What can you ascend with the new Ascent?

The 2020 Subaru Ascent Touring leaves us yearning to wander the unbeaten path in affordable luxury. Alas, we find ourselves in Costco parking lots looking at the San Gabriel mountains, wondering what it might be like to just go. The Ascent can make that ascent.

My favorite song right now is “Woke Up In Bangkok” by Deepend. (You should listen to it in the background as you read on, things will make more sense that way). Maybe not super popular in the U.S., but with the first line in the chorus being “Fell asleep in L.A.”, it should be. Not only does it mention L.A., but the lyrics go on and on about “any road will take me there”, which I think embodies the Subaru brand. The idea that this car can take you across worlds, using any road you happen upon, even if you sometimes take a left, when everything is right. (Hopefully you’re listening to the song).

Now why is this relevant? Well, because not only is that the song that I use to try out the stereo system of any car I review right now, but if you listen closely (or selectively… is the artist really talking about a Subaru? Probably not) it also happens to have a bunch of lyrics that fit the Ascent really well. Well, as I said, any Subaru, I guess.

“Any road will take me there” is sung over and over again, and even if the Los Angeles jungle of traffic-jammed freeways probably isn’t what Subaru wants you to associate with their brand, this is unfortunately the asphalt the Ascent’s permanent symmetric four-wheel drive will be gripping most often. For even if our minds wonder what it would be like, as we look up to the San Gabriel Mountains, we seldom actually do wander there. If you do, however, many roads can take you there. And the Subaru Ascent will be a great vehicle to take you there, even when the asphalt turns to gravel, and then to dirt and mud.

Let’s backtrack a little though. What is an Ascent? According to Google, it’s “a climb or walk to the summit of a mountain or hill.” According to Subaru, however, it is an SUV. A mid-sized sport utility vehicle, to be precise, and Subaru’s largest vehicle at that. It has a third row; big enough for kids, and probably big enough for the average adult to be able to take a (short) ride. Six adults on a road-trip to Las Vegas? Maybe not. But a family with four kids, on the other hand, is entirely plausible. The third row has an abundance of cup-holders (more on that shortly) and USB plugins to charge your mobile device. For a kid enduring a road-trip it probably is the best place in the car, as far away as possible from the grown-ups up front.

With the third row up, and maybe a kid or two in it, there is still a fair amount of space in the trunk.  Not Suburbanesque type of space, but enough to pick people up at the airport coming in for the weekend. And once you load the entire car up with people and/or things – the second-row captain chairs fold nicely leaving lots of space for THINGS – you still have a stable ride. The vehicle is meant to haul stuff, and it still handles predictably when said stuff is spread out within.

Looking through the interior of our review vehicle, specifically the 2020 Subaru Ascent Touring – the highest trim level with an MSRP of $46,000 – you’ll notice all kinds of luxuries you might not expect in a Soobie. The leather is not just nice, but, like, really nice. This particular review vehicle is covered in really nice brown leather (Java Brown) with white stitching. I’ve never understood how having the stitching super visible – in a contrasting color – makes such a big difference in the look and feel of the interior, but it really does add a little somethin’ somethin’. This feeling of luxury comes in handy, because at 46-thousand this is an expensive Subaru. Probably the most expensive Subaru, not counting the STI S209. However, I would still argue that this is something of a bargain. At least a strong contender if you are looking to spend that kind of money on an SUV. The Ford Explorer Limited starts at 48-thousand, as does the GMC Acadia Denali. If you compare to the Buick Enclave you’ll have to look at the trim levels of Premium or Avenir to get features on par with the Subaru Ascent Touring, and that puts you in the low to high 50k, respectively.

Subaru has done a nice job in making sure the Ascent Touring feels luxurious. This is obvious even in the way they hide the in-seat hooks for ISOFIX/LATCH car-seats. They are neatly hidden under a leather cover – the same nice leather as the rest of the seat. On the subject of car-seats, the third row is set up for car-seats as well – ISOFIX/LATCH hooks for two kids are available back there, which is not always the case with mid-size SUVs.

A persistent problem for those with little ones is the fact that the car-seats pretty much take up all the space in the car, often forcing the driver and the front passenger to move their seats forward to make room for their bulk. Again, however, the Ascent delivers beyond expectations – both occupants in the front are able to enjoy the ride in comfort, even me, at almost 6 feet tall.

This being a Subaru – known for the rugged road-tripping you can/should do more often – I would have expected some hooks on the floor… How do I tie down all my outdoorsy gear? Or maybe Subaru has accepted the fact that most of their very capable Ascent Touring vehicles will be hauling families to Costco rather than adventurers over mountains. Given that, hooks and such might take away some of the opulence the Ascent Touring otherwise has going for it. But still, it is a Subaru, I expected some ruggedness to carry over into their top-of-the-line family tourer. 

The infotainment system has two screens. Putting the Ascent into reverse naturally engages the rearview camera, but you’ll be happy to see that it also automatically starts the front vision camera on the top screen. Not quite the top-down perspective becoming popular in the luxury – and very expensive – class of vehicles, but still pretty convenient. The top screen also has a button to quickly go to front vision view, which is really helpful when pulling into sparking spaces. Some cars make you either go through a jungle of menu options or put the car into reverse to get there, so this small button is a huge thing. With a viewing angle of 180 degrees, the front camera actually gives you a great wide view – looking around the corner left and right as you pull out of parking garages. Nose out a little and check the screen to see if it’s safe to proceed, instead of pulling all the way out and potentially putting yourself in a precarious situation.

The Sound system – ahem, the Quantum Logic Surround Sound system with 14 speakers – is great. Anna and Elsa can sing their hearts out – much to my kids’ enjoyment, less so for me – and when the kids finally get tired of arctic voices and loudly proclaim the need for a playlist switch I get my hopes up. Alas, the Norwegians are replaced by deep voices of the Pacific. I do enjoy the Moana soundtrack, and the speakers can show off their depth a little more. As a trip progresses and children one by one fall asleep, I can finally switch to my own playlist. Wife permitting, of course. “Fell asleep in LA… Any road.. Any road…” (you’re still listening, right?)

The 2020 Subaru Ascent Touring can be likened to a Sherpa carrying your gear up Mt. Everest. As long as you’re paying well, they will carry way more than you need during your ascent (pun intended). To give you a hint as to the lugging capabilities of the Subaru Ascent, please take note: It comes loaded with 19 cupholders.. Yeah, you read that correctly. That’s enough for everyone to have – wait.. getting calculator.. ahem I mean iPhone (who has a calculator?) – 2.7 cups each. If you’ve maxed out your occupancy, that is. And since I still have my computing power handy, here’s some more fun info: If five of the seven people in the car have THREE drinks with them, the remaining 2 passengers can sip on two drinks, each that is. Rarely do I have two drinks for just me (sharing is caring, right?), but I don’t think I have ever had THREE beverages with me, no matter how long the trip. On that note though, it does make it easier to settle the random “this cupholder is mine”-fights, which is nice.

Subaru has done a great job with the 10-way power driver’s seat with memory and thigh support. Aaah, that thigh support. Best described as an extendable bottom cushion of the seat (tush-cush?), this magical thigh support is for me – a relatively tall individual – a really nice detail. This means that my thighs finally get the support they deserve, offloading my legs and feet. Does it also function as a flotation device if need be? Maybe.

On the topic of seats, I should mention that they are heated and cooled. The latter probably being the better selling-point for Angelinos, and the former a function that we’ll use that one time per year when we drive somewhere cool.. I mean cold.

There are USB-outlets (why aren’t they called inlets?) pretty much everywhere, and up front Subaru has even left a hole for the generation still using the 3.5mm sound cable. Using Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto will get your music playing through the speakers so you can party like it’s 2020, not the nineties.

The second-row captain chairs pull forward and hunch over a little to make it easy to get back to the third row. A kid could wander around the chair and go back between the two captain chairs, but this function makes it a whole lot easier for an adult to get back there; either to sit down or to assist a child getting strapped in way back in the third row. For a family of 5 (or more), it really us the small things that make the big differences.

The list of safety features on the Ascent reads like a Black Friday Walmart receipt. To add to that metaphor, one could argue that the Ascent is one of a handful of vehicles capable of taking on said shopping endeavor. Subaru always touts their Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive – and yes, as always theirs is a great all-wheel-drive system. When looking at the Monroney you can see it listed among the safety features… I guess the traction created by a great all-wheel-drive system grants it access to that list..? Additionally, on the Ascent, it is coupled with a sophisticated “Vehicle Dynamics Control” which further heightens the handling of this relatively large automobile.

One notable safety feature that actually has a tangible positive impact on your driving experience is the LED Steering Responsive Headlights. They “move” with your steering wheel inputs to light up the path you’ll soon be on, rather than the area currently straight ahead of the vehicle. This turns out to be one of those features that you quickly get used to, and don’t think much of, until you switch to a car without it and immediately are reminded how dark the road around a corner really is.

Unless you have “Woke Up In Bangkok” on repeat, your ears are now enjoying something else. But, if you indeed did listen to that song, I’m sure that you’ll think about it next time you see a Subaru Ascent. And maybe one day you’ll find yourself making some kind of ascent in an Ascent. If so, send us a selfie.

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