
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The rear camera itself is located on the tailgate at the top of the rear window.

The Ascent’s Smart Rearview Mirror Camera on the rear windshield.
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Near the rearview mirror is a sunglass holder with an integrated panoramic mirror handy for keeping tabs on the rest of the cabin.

The Ascent’s panoramic mirror is a handy tool to keep tabs on your passengers.
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The panoramic mirror complements the cabin connect feature on higher trim models that amplifies the driver’s voice to passengers in the back.

The Ascent boasts a total of 19 cupholders.

The Subaru Ascent Touring’s back door features wood trim, tan leather accents, and 3 bottle holders.
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However, we noticed that anything larger than a 20oz bottle will struggle to fit in many of these holders.

The Ascent can be had with a large, powered panoramic moonroof that fills the cabin with light.

The Ascent’s panoramic moonroof bathes the cabin with sunlight.
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I found it to be a worthwhile option even though it robbed the first and second-row occupants of about an inch of headroom.

The Ascent Touring’s perforated Nappa leather seats and wood grain trim inject a dose of luxury into a cabin that puts a premium on utility.

The Ascent’s front seats are both heated and cooled.
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Base trim Ascents come standard with cloth upholstery, while Premium trim vehicles come standard with stain-resistant cloth seats. Onyx Edition Ascents have StarTex water-repellent upholstery, while the Limited trim models have leather seats. Only the top-spec Touring comes with Nappa leather-trimmed seats.

We found the captain’s chairs, which are also heated on the Ascent Touring, to be comfortable and supportive.

The Subaru Ascent’s Nappa-leather lined rear cabin.
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Lower trim levels of the Ascent can be had with a second-row bench seat to boost capacity to 8 passengers. However, most higher trim levels come equipped with second-row captain’s chairs with room for 7.

Passengers in the back have their own climate controls, USB-C and USB-A charging plugs, as well as a 120V AC plug.

The Ascent Touring has dedicated rear cabin climate controls, USB chargers, and a 120v plug behind the front seats.
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Second-row passengers are treated to 38.6 inches of legroom.

The Ascent second-row captain’s chairs.
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Third-row passengers get 31.7 inches of legroom, which is roughly the same as a coach seat on an airplane.

The Ascent’s third row.
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Adults can fit comfortably on short trips around town, but these seats are best reserved for children.

Open up the powered tailgate and you’ll find 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row.

The Ascent’s cargo area.
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There is also an underfloor compartment where you’ll find the cargo cover, the jack, and the access point for the spare tire.

The Ascent’s cargo cover is stored in an underfloor compartment behind the third row of seats.
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With the third row folded, capacity increases to 42.1 cubic feet

The Ascent’s has plentiful cargo space.
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And with all rear seats down, the maximum cargo capacity behind the driver’s seat is 72.8 cubic feet.

The Ascent’s cabin with second and third-row seats folded.
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I didn’t love how the captain’s chairs don’t fold fully flat, which prevents someone from fully utilizing the Ascent’s cargo-hauling capabilities.

Power for the Ascent comes from Subaru’s F24F 2.4-liter, turbocharged, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine.

The Subaru Ascent’s FA24F turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
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The F24F debuted in 2019 with the Ascent but can now be found on other Subaru models like the Outback. Here, it produces a strong 260 horsepower and 277 ft. lbs. of torque. It’s mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission or CVT.

Our Ascent, equipped with the optional 20-inch wheels, boasts EPA fuel economy figures of 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined. Those equipped with 18-inch wheels are about 1 mpg higher across the board. The EPA number put the Ascent on par with the likes of the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Palisades but falls a few MPG short of the Toyota Highlander.

In practice, Subaru’s EPA figures are pretty optimistic. On our test car, we hovered around 19 mpg combined of regular unleaded gas.

As for my 2022 Ascent, It has never been able to reach 25 mpg on the highway. In fact, I’ve only reached 23mpg once in highway driving. Around town, my Ascent is usually around 18mpg.

As with almost all Subarus, the Ascent is equipped with the brand’s signature Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system.

Subaru’s signature Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive System.
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Unlike many AWD systems found in competitors, which only send power to the rear wheels when it detects traction loss, Subaru’s system constantly sends power to all four wheels.

So, what’s it like to drive?

The 2024 Subaru Ascent Touring from the driver’s seat.
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The Subaru Ascent delivers a pleasant and reassuring driving experience. The Ascent stands out for its confident handling and strong acceleration in a segment that doesn’t prioritize driving pleasure.

When it debuted in 2019, I, along with many in the industry, was unsure about pairing a small turbocharged four-cylinder in a 4,600-pound, 8-passenger SUV. However, the Subie quickly proved myself and other doubters incorrect. In fact, it has become a bit of a trendsetter as others, like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, have dumped their big V6 engines in favor of turbo fours.

The Subie remains peppy around town while providing gutsy acceleration down the highway on-ramps. The Ascent never felt short on power, even when loaded with cargo and people.

According to Car and Driver, the Ascent can make the sprint from zero to 60mph in a more than respectable 6.8 seconds.

However, the Ascent does have its imperfections.

The continuously variable transmission is the weakest point in Ascent’s driving experience and its drive train. The CVTs on earlier Ascents including my own, can feel abrupt or have a tendency to surge when accelerating at lower speeds. That was still the case on our 2024 test car but the effects are far more muted and barely noticeable.

Then there’s the CVT whine. Upon initial startup, the Ascent’s transmission emits a high-pitched whining noise while under acceleration. The noise, reminiscent of a dying torque converter on a traditional automatic, disappears once the vehicle reaches normal operating temperature. Even though the transmission delivers power normally when emitting the disconcerting noise, it feels grossly out of place in a $50,000 SUV.

With that said, Subaru’s Lineartronic unit is one of the most capable CVTs on the market and is able to provide a serviceable approximation of a traditional automatic transmission. The pre-programmed shift points that mimic the feel of an 8-speed automatic did help mitigate the dreaded CVT drone under hard acceleration.

Subaru’s signature EyeSight Driver Assist System also received major changes in 2023 with the addition of a new wide-angle camera.

The Ascent now features Subaru’s updated 3-camera EyeSight Driver Assist System.
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Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver’s assistance features includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, lane departure warning, pre-collision braking, automatic emergency steering, and pre-collision throttle management, which reduces power from the engine when it detects potential danger ahead.

I found the updated system to be excellent, building upon the strong performance of previous iterations. I found the system less intrusive and smoother in operation than the unit on my 2022 Ascent Touring.

The adaptive cruise control function now allows for 1 mile-per-hour speed adjustments. On 2019-2022 Ascents, you could only adjust the speed setting in 5-mile-per-hour increments.

However, I have a small gripe with the adaptive cruise control function. The steering wheel buttons that adjust following distance just don’t make sense. To my brain, the button with an arrow that points forward toward the vehicle ahead should reduce following while the one with the arrow pointing backward should increase following distance. On the Subaru, those buttons do the exact opposite. I’ve owned my Ascent for a year and a half now and I still get it wrong when I use adaptive cruise control.

Subaru’s new DriverFocus system uses a camera mounted on top of the front dash where the small information screen once lived to scan the driver’s eye and head movements constantly.

Subaru updated the Ascent’s dash with a larger 11.6-inch screen.
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The reason for the feature is good and pure. It gives visual and auditory alerts to the driver in case they are distracted or fall asleep. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the system in everyday use feels more akin to an overeager drill sergeant, ready a moment’s notice to yell at you for shifting your gaze to adjust the volume knob or to take a sip of coffee. The system can be turned off, but will automatically re-engage the next time you start the car.

Ascent owners can remotely start, lock, and unlock their vehicles using their smartphones through the MySubaru App.

The MySubaru App.
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The app also provides diagnostic information on the vehicle’s various systems and allows owners to track the vehicle’s location.

Subaru’s latest updates keep the Ascent a worthy option for those seeking something outside the status quo.

Our Subaru Ascent test car in its natural environment, the supermarket parking lot.
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When I first reviewed the Subaru Ascent back in 2018, I was wowed by its user-friendly design, refined cabin, a suite of standard safety systems, easy-to-use infotainment, and gutsy turbocharged engine.

All of that remains true, but just to a lesser extent.

Time and tide wait for no man and the SUV market has moved forward greatly since 2018. What was once a fresh new contender is now an aging veteran. The Ascent could really benefit from some sort of hybridized drivetrain, further refinement of its infotainment system, and a traditional automatic transmission.

And these are all changes that may come with the next generation of Subaru Ascent.

But for now, if you’re searching for a dependable family SUV with a great personality and a world-class AWD system, I can think of no better choice than the Ascent.


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