The sport utility vehicle market apparently hasn’t reached its saturation point — at least Subaru doesn’t think so. Welcome the Ascent, the largest car the Japanese manufacturer has ever made.

Five years after Tribeca was discontinued, the 2019 Subaru Ascent is the manufacturer’s second and bigger three-row SUV. Subaru is hopeful its new people mover will fare better than its predecessor. When the Tribeca departed, it was among the country’s worst-selling vehicles.

The 2019 Subaru Ascent is a new, top-notch, three-row SUV.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent is a new, top-notch, three-row SUV.

The Ascent, which features seating for as many as eight, arrives as the SUV segment remains increasingly strong. During the first three months of this year, 15 of the top-25 best-selling vehicles in the United States were SUVs. Five more top sellers were pick-ups, including the top three on the list.

Joining Subaru’s lineup and surpassing the Outback in size, the Ascent features a turbocharged 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 260 horsepower. It advances with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and features the carmaker’s signature symmetrical all-wheel drive (AWD) system.

The Ascent is available in four trims, Ascent, Ascent Premium, Ascent Limited and Ascent Touring. The base model is far from lacking. It has cloth upholstery, the EyeSight safety suite, tri-zone climate control, a rearview camera and Bluetooth. Four USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are also standard.

The Limited, my review vehicle, is two trims more expensive and includes steering responsive full LED headlights, LED fog lights, an adjustable power liftgate, heated second-row seats, leather upholstery, keyless entry/start and a power-adjustable passenger’s seat.

A Harman Kardon premium audio system, panoramic sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs and programmable power rear liftgate are standard on higher trims and options on lower-priced trims.

Many of the technology functions are controlled via the user-friendly Starlink infotainment system. It’s refreshing when a manufacturer realizes not all buyers are tech savvy. The Ascent has plenty of modern-day features, but the controls are straight-forward, well-organized on the dash and console and intuitive.

It all contributes to the Ascent’s overall appeal. Enter the vehicle for the first time and comfort awaits. The SUV has easy entry and exit, and the leather seats are well-constructed with quality materials. The cabin has a spacious feel. The overall vision is impressive. An afterthought in some three-row vehicles, the rear seats in the Ascent work for adults no taller than six feet.

With the exception of its BRZ sports car, Subaru isn’t known for its top-end performance. But the Ascent isn’t a slouch. It achieves the 0-60 miles per hour standard in about seven seconds, which is more than satisfactory. Gas mileage averages are 20 miles per gallon in city driving, 26 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s one of the Ascent’s less-than-sterling attributes. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is $38,995.

Subaru is a pioneer in all-wheel-drive technology. It developed the full-time, four-wheel drive system in the early 1970s. The carmaker was an early participant in sports sponsorships as the official vehicle for the U.S. Ski Team.

The AWD system has been a staple feature of the carmakers’ vehicles since. The system distributes power to all wheels simultaneously, provides superior balance and gives a driver better control of the vehicle. Plenty of vehicles transporting occupants get stuck in inclement weather during ski trips. They’re easy to notice while driving past in a Subaru.

The Ascent enters the market against well-established offerings such as the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer. Those SUVs are popular for good reasons. But the Ascent has received strong reviews as a debutante, and it’s a strong challenge to segment leaders.

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