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Review: 2021 Subaru Ascent

Chris Kaiser

The largest vehicle in their lineup, the 2021 Subaru Ascent makes a case for itself among third-row SUVs with abundant safety tech and standard AWD.

The Forester’s Big Brother

2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

2021 Subaru Ascent – subaru.com |  Shop 2021 Subaru Ascent on Carsforsale.com

The popular third-row SUV segment has seen a number of strong new entrants to the category in recent years like the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride. Subaru, long a niche brand specializing in AWD alternatives to lumbering SUVs, decided to supersize their compact Forester into a proper third row with the introduction of the Ascent in 2018 (for the 2019 model year). The Ascent splits the difference between the Subarus you’re familiar with and the other third-row SUVs it’s competing against. The blend of Subaru strong suits, like standard safety features and AWD, and a healthy dose of modern amenities allow the Ascent to punch above its weight/price tag.

2021 Subaru Ascent Specs

2021 Subaru Ascent 2.5L turbo H4 - carsforsale.com
2021 Subaru Ascent 2.5L turbo H4 - carsforsale.com

Arguably the most important of the Subaru Ascent’s technical features is that Subaru signature standard symmetrical all-wheel drive. Unlike most crossovers and SUVs, Subarus offer this feature standard rather than charging a couple extra thousand and only on upper trim levels. Powering those four wheels for the Ascent is a 2.5L turbo H4 making 260hp and 277lb.-ft. of torque and connected to a CVT (with optional paddle shifters). Fuel economy is about average for the segment at 21 city and 27 highway mpg. Like all Subarus, the Ascent comes with 8.7-inches of ground clearance. Towing capacity maxes out at 5,000lbs.

2021 Subaru Ascent Driving & Performance

2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

Despite the Ascent being the largest vehicle in Subaru’s lineup, the 2.5L does a decent job getting the SUV up to speed. Acceleration is adequate for highway passing situations, though the Ascent does bog down a bit once you start closing in on that towing capacity of 5,000lbs. (fuel efficiency also takes a substantial hit). Throttle response is jumpy from idle (like the Forester); this seems to be how Subaru calibrates their crossovers and may take some getting used to.

The Ascent handles well in spite of its girth with minimal lean and the AWD system providing plenty of grip. Steering is evenly weighted and accurate, though feedback from the road is muted. The responsive brakes provide good stopping power. Unlike the Outback and Forester, the Ascent doesn’t yet have an auto start/stop feature which surprised us a little considering the SUV could use every edge it could get to improve its fuel economy. The feature is a double-edged sword however, with a lot of car buyer choosing to turn off the feature altogether to avoid the jerky starts from a dead stop.

Overall, the Ascent’s AWD and 8.7-inch ground clearance make is just a confident in inclement weather and rough roads as any Subaru. And though the 2.5L turbo won’t set your pants on fire, it, like the rest of the Ascent is utilitarian first and foremost and gets the task done with few complaints.

2021 Subaru Ascent Comfort & Interior

2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

Like most of segment, the Ascent’s suspension is tuned for comfort and easily soaks up bumps with few disturbances translating to the cabin. Long highway drives with the family are made even easier with the pleasant and practical cabin.

Not only is the Ascent the biggest vehicle in Subaru’s lineup, it’s also sports the most refined and decked out interior. While the design translates pretty directly from the Outback and Forester, which is to say unexciting yet inoffensive, there is greater use of leather and leatherette and other soft-touch materials in the Ascent. The top-of-the-line Touring adds wood trim and ambient lighting to the mix along with a kitchen sink’s worth of features and options.

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2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

Like the smaller Forester, the Ascent’s interior is spacious and airy. The narrow A-pillars, large windows, and, in the Limited and Touring trims, the panoramic moonroof allow for great visibility and let in a ton of light. Though the third-row seats run mid-pack for the segment with 31.7-inches of legroom, the second row offers a full 38.6 inches and with the optional captain’s chairs feels especially roomy.

Cargo is also on par with a max of 86.5 cu. ft. and 47.5 cu. ft. with the third row folded down. The Ascent comes in behind average in cargo once all three rows are in use with just 17.8 cu. ft. compared to the Ford Explorer’s 18.2 or the Kia Telluride’s 21 cu. ft.

2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

The Ascent offers plenty of spaciousness and practicality, but it’s the smaller items that keep it in the running against flashier choices like the Hyundai Palisade and Mazda CX-9. As we mentioned, the second-row captain’s chairs are a great choice, adding significantly to rear passenger comfort. There are a full 19 cupholders across the Ascent’s three rows or 2.7 cup holders per passenger. The second row even gets sunshades and tri-zone climate control coms standard on all trims.

Overall, the Ascent does a typical Subaru interior while offering a little bit extra. This makes sense considering this is also the most expensive Subaru out there.

2021 Subaru Ascent Trims & Features

2021 Subaru Ascent Base - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Ascent Base - subaru.com

Base – $32,295

LED responsive headlights, power liftgate, 6-speaker stereo, 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, four USB ports, satellite radio, keyless entry. EyeSight Safety Suite includes adaptive cruise control, lane centering and lane keep assist, lane departure and sway warnings, rearview camera, rear seatbelt warning, forward emergency braking, pre-collision throttle management.

2021 Subaru Ascent Premium - carsoforsale.com
2021 Subaru Ascent Premium - carsoforsale.com

Premium – $34,795

Windshield wiper de-icer, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather steering wheel, remote start, eight-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi hotspot, push-button start. Additional safety features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, and lane change assist. Optional second-row captain’s chairs.

2021 Subaru Ascent Limited - carsforsale.com
2021 Subaru Ascent Limited - carsforsale.com

Limited – $39,595

Memory 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat, four-way power passenger seat, leather seats, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, second-row sunshades, proximity keyless entry, reverser automatic emergency braking, fog lights. Optional captain’s chairs and optional Harman Kardon audio system.

2021 Subaru Ascent Touring - carsforsale.com
2021 Subaru Ascent Touring - carsforsale.com

Touring – $45,445

Ambient lighting, vented front seats, panoramic moonroof, navigation, 14-speaker Harman Kardon, second-row captain’s chairs, front view camera.

Conclusions – Brand Loyalties

2021 Subaru Ascent - subaru.com

2021 Subaru Ascent – subaru.com |  Shop 2021 Subaru Ascent on Carsforsale.com

For those with a relationship to the brand, the 2021 Subaru Ascent is a great choice for a three-row SUV over less familiar alternatives. The potent combination of a generous standard safety suite and that all-star AWD system makes the Ascent very competitive at the lower trims. With that said, the third-row SUV segment is red hot, with Kia having trouble getting the Telluride out to dealers even before this year’s production headaches. As much as we liked the Ascent Touring, it lacks the level refinement and style of top contenders like the Hyundai Palisade. But if you often err on the side of function over form, the 2021 Subaru Ascent provides a ton of practicality and comfortable everyday living.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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