2021 Subaru Ascent

2021 Subaru Ascent Review: Climbing The Ranks Of Greatness

by Roger Biermann

After debuting in 2018 as the replacement for the Tribeca, the Subaru Ascent has drawn praise and adoration as the largest Subaru vehicle ever produced. The three-row Ascent takes up residence in the midsize SUV segment against tough competition like the Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9, but with standard all-wheel-drive and impressive gas mileage estimates, it has the advantage of being better off-road than many of its contemporaries. Forgoing the standard V6 that many use, the Ascent draws power from a turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer engine developing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, while making use of a high-torque CVT transmission. A plush ride, flexible seating, and an abundance of driver assists right from the base level are all compelling attributes, but when the best in the segment include the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, the Ascent is simply not at the same level.

2021 Subaru Ascent Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Ascent?

Subaru tends to build its volume products on a six-year product cycle with a significant refresh taking place after the third year. The 2021 model is the third year this car will be produced and gets a few notable changes. Advanced adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and lane keep assist is now added to the EyeSight driver-assist suite, and steering responsive LED headlights are now standard across all trim levels, as well as second and third-row seatbelt reminders. A new leather option has been added for Touring models: Slate Black with silver stitching.

Pros and Cons

  • Wide range of seating configurations
  • Comfortable suspension
  • Impressive safety tech on every trim
  • More standard features added for 2021
  • Standard all-wheel-drive
  • Easy-to-understand infotainment
  • Poor performance, despite a turbocharged engine
  • Unrefined engine sounds strained under hard acceleration
  • Smaller third-row seats than rivals
  • Humdrum styling

2021 Subaru Ascent Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Base
2.4-liter Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Other
$32,295
Premium
2.4-liter Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Other
$34,795
Limited
2.4-liter Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Other
$39,595
Touring
2.4-liter Turbo Flat 4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Other
$45,445

2021 Subaru Ascent SUV Exterior

Midsize SUVs have it rough; even a good looking crossover will be considered mediocre when placed alongside the Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride, which is exactly what happens when the Ascent is placed alongside its peers. In such company, the Ascent SUV is starting to age. Still, it looks fairly handsome, with 18-inch wheels on base and Premium trims, while on the Limited and Touring, 20-inch alloys become standard. These two models also add LED fog lights. All Ascent trims are equipped with steering-responsive LED headlights and raised roof rails. The differentiation between trims is minor, with base derivatives featuring black mirror caps, mid-range models featuring body-colored items, and the Touring getting satin chrome items as well as chrome door handles, and a power tilt/slide glass moonroof.

2021 Subaru Ascent Front Angle View Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Front Angle View 1 Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Front View Driving Subaru
See All 2021 Subaru Ascent Exterior Photos

2021 Subaru Ascent Dimensions

The 2021 Subaru Ascent is classified as a midsize crossover SUV and measures up in size closely with the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The 3-row Subaru Ascent has a total length of 196.8 inches, a width of 76 inches, and a height of 71.6 inches. The SUV's body is spread over a 113.8-inch wheelbase, and all trim levels have a ground clearance of 8.7 inches, making this car eligible for some off-road action. Curb weights range from 4,430 pounds for the base model to 4,603 lbs for the Touring.

  • Length 196.8 in
  • Wheelbase 113.8 in
  • Height 71.6 in
  • Max Width 76.0 in
  • Front Width 64.4 in
  • Rear Width 64.2 in

2021 Subaru Ascent Exterior Colors

While it's not the best looking in its class: the Ascent wears several striking shades of paint that bring out its better lines and angles with eight available colors. The base model is offered in only four hues: Crystal Black Silica, Ice Silver Metallic, Magnetite Gray Metallic, and Crystal White Pearl. But stepping up to the Premium avails the full range of color options, adding Brilliant Bronze Metallic, Cinnamon Brown Pearl, Crimson Red Pearl, and Abyss Blue Pearl to the palette.

  • Crystal Black Silica
  • Ice Silver Metallic
  • Magnetite Gray Metallic
  • Crystal White Pearl
  • Abyss Blue Pearl
  • Cinnamon Brown Pearl
  • Crimson Red Pearl
  • Brilliant Bronze Metallic

2021 Subaru Ascent Performance

The 2021 Subaru Ascent SUV was never intended to compete with modern high-performance SUVs. Instead, it plays the role of the humble worker, albeit one that embraces turbocharging instead of the old-school mentality of displacement über alles. All trim levels come fitted with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, not a large V6 like many rivals. Despite being down on size, the specs are decent though with 260 hp on tap and a broad window of 2,400 revs where peak torque is available. Subaru makes no 0-60 mph claims, which is fair when considering these are family SUVs, but with turbo torque and standard all-wheel-drive - something most rivals make optional - the Ascent is capable of decent acceleration on just about any surface. However, it isn't quick, and rivals like the Mazda CX-9 leave it for dead in the traffic light GP. The Ascent's towing capacity is limited to 2,000 lbs in the base model, climbing to 5,000 lbs for the rest of the range.

2021 Subaru Ascent Front View Driving 1 Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Rear View Driving Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Engine Subaru

Subaru Ascent Engine and Transmission

Mention the word 'turbo' in the same sentence as 'Subaru' and the brain immediately conjures images of Colin McRae blasting through forests in his Impreza WRX to the sound of turbos spooling, crowds cheering, and champagne bottles popping, but in the 2021 Ascent SUV, turbocharging means none of that. Instead, it's about controlling emissions and gas mileage. All models are equipped with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which in typical Subaru tradition, is oriented in a flat-four configuration. It produces 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque and sends power to all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

That means that it is slightly down on power when compared to the 280-hp Honda Pilot and 295-hp Toyota Highlander, but it offers more torque lower down in the rev range. Around town and at low speeds, the Ascent can feel jerky, and its throttle responses seem erratic. However, despite the torque on offer, there isn't much performance here. Hard acceleration yields plenty of noise from the CVT, but the speed doesn't increase with quite the same levels of vim and vigor. Things settle on the highway, but it's never truly pleasant, and overtaking requires some forethought. There are better powertrain configurations in the USA, both with and without turbochargers.

  • Engine
    2.4-liter Turbo Flat 4 Gas
  • Transmission
    Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrain
    Other

Handling and Driving Impressions

Without any changes made to the hardware for the new model year, all 2021 Ascent models ride the same as their 2020 counterparts, which isn't a bad thing at all. That means that the plush ride comfort we've come to know and love has been retained. It's particularly pliant over rougher surfaces, and while many rivals in this segment have become pavement crawlers that seldom see even a patch of dirt, the standard all-wheel-drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance mean the Ascent can regularly traverse gravel without fuss. It's remarkably comfortable while doing so, too, filtering out imperfections at all speeds, even on 20-inch alloy wheels. But while the suspension isolates you from the outside world, the lack of sound deadening doesn't. Road and wind noise permeate the cabin, and the CVT results in an annoying drone that can't be escaped when the engine is placed under load.

Overall, the Ascent is composed on all surfaces, body roll is kept to a minimum, and the light-but-accurate steering is responsive to inputs but not overly sensitive. The brakes are also keen to respond and are well-measured. It lacks the playfulness of some rivals, however, and the Mazda CX-9 will always leave drivers feeling more in-tune with their SUV than the Ascent will.

2021 Subaru Ascent Fuel Economy

The 2021 Ascent doesn't offer astounding gas mileage but falls in line with what the rest of the class has to offer. Base and Premium models ride on 18-inch wheels, which afford them the best mileage estimates of 21/27/23 miles per gallon city/highway/combined. Limited and Touring derivatives roll on 20-inch alloys that drop the mileage estimates to 20/26/22 mpg. But where rivals are more economical, they're equipped with FWD. Selecting the comparable AWD-alternatives yields worse estimates than the Subaru. Of course, the likes of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid will be vastly more economical, but the Ascent does well for what it is. With a maximum fuel capacity of 19.3 gallons, the Ascent will be able to travel between 425 and 444 miles in mixed conditions.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    19.3 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 21/27 mpg
* 2021 Subaru Ascent 8-Passenger

2021 Subaru Ascent Interior

The interior of the Ascent is typical of the midsize three-row fraternity, with ample space and impressive levels of versatility. But it isn't the most attractive in the segment, and the best features are reserved for the upper half of the trim roster. Also negatively impacting its ratings is the lack of space for third-row occupants and a sense of narrowness for those in the second row, particularly when compared to rivals like the Kia Telluride. The build quality is acceptable but is not on par with some rivals. There are redeeming factors like an intuitive infotainment suite and clever storage solutions, but on the whole, the Ascent feels like a middle-of-the-road entrant in the three-row segment: capable, but not exceptional.

2021 Subaru Ascent Driver Seat Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Front Seats Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Infotainment System Subaru
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2021 Subaru Ascent Seating and Interior Space

The 3-row Ascent is built to be spacious but still isn't the best in the midsize segment. However, it caters for up to eight passengers, with those in the two front rows receiving the lion's share of the available space. Those in the front benefit from 41.3 inches of headroom and 42.2 inches of legroom, while second-row inhabitants receive 40 and 38.6 inches, respectively. But shoulder room in the middle begins to feel tight for those with larger frames. The 3rd row is technically geared to seat three, but with just 57.2 inches of shoulder room and 31.7 inches of legroom, realistically, only young teenagers and kids will be comfortable back there. Access to the Subaru Ascent's 3rd row is decent, however, especially with the available second-row captain's chairs equipped, although this brings down the total seating capacity to seven.

  • Seating capacity
    8-seater
  • Front Leg Room 42.2 in
  • Front Head Room 41.3 in
  • Rear Leg Room 38.6 in
  • Rear Head Room 40.0 in

2021 Subaru Ascent Interior Colors and Materials

Inside the Subaru Ascent, you'll find a range of quality materials, with the topmost trims benefitting from the most premium of surfaces. The base model is only offered with cloth upholstery in Slate Black, but it feels robust and up to the task of handling messy family situations. The Premium car gets even better stain-resistant upholstery in one additional color, namely Warm Ivory. Finally, the Limited and Touring get leather seats. While the former utilizes the same color combinations, the top-of-the-range Touring swaps out the Ivory option for Java Brown. The base and Premium cars feature Ivory carbon fiber-patterned interior accent trim doors, while the top two cars get an Ivory leather interior. The Touring features a wood grain-patterned accent trim.

2021 Subaru Ascent SUV Trunk and Cargo Space

Class-competitive storage is par for the course here, but with loads of space being key for buyers in the USA, the Subaru Ascent doesn't rank right up there with the best. 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space can be found behind the third row while folding the rearmost seats - a feat made possible by a 60/40-split rear bench - unlocks up to 47.5 cubic feet on models without the available moonroof. Drop both the second and third rows of seating, and a maximum of 86.5 cubes can be revealed. With all rows in place, the storage is decent, but behind the best in the segment. Subaru counters this with clever storage solutions like velcro straps that allow for numerous storage configurations.

Internal storage for the eight inhabitants isn't as great as some rivals either: you get some cubby space and a center console storage bin, as well 19 bottle and cupholders for all three rows.

2021 Subaru Ascent Trunk Space Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Maximum Cargo Space Subaru
2021 Subaru Ascent Maximum Cargo Space 1 Subaru

Ascent Infotainment and Features

Features

In our 2020 review of the Ascent, we commented on its relatively good levels of standard features for the price; this hasn't changed. The base model comes equipped with a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, tri-zone climate control, a power tailgate, a rearview camera, and steering-responsive headlights. As with the rest of the range, the base model features Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assistance package, which includes pre-collision braking, lane departure, and sway assistance, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering. This suite is bolstered by the addition of blind-spot monitoring from the Premium and reverse automatic braking from the Limited. The Premium adds second-row climate controls, eight-way driver's seat adjustment, and heated front seats, but the best features are reserved for the highest pair of trims. The Limited gains keyless access with push-button start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power front passenger seat, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel, while the Touring adds a 180-degree front camera, 120-volt AC power outlet, and ventilated front seats.

Infotainment

The infotainment system on the base model consists of a rather small and dated 6.5-inch touchscreen display hooked up to Subaru's Starlink system. This system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Starlink cloud-based applications, SiriusXM, AM/FM/CD compatibility, Bluetooth streaming, and an auxiliary jack. Premium and Limited models come standard with an eight-inch display, which includes voice controls and HD Radio while this same system sees the introduction of navigation for the Touring derivative. All but the top model gets six speakers as standard, with the Touring upgrading to a Harman Kardon 14-speaker system that's optional on the Limited. Premium models and higher also receive standard Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

2021 Subaru Ascent Common Problems and Reliability

The Subaru Ascent has not been recalled as either a 2020 or 2021 model, although the first year of production, 2019, saw five recalls for various issues. The Ascent is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year corrosion warranty, drivetrain cover for five years or 60,000 miles, and roadside assistance for three years or 36,000 miles.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles

Ascent Safety

If you're looking for a safe family SUV, then look no further: the Subaru Ascent is one secure family transporter. According to the NHTSA's review, the Ascent scored a full five out of five stars overall. The IIHS mirrored these sentiments, awarding the car full marks and a 2020 Top Safety Pick + award with no caveats or trim requirements.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

2021 Subaru Ascent Key Safety Features

All Ascent models are fitted with six airbags, including side-curtain and seat-mounted front side airbags. Other standard safety features include high beam assist, as well as brake assist and a rearview camera. All trim levels come with Subaru's EyeSight driver assistance package, which includes pre-collision braking, lane departure, and sway warning, as well as adaptive cruise control with lane centering. Premium derivatives and above add blind-spot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic assistance, while Limited and Touring trims get auto-reverse braking. The ranger-topper finally adds a standard 180-degree frontal camera.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Subaru Ascent a good car?

The 2021 Subaru Ascent is a capable performer. While it might not have the best looks, or be the most dynamically pleasing, it does enough things right to make it a worthy option in the midsize crossover SUV segment. The engine is somewhat lackluster and the CVT contributes to general noise within the cabin, but it gets the job done and is decently frugal in the process. The interior is a mixed bag - there are decent quality materials, but the Ascent lacks the spacious nature of class-leading rivals, and those in the third-row seats will feel particularly hard done by. Storage also isn't spectacular. But where the Ascent is a clear class leader is in its standard consignment of safety features, where even the base trim is an IIHS TSP+ winner. Combine that with the standard all-wheel-drive, ample ground clearance, and X-Mode system to make off-road excursions a little easier, and the Ascent isn't as bad as initial appearances might imply. It's not a bad crossover in the slightest, but when the benchmark is set by the Kia Telluride and Mazda CX-9, the Ascent is always going to come up short.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Subaru Ascent?

You can't go wrong with finding a used model for sale at a low price, but if you're looking to buy new, you'll be glad to hear that the Subaru Ascent's price isn't that steep. The base model starts at an MSRP of $32,295, which does not include tax, registration, and a destination fee of $1,050. The Premium model will set you back $34,795, and the Limited comes in at just under $40k with an asking price of $39,595. The top of the range Touring will set you back $45,445. These prices place the Ascent next to the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander in base trim, but both those brands ask more for their top-trim cars, making the Subaru an attractive choice.

2021 Subaru Ascent Models

For 2021, the Subaru Ascent SUV is offered in four different trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, and Touring.

The base model gets 18-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights, as well as a set of roof rails and a power rear tailgate. Inside, there's manually adjustable seats, cloth upholstery, and tri-zone climate control. The infotainment system consists of a 6.5-inch screen with six-speakers and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration. Subaru's EyeSight driver assistance suite is standard on all.

Premium derivatives get 18-inch alloys, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity on an eight-inch screen with HD Radio. In terms of safety, the Premium adds blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic control.

Next in the list of models is the Limited, which, from the outside, gets LED foglights, while inside, it receives a power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and keyless entry with push-button start. Seats are upholstered in leather and reverse automatic braking bolsters safety.

The top of the range Ascent Touring offers chrome exterior trim and a panoramic sunroof. The interior gets second-row captain's chairs as standard, ventilated front seats, and woodgrain trim inserts. Additional features include a 120-volt power outlet, navigation, and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. A 180-degree front camera is also included.

See All 2021 Subaru Ascent Trims and Specs

2021 Subaru Ascent Additional Packages

While the base model isn't offered with any packages, the Premium model gets a choice of four. First, pick whether you want a second-row bench or captain's chairs in your Subaru Ascent at no extra cost, and then choose either the Sport Package or Convenience Package. The latter adds a power tailgate, keyless access, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror and reverse auto braking for $1,460. The Sport Package costs $4,260 and adds 20-inch wheels, a panoramic moonroof, navigation, and all the features found in the Convenience package. The Limited model is offered with a $2,950 Technology Package including Harman Kardon audio, a panoramic moonroof, and a rear cargo area cover.

🚗What 2021 Subaru Ascent Model Should I Buy?

The great thing about the 2021 Ascent is that all trim levels are offered with the same drivetrain and much of the same safety equipment, which makes the purchasing decision a whole lot easier, as you only have to worry about convenience features. While the base model might offer a fair amount of the basics, we feel that to truly be a comfortable and capable daily family runner, the Ascent needs to provide slightly more, and that's why we would suggest going with the next best thing: the Premium. This car manages to keep the price low at $34,795, but adds a whole lot of gear that is not found on the base model. Notable inclusions are a driver's power-adjustable seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, second-row climate controls, and an eight-inch infotainment system. You also get 4G internet connectivity as well as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist. This is a good deal for the amount of money you're going to spend. We'd add the Convenience Package for added comfort on a relatively tight budget.

2021 Subaru Ascent Comparisons

Honda Pilot Honda
Subaru Outback Subaru
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Subaru Ascent260 hp21/27 mpg$32,295
Honda Pilot 280 hp20/27 mpg$32,250
Subaru Outback 182 hp26/33 mpg$26,645

2021 Subaru Ascent vs Honda Pilot

The Pilot is a popular answer to the midsize SUV puzzle and offers a solid overall package that remains highly competitive in this segment. As with many cars in this class, the Honda sticks a traditional V6 power plant and produces a healthy 280 horsepower. This is more than the Ascent, but the Subaru offers more low down torque. And yet, the Honda feels brisker in and out of traffic. Power is sent to the front or all wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission, which feels far more usable than the CVT in the Subaru. The Pilot, as with the Ascent, doesn't look stunning. Instead, it looks mature and, well, pretty boring. On the road, the Pilot is well balanced and feels slightly more inviting to drive than the Ascent. Starting at $32,250, the Pilot is equally-priced but gets more expensive as you climb through the trims, ending at a price just under $50k. The Pilot is more generous to its third-row occupants, but suffers in the cargo bay for it. The Pilot is the better car to drive, but can't match the Ascent for off-road ability. For regular, day-to-day use, though, we would go with the Honda.

See Honda Pilot Review

2021 Subaru Ascent vs Subaru Outback

Ascent vs Outback: it's a battle between the two biggest Subaru models on sale, but the two are very different. For starters, the Outback is more of an off-road wagon, only offering two rows of seating for five occupants compared to the eight you can fit in the Ascent. The Outback doesn't get the turbocharged engine as standard, making do with a 182-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter that lacks punch, but also helps reduce the base price. The Outback has less cargo space (32.5 cubes minimum up to 75.7 cubes overall), but also starts at around $6,000 less than the Ascent. Both are similarly kitted when it comes to features, but the choice between the two will come down to needs. If you need seating for up to eight, only the Ascent will do, but if you can get away with seating five, the Outback has our vote, especially in turbo guise.

See Subaru Outback Review

Subaru Ascent Popular Comparisons

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2021 Subaru Ascent Video Review

Check out some informative Subaru Ascent video reviews below.

$32,295 - $45,445
Price Range (MSRP)
Subaru Ascent