Currently, Subaru's Crosstrek, Forester and Outback serve young singles, couples and parents with recently arrived children. They also have older empty nester types who effectively "come back to us." But for those customers in their "child-raising years," they've had no choice but to leave the brand in favor of one that sells a larger, three-row model. They don't need the biggest thing around, but something larger than an Outback would be nice.
It is for these people that the 2019 Ascent was created, a "right sized" crossover, according to Subaru, designed to deliver the high functionality and ease-of-use expected of the brand. It was "sized to overwhelm the Outback," which it most definitely does when viewed side-by-side, while still looking very much like the Outback. Really, the Ascent is intended to keep Subaru buyers in the family, so to speak. Any conquest buyers would seem to be gravy.
Here are some other takeaways from our first look at the 2019 Subaru Ascent during its unveil last night prior to the L.A. Auto Show.
— The Premium and Limited trim levels will provide customers with a free-of-charge choice of second-row bench (eight-passenger) and second-row captain's chairs (seven-passenger) configurations. This is unique in the industry, giving customers the option to outfit their Ascent in a way that best suits their family. Subaru expects the captain's chairs to be a bit more popular.
— We have our doubts about Subaru's official cargo capacity figures. The published maximum cargo volume, which represents both the second and third rows folded, is a meager 72.8 cubic feet. That's actually less than the Outback (73.3) and the Forester (74.7)! That's also considerably less than other three-row crossovers like the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Having seen the Ascent in person, however, that's extremely hard to fathom. It doesn't look that small in the least. Far from it. It has a big, boxy interior with a third row that fit a pair of 6-footers behind a second pair of 6-footers in the second row. There's even about 20 cubic feet of space behind the third row. Subaru confirmed it used SAE measurement standards, but couldn't confirm which ones. Perhaps it was simply measuring up to the top of the seats rather than to the roof. In any case, we wouldn't take that 72.8 figure too seriously. Subaru might actually be shooting itself in the foot there.
— Speaking of that third row, it was pretty easy to get into with a two-tiered step and a fairly generous pass-through between the slid-forward second-row and the third. The door opening is notably square, which makes getting through a bit more pleasant than some competitors. Also note the little inboard grab handle on the captain's chairs, which were inspired by similar seat handles on Japan's bullet trains.
— There can be eight USB ports throughout the cabin. There are also 19 cupholders standard, including five in the third-row. Its three-cup holder on the right side also doubles as an iPad holder.
— The cloth trim in the Premium trim level is a new stain-repellent upholstery, so do your worst, you sippy-cup-wielding little monsters.
— The top Ascent Touring trim, pictured, comes with a rearview camera mirror a la Cadillac. Except, in this instance, it actually makes some sense. For starters, Subaru pointed out that it comes in handy should you load up the rear cargo area to the roof, restricting your rear view. That's not something that'll happen in a Cadillac CT6. Subaru also put the camera itself behind the tailgate glass and within the swipe of the wiper, thereby preventing the camera from being shrouded in wintery muck and guck.
— The Ascent comes standard with a 5,000-pound tow rating and a Class III hitch located behind a sleek cover (like a Jeep Grand Cherokee). That tow rating is on par with most in the segment not named Durango, but I'd wager that hitch will be a bigger boon for cyclists who can mount their bikes easily on the hitch and still keep the roof free for whatever other outdoor lifestyle items they see fit.
— Speaking of which, the Ascent does NOT have the Outback's inward-swinging side rails that become cross bars.
— Like every other Subaru crossover, ground clearance is 8.7 inches, easily besting most competitors (I have no idea how the Mazda CX-9 has 8.8), but Subaru says it also somehow has the lowest step-in height. All-wheel drive is standard, duh.
— The Ascent's 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four is an all-new engine. It produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Subaru says it expects a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds. (Or 9.8 when loaded up with that 5,000-pound trailer. Thank goodness we all know that.) Its standard CVT is a version of Subaru's current "high torque" CVT upgraded to handle the Ascent's extra weight.
— The Ascent is on the same Subaru Global Platform (SGP) as the new Impreza, though lengthened and strengthened.
— Subaru fully expects the Ascent to achieve the best-possible ratings in every Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test, including forward collision warning, headlight and child seat fitment tests. That would be in keeping with the new Crosstrek.
— Subaru didn't announce pricing, but expect it to start in the low $30,000s when it arrives early next summer. Subaru also said that it would be happy to sell 50,000 units, making it clear that the 100,000 or so numbers the Forester and Outback pulls are not expected.
— And finally, Subaru introduced the Ascent at the special "Subaruville" unveil event with the help of the Barkleys, a family of eight. They were Golden Retrievers, of course, but they came pouring out of the new crossover nevertheless. We say this only because it was extremely cute. A bit bonkers, but cute. The active outdoorsy folks taking a hike and mountain biking around the faux hilly landscape ... ah, that was less so. Yay puppies!