Longtime Subaru fans have been amazed how far and fast the company has come in recent years — as demonstrated by the Ascent, the largest model ever made that competes effectively against other midsize, three-row crossover SUVs.
Subaru's earlier cars, wagons and SUVs attracted a cult following almost in spite of themselves. Although the styling was plain and the production standards lagged behind most other Japanese manufacturers, they were reasonably priced, had a reputation for durability, and came standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive that increased traction in wet conditions and encouraged light off-road driving.
But starting a few years ago Subaru decided to up its game. New models got better styling, the interiors were upgraded, and the production standards improved. But they remained reasonably priced and still came standard with AWD, with the exception of the two-seater BRZ co-produced with Toyota. The result was a dramatic increase in sales, allowing Subaru to shake off its cult reputation.
Then Subaru surprised even its newest fans in 2019 with the Ascent. It goes head to head against the most popular vehicles in that market segment, including the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Highlander. Although not quite as sophisticated, the Ascent is close enough and, with AWD standard, it costs less than comparable competitors. All versions also come with X-mode, which assists with steep hill descents.
And now Subaru has another surprise for 2022 — a new Onyx Edition trim level for the Ascent that includes both appearance, functional and tech upgrades, all for an affordable $37,995, including standard AWD. That's less than some well-equipped midsize cars.
Aside from standard AWD, the biggest difference between Subaru and other manufacturers is the engine. All Subaru models come standard with flat or Boxer engines, like those founds in early Volkswagens and Porsche sports cars. In the past, that was a little problematic. The Boxer engine allowed for lower hoods and lower centers of gravity, improving handling. But it was noisier, rougher and less powerful than the inline fours and V6 engines offered by competitors.
But Subaru has overcome those problems in recent years by refining its engines and offering powerful turbocharged versions in more of its vehicles. The Ascent comes standard with a turbo 2.4 that pumps out 260 horsepower and 277 foot pounds of torque. It is a welcome option for the company's midsize Legacy sedan and Outback crossover, too.
Mated to a high-torque Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission, the turbo 2.4 provides good performance for a vehicle that weighs about two-and-a-half ton. It is also capable of towing 5,000 pounds. It also has 8.7 inches of ground clearance without the low and showy front air dams on some other midsize crossovers, making it suitable for light off-road driving.
Our test Ascent was also equipped with the new Onyx Edition package, which is well worth considering. It included a black front grill, rear spoiler and 20-inch alloy wheels that helped it look both rugged and sporty without being over the top. The interior was also dressed up with special trim, including a sharp-looking center dash panel trimmed with silver simulated carbon fiber and door panels with black and simulated carbon fiber finish.
But the package also included practical upgrades like StarTex water-repellent upholstery, and second row captain seats that provides easier access to the third row. It also includes such safety upgrades as Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Reverse Automatic Braking.
In a week of test driving, our Ascent was always comfortable and capable. The ride was very smooth although a little lightly sprung over broken pavement with only the driver on board. Power was always more that adequate, including on steep hills and when passing on freeways, thanks in part to the well-tuned CVT. The front cabin had plenty of room, and the controls were easy to understand and use, including the display screen. The second row of seats offered an impressive amount of space, although the third row is a little tight for adults.
The Ascent is the least likely Subaru ever offered, but has enough of the company's DNA to attract longtime fans and is advanced enough to compete against comparable models from better known manufacturers. Subaru's leap from cult to mainstream manufacturer status has been impressive over the past few years, but it is genuine and the 2022 Onyx Edition should impress anyone looking for a thoroughly modern midsize, three-row crossover SUV with standard AWD and a little extra style at a reasonable price.
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition
Base price: $32,295
Price as tested: $41,320
Type: Midsize crossover SUV
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged horizontal 4 (260 hp, 277 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 20/26
Overall length: 196.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,542 pounds
Final assembly: Lafayette, Indiana
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