2023 Subaru Ascent: Adventures for the Whole Family

Strong points
  • Great versatility
  • Competent AWD system
  • Solid off-road capability
  • Convenient technology
Weak points
  • Suspension noise
  • No electrified option
Full report

The Car Guide headed to Picton, Ontario last month to test drive the mildly redesigned and updated 2023 Subaru Ascent, the Japanese brand’s largest crossover. We spent time around town and on the highway, as well as some muddy trails nearby, to get a complete picture of how it performs.

We combined for 300 km in two different models including a top-line Premier (MSRP of $53,995) and a Touring ($45,495) that slots just above the base Convenience. By the way, pricing for the 2023 Subaru Ascent starts at $40,995 and delivery times are estimated at 90 days.

A Few Cosmetic Revisions

For 2023, the Ascent’s front fascia sports a revised grille and headlights along with a stylish new bar flowing from the Subaru logo. A new front bumper cover features lower-edge air ducts to improve aerodynamic flow under the vehicle. In the rear, the C-shaped (Konoji) taillights are refreshed, as well.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Many will say this is pretty timid, but according to Subaru’s research among adults aged 40-50 with children, which are the Ascent’s target audience, most customers don’t want bold designs and prefer function over form. They’re looking for a versatile crossover that’s also pleasant to drive.

The various Ascent models don’t change that much even if you spend extra money to get a more upscale one. Other than wheel size, the bumpers and mirror caps, they’re virtually identical.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Adventurous and Nimble

Despite being a three-row vehicle, the Subaru Ascent is surprisingly nimble. Part of the reason is the low position and boxer configuration of the turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (260 hp, 277 lb-ft. of torque), which drops the vehicle’s centre of gravity. This improves handling around town and also on dirt roads. The chassis and suspension are tuned with agility in mind, too.

Acceleration is solid both off the line and when passing. Even though the CVT (with eight simulated gears) is not very exciting, we have to admit it does a commending job overall. Unfortunately, no electrified option is part of the plan for now.

We put Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system to the test in various conditions including dry and wet pavement, sand, mud and rocks. Unsurprisingly, the Ascent took it all in stride. In fact, it felt like we were driving an ATV, especially with the 220 mm of ground clearance—better than several competitors.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

On some terrains, however, the suspension seemed to generate undesirable noises, which was weird. Still, the Ascent is marvellous off the road. The standard X-MODE includes Hill Descent Assist, while dual-mode X-MODE (Onyx, Limited and Premier) adds Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud settings.

As for fuel consumption, we recorded an average of 9.7 L/100 km at the end of the day, which is pretty good. Natural Resources Canada’s official rating of 11 L/100 km? Not so much.

Versatile With Plenty of Tech

The interior of the 2023 Subaru Ascent can accommodate seven or eight people depending on the model. There’s no premium to pay, by the way. Seating is comfortable and spacious—even adults that are six feet tall can fit in the third row, though probably not for a long trip.  

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Front-seat occupants have access to a feature called Cabin Connect. When activated, an overhead console microphone picks up the driver or front passenger’s voice and then transmits through the rear speakers for easier communication with third-row occupants.

The trunk has a capacity of 458 litres, but you can get as much as 2,150 litres by folding all the rear seats. Towing capacity, meanwhile, ranges from 908-2,270 kg (2,000-5,000 lbs). Roof rails come standard on all Ascents.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

In front of the driver is a classic instrument cluster that combines analogue gauges with a small digital display. Every trim level now gets a tablet-style, 11.6-inch Full HD centre touchscreen (previously 6.5 or 8 inches). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration no longer requires a USB cable, which is also good news. The infotainment system can receive OTA updates.

Subaru says the rear-view camera’s resolution is four times better than it used to be. More upscale models stand out with a powerful Harman Kardon audio system and what3words location technology. 

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Safer Than Ever

When it comes to safety, last year’s Ascent earned a Top Safety Pick+ award from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), so expect the 2023 model to do the same, especially with the upgrades made to the Subaru EyeSight system (fourth generation).

A wide-angle mono camera works together with the dual-camera EyeSight, expanding the field of view to recognize pedestrians and bicycles sooner when the vehicle enters an intersection at low speed. An additional feature called Automatic Emergency Steering works in conjunction with the Pre-Collision Braking System to help avoid a collision at speeds less than 80 km/h. Adaptive cruise control operates fairly smoothly, while lane keeping assist does exactly what it’s supposed to.

Ultimately, the 2023 Subaru Ascent is a great three-row crossover, but the competition is pretty fierce with the likes of the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas. It offers the versatility most families look for and a competent AWD system that’s ready for any adventure. Consider it a pragmatic purchase in a segment with more boldly styled and more technologically advanced contenders.

Watch: 2022 Subaru Forester Premier Review

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