Subaru Ascent Is an Excellent Road Tripper

In this adventure

Editor’s note: How the 2019 Subaru Ascent performed in a comparison by and mountain bike enthusiasts with the GMC Canyon Denali, Range Rover Velar and Toyota Sequoia on a round trip from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, Calif. Find the other vehicles and the full report here.

When Subaru debuted its eight-passenger large SUV, it bragged about how many puppies fit inside its spacious interior.

The company was barking up the right tree. The oversized interior of the Ascent is a treat. It’s perfectly configured so the third row comfortably fits an adult without sacrificing precious cargo space.

The cabin and stowage space were winning features on a recent excursion From Long Beach to Santa Cruz, Calif., to meet up with a team of mountain biking enthusiasts. Leveraging their experience in the sport, evaluated a group of vehicles to find the perfect transport to mountain biking trails. The Ascent has a starting suggested price of $38,995. The vehicle test had the Limited trim package and a price of $42,920 including a $975 destination fee.

The other vehicles included a 2018 Range Rover Velar, 2018 Toyota Sequoia and 2018 GMC Canyon.

The Ascent’s journey started with a 365-mile trek north from Long Beach to Santa Cruz.

In addition to two pieces of luggage, the Ascent was loaded with two large crates filled with various supplies, as well as a box packed with a 52-pound double bike rack from 1UP USA measuring 38 inches long, 14 inches wide and 10 inches high. The width of the Ascent’s cargo area is 44.8 inches. While storage space with the third row up is notable — nearly 17 cubic feet — the bulky cargo warranted the near 50 cubic feet of room available with the back seats down.

With the second and third row folded down, the cargo space expands to 86.5 cubic feet.

“I assume you can probably lay your seats down [to sleep overnight] and throw your bike inside if you wanted to do that too,” said Kayley Burdine, a pro mountain biker and fitness instructor from Mobile, Ala.

The cargo area also features a sub-floor compartment perfect for stowing smaller loads or loose items like bike rack adapters or bicycle tools and gear.

The folding mechanism for the third row is manual and the levers — located on the top of the seats — are easy to use. The third row also has top-tether LATCH hooks for car seats, a feature some other three-row SUVs don’t offer, limiting passenger flexibility.

The Ascent comes in either a seven- or eight-passenger configuration. The difference is captain’s chairs or a bench in the middle row with a 60/40 split that fold and slide with a side lever.

The large SUV has a wide stance, but the higher driving position, like all large SUVs and pickups, gives the driver the feel that they are in control. The steering is responsive and smooth and it’s easy to turn — almost minivan-like.

The Ascent’s Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg in the city driving, 26 mpg in highway driving and 22 mpg combined. Though highway heavy, the drive to Santa Cruz did include surface street and twisty back country roads.

Acceleration in the Ascent is satisfactory. It could use quicker pickup adapting to freeway speeds. It changes lanes confidently. Its blind-spot monitoring — flashing lights on the side mirrors that indicate the presence of a passing car — eases the burden of navigation.

Its standout feature is the adaptive cruise control, part of the EyeSight advanced technology pack that now comes standard on all Subarus.

The system lets the driver set the vehicle’s maximum speed and the following distance between it and the car in front. Once activated, adaptive cruise adjusts to the speed of the car in front and maintains the elected following distance. The vehicle only hits the set speed when it senses open road.

Subaru’s system controls are conveniently located on the wheel, and when set manually, the speed jumps by increments of 5 mph. It is easier to click once to increase mph by five versus clicking five times.

There are three levels of following distances that limit how close the Ascent can get to the car it’s trailing. They are measured in one, two and three car lengths. For the Ascent it translates to: conservative, reasonable and slightly aggressive. Slightly aggressive requires more attention from the driver in case the vehicle in front slows or stops suddenly. Conversely, the conservative setting leaves too big of a gap, providing an opportunity for another vehicle to cut in between.

But set at a comfortable following distance, the Ascent’s adaptive cruise is a gem on the highway and helps keep driver fatigue at bay during long trips. There is a helpful heads-up display — information reflected onto the windshield at eye level — that flashes green when the radar is locked on and yellow when, again, the vehicle veers.

Subaru couples its adaptive cruise with lane-keep assist and lane-departure alerts. The vehicle virtually steers itself, but it’s poor at centering and sometimes feels overpowering. It beeps if it senses the driver’s hands off the wheel. Beeping also occurs when the vehicle veers from the lane.

A second screen above the 8-inch infotainment screen shows a digital rendering of the SUV and the car it’s following. While it’s helpful to see what the vehicles sees, the green light conveys the same message. The data on this screen is changeable.

The bottom line: The many signals layered together are a lot to digest and can be distracting.

Though the Ascent is not a luxury vehicle, it has some upgraded amenities such as heated leather seats. There is no cooling function, but there are 10 ways to adjust the driver’s seat, including lumbar. The leather seats are comfortable throughout the SUV.

“The Subaru Ascent, surprisingly, had the most comfortable seat and cockpit to live in as a driver. The lumbar was great,” said Bryon Dorr, a mountain biker and outdoor adventurer from Reno, Nev.

Upholstery often incurs abuse during road trips — spills and crumbs, grimy hands, dirt from strange rest stops. The leather helpfully doubles as a stain repellant and can be refreshed swiftly with a wet cloth or wipe.

There are cupholders everywhere. All 19 are oversized and fit a 32-once blender bottle. There also are four USB ports — two in the front (both are visible and easy to access) and two in the rear center console.

Pilot and co-pilots also will find the onboard infotainment system a cinch. The central home button returns users to the main screen, which includes options such as Map (navigation), Radio, Media and Phone. The built-in navigation is intuitive, responsive to the touch, fast to find information and stays unlocked when the car is in motion. Smartphones connect via Bluetooth, giving the Ascent access to contacts, call data and music.

Most importantly is the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Ascent also has a hot spot, which is convenient. At times it worked better than a phone. That’s because the vehicle has a larger antenna that gets better reception.

“I would say it was probably the best all-around adventure mountain biking vehicle,” Burdine said, noting that the Ascent would need a tow hitch — a $499 option.

After seven hours on the road and two pit stops, the Subaru Ascent arrived safely in Santa Cruz. Average fuel economy landed around 26 mpg. The 19-gallon tank started near full and only required one truck stop topper, which more than carried it to the destination.

Though the windshield was covered in smashed insects and the fenders sprayed with dirt, the roomy interior sparkled. With the cargo unloaded and the third row reset into position, the large SUV was ready to get back on the road.