The 2021 Subaru Ascent is the largest SUV Subaru has ever built, a family adventure-mobile that’s spacious, well-equipped, and — thanks to AWD — ready for anything. For its size and features, it’s also incredibly affordable.
During our test-drive of the Ascent, we drove it onto a beach. Which meant, naturally, we tried to get the Ascent stuck. We drove like jerks, basically, spinning wheels, twisting the wheel, and flooring it. No dice. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a fairly venerable AWD system, the Subaru just kept plowing forward like an eager malamute.
During another drive with the 2021 Subaru Ascent, a friend riding shotgun who drives a rival crossover, looked around kind of snootily and said, “Wait, this is a Subaru?” While the capabilities may be decidedly utilitarian, the ride’s ultrasmooth, the cabin quality is superb for the money — as are all the goodies you get with the Premium model at just $35,000.
The Family Car Awards
Family cars have never been better. Whether you’re in search of a minivan that’s loaded with all the extras, a crossover fit for family rides and weekend adventures, or an electric SUV that zips, the latest family cars are packed with straight-out-of-sci-fi tech and loads of small touches that elevate driving.
Some of those goodies? Well, even the base model of this Subaru crossover now includes LED headlamps that swivel in the direction of travel — something you simply cannot find in sub-$40,000 three-row SUVs — and there’s an alert now for second- and third-row passengers to fasten their safety belts. (You can certainly buckle up your kids when you first get behind the wheel, but knowing they’ve unclipped for any reason is hugely important.)
Subaru also gives even it’s base cars excellent safety tech, from automatic emergency braking to adaptive cruise control, which now does a better job keeping the Ascent within its lane. And they’ve added a feature that enables it, even if the vehicle’s not in cruise mode. Very smart. (We’re suggesting the Premium model, though, in part because it adds blind-spot assistance as well as rear cross-traffic alert.)
Beyond safety, Premium trim includes a superior, eight-way power driver’s seat and darkened rear-window glass, heated front seats and heated side mirrors, as well as a Wifi hotspot. There are dual USBs front and rear, and both the second and third rows split 60/40. That’s pretty perfect for stuffing through skis and snowboards on the 40 split and still being able to fit your whole family aboard for a holiday.
The 2021 Subaru Ascent’s 2.5-liter boxer engine is certainly small but rescued by low-down torque that helps it accelerate quickly from a standstill and for passing. Its CVT transmission is also very well-engineered, delivering seamless step changes (it’s not a traditional gearbox) with no jarring shifts. Steering, too, is a highlight of this Subaru. Like the Forester in the five-passenger section, Subaru just excels at inspiring confidence; even at this large size, you don’t feel the heft of what you’re driving. A very nice trick.
Our Pick: Premium Subaru Ascent, $34,795
Capacity: eight passengers
Max Cargo Space: 86.5 cubic feet
Ah, and back to our pal’s comment about the cabin. While Subaru has earned a rep for being very meat-and-potatoes, the Ascent is not. The cabin is comfortable, quietly well-appointed with double-trimmed stitching and metallic accents, and the balance is slightly more rugged than chic, but that’s about perfect for a family adventure-mobile. The seats are a faux-leather fabric that’s very durable and easy to clean, and the physical buttons and knobs for audio and HVAC, as well as overlarge icons on the centrally mounted touch screen, reduce the frustration of hunting too hard to make quick adjustments.
Is there any reason not to like this Subaru? Just one: The VW Atlas has more third-row knee room and more cargo capacity. But doing the math, the 2021 Subaru Ascent is an excellent deal.