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2020 Subaru Ascent Touring Review by Martha Hindes

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2020 Ascent Touring
Entering the third 20's decade – Big is Boss

By Martha Hindes
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

They say it's size that matters.

In the case of Subaru, entering the third 20's decade there was a missing link in their long list of midsize sporty vehicles – their original all wheel drive that decades ago helped set the standard for snow-worthy, slick road-worthy driving when almost no other car maker had that engineering and production talent...but no longer.

Subaru's contender in the hot three-row sport utility segment made its debut last year has proven with a bang that they really got it right.

From its launch in early 2019, the aptly named Ascent has made impressive waves among testers, family groups and most recently on the sales charts.

Following its first year on the market, Subaru reported a shade under 82,000 Ascents were sold in 2019. Not bad for a newcomer. This at a time when any auto brand could virtually fall off the map without a big guy in their lineup.

Consider the need for a three row, seven or eight passenger vehicle.

Take an extended family perhaps with an oversized pet in tow. A five passenger model simply won't hack it for anything longer than driving crosstown. Get out in the boonies, maybe on a national park venture, and -- despite all the clamor for high mileage, low emission, downsized transport -- that's where the rubber meets the gravel

For 2020, the Japanese auto maker has added some refinements to this serious, American-assembled contender in the three-row sport utility segment that replaced the earlier three-row Tribeca that never really got off the ground.

So what has Subaru tweeked to label it a 2020?

We had a chance to find out when a 2020 Abyss Blue Pearl Touring Ascent was delivered for a test drive.

The exterior has a family resemblance to other Subaru SUV models, notably the staple Outback, that has so successfully served te 4 and maybe 5 passenger needs.

But the Ascent is definitely beefier looking. And definitely more capable when it comes to the owner's demands.

Exterior side sculpting that incorporates the chrome door handles, topped with roof rails and bold 20 inch dark gray, five spoke aluminum alloy wheels give a no nonsense presence, and a heftier appearance than Subaru's previous, short-lived three-row contender the Tribeca of a half decade ago.

This is serious full size stuff.

Get inside and feel a spacious interior with handsome Java Brown leather-trimmed seating and wood patterned trim. Our test version had room for seven with second row captain's chairs and third row bench seating. Opting for a second row bench would expand seating to eight, all feeling comfortably non-confining. And no one should complain about needing cup holders. This Touring test vehicle had19.

The requisite interior amenities are all there – from electronics to comfort to practical necessities.

There's ventilated/heated front seating and 10-way driver's seat with memory and thigh support. For someone not even close to being six feet tall, it made feeling comfortable and secure behind the wheel a given.

The panoramic power moon roof with retractable sun shade gave a sense of openness. We got an expanded view of high rise buildings on our often city test routes, but can imagine the vistas during an outdoor venture. For those in the rear who want to snooze, rear door retractable sun shades and tinted glass should keep intruding glare at a minimum. All models get a new one touch button that activates all interior illumination.

The heated leather steering wheel and leather shift knob are good in this northern Great Lakes climate when winter temps easily can dip to single digits or even below zero at times. Plan on driving on a sub-zero day? Remote start from a smartphone on push button start models is included in Subaru's

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Starlink Connected Services.

For ease of use, our top-line Touring had the obligatory keyless access and push button start, automatic rain sensing wipers and a 180 degree front view camera. The exterior power folding mirrors on the Touring are standard for 2020.

Tri-zone climate control, standard on all models, with rear seat control panel guarantees everyone should feel comfortable during the ride. Air filtering should keep bothersome airborne pollutants at a minimum. Climate control can run by voice command on models with Navigation or touchscreen 8.0 inch Multimedia Plus with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and WI-FI on a 4G system.

Now we're getting down to business. What good is a road trip if you can't have some good sound to smooth the day? The 14 speakers of our Harman Kardon surround system made sure that those vibes would wrap around for a submersive sound experience. Much appreciated.

A power rear gate lock switch, standard on upmarket Limited and Touring and optional on Premium models is added for 2020. Again, not being a six-footer, a rear liftgate height usually isn't my problem. But for those who are taller, the power gate with height memory should help eliminate bumped heads.

And a cargo cover that can be stowed out of the way will protect stored items from prying eyes.

On the capability side, it's no surprise the Ascent has standard Symetrical AllWheel Drive, that's virtually synonymous with the name Subaru, sitting on a 2.4-liter, 16 V direct injection turbocharged Boxer powerplant. That's the engine, also synonymous with Subaru, with horizontal piston cylinders that punch back and forth rather than up and down like most internal combustion engines. The Ascent engine that generates 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft of torque runs on regular grade fuel. The high torque CVT transmission with paddle shifters has 8-speed manual mode.

Besides the requisite power requirements for comfortable long-haul trips, for ventures on less forgiving terrain, there's auto vehicle hold and hill descent control and 8.7-inch road clearance.

When packing for that trip, there's 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, or a cavernous 86.5 cubic feet with both second and third row seating lowered. That is, if one opts for bench rather than second row captain's chairs.

Standard roof rails offer space for more gear, including items as big as kayaks. And the Ascent can tow as much as 5,000 pounds, kept in check with trailer sway monitoring and individual wheel braking.

Perhaps the most appreciated addition for 2020, especially for parents with young children is the new Rear Seat Reminder – standard on all models -- that alerts the driver to check the rear seat when leaving the vehicle. While it doesn't sense the presence of a child or pet in the rear, it does monitor when rear doors are or are not opened within a set time and sets off an alarm and dashboard display to alert the departing driver.

The Ascent hasn't yet been crash rated. But it comes with the expected full package of air bags, lane departure warning, rear vision camera, blind spot detection and cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist among advanced safety systems.

All Ascents, regardless of model, get a standard safety package Subaru calls EyeSight Driver Assist with a long list of technological advancements, including automatic pre-collision braking and a heads up windshield display warning. Among other safety features: During emergency braking an override system cuts engine power if both brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously. Subaru lists projected fuel economy at a combined 22 miles per gallon (20 city/26 highway) with regular fuel.

We didn't try to eke out extra mileage points during our drives. It served our purpose more to feel the solid, comfortable ride whether driving locally or at speed on express roads and ease of maneuvering whether parking in tight spaces or avoiding traffic jams. The Ascent accommodated both beautifully, with easy handling and a comfortable ride that promised no stress on long trips.

The Ascent's 2020 entry price of $31,995 for the base model remains unchanged from last year. Before adding options, upping to Premium is $34,395, to Limited $39,345 and Touring $45,045. Our bottom line on the Touting we tested, after adding $1,010 for destination and delivery, was $46,055.

That's putting it well below some competitive vehicles it easily can match in styling, comfort and purpose.

Coppyight 2020, Martha Hindes, Automotive Bureau