2023 Subaru Ascent review
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First Drive: 2023 Subaru Ascent Review

Biggest-ever Subaru enhances the tech and adds convenience features. Canada Drives had a chance to put the 2023 Ascent through its paces on the muddy rural roads around Picton, ON, recently. Here’s what we found out about this stout and trusty vehicle.

Key Features:

  • Third-row seating offers room for 7 or 8 passengers 
  • Biggest-ever Subaru aimed at growing families
  • Subaru’s proven symmetrical AWD
  • Low centre of gravity adds to agile feel

Direct Competitors:

  • Honda Pilot
  • Mazda CX-9
  • Toyota Highlander

Subaru introduced its first three-row seating SUV in 2019 to give growing families who need extra space an option of staying with the brand. With minor cosmetic changes, the refreshed 2023 Ascent will look very familiar to buyers. But it also adds improved safety features and a host of new technology that keep it apace with the competition. 

It also stays with the familiar and dependable ICE engine and symmetrical AWD drivetrain, with no word from the company on when a hybrid or electric version might be offered.

For a look at all models, here’s our Subaru SUV lineup guide. Or if you’re cross-shopping the Ascent with the competition, also check out our guide Best Mid-Size SUVs in Canada: Our 10 Top Picks.

Subaru’s biggest SUV gets a hefty price increase for 2023

2023 Subaru Ascent | Photo: Subaru Canada 

There is much to admire in the revised Ascent, but also comes with a little sticker shock. The base Ascent, the Convenience, lists for $40,995, plus $1,995 freight and dealer prep. That’s nearly a $3,700 hike from the 2022 model. Brad Evans, Subaru Canada’s car line manager, says the outgoing base model was priced well below the competition, and the 2023 price puts it “more in sync” with its main rivals. 

The sticker price still compares favourably with the base Honda Pilot ($46,920), Toyota Highlander ($45,650) and Mazda CX-9 ($42,050). 

The Ascent’s next trim level up, the Touring, starts at $45,495, and buyers can choose either second-row Captain’s chairs or bench seating at no additional cost. It also has LED fog lights and a panoramic power moonroof. 

Ascent Onyx starts at $47,295

The Onyx trim ($47,295) adds black-finish exterior elements and badging. The Limited trim (starting at $50,895) offers all of the above, plus leather-trimmed upholstery and heated second-row seating. The Premier trim (starting at $53,995) has upgrades on both the exterior and interior that incorporates a woodgrain-pattern matte finish.

2023 Subaru Ascent | Photo: Subaru Canada 

Subaru’s EyeSight Version 4 safety suite delivers improved driver safety assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-keeping assist. Subaru says the camera’s range is 68 percent wider than the previous version. The Ascent also offers an optional 360-degree camera which enables a full top-down view of the vehicle.

On the outside, the Ascent’s revised front fascia has a bolder grille, redesigned LED headlights, and a more aggressive front bumper cover. The lower-edge air ducts are said to improve aerodynamic flow under the vehicle. On the rear, the C-shaped taillights are updated and – welcome addition – a rear camera washer is standard.

2023 Subaru Ascent interior

2023 Subaru Ascent | Photo: Subaru Canada 

The interior in most trim levels is, well, comfortable and serviceable, if a bit understated. There are 19 – we counted ’em – cup holders. The front seats have excellent adjustable lumbar support and just the right amount of firmness for day-long drives. 

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto new for 2023

Buyers can choose between a second-row bench or Captains’ chairs at no extra cost. An 11.6-inch infotainment screen is standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now wireless and Cabin Connect intercom makes it easy for the driver to be heard way back in the third row.

2023 Subaru Ascent | Photo: Subaru Canada 

There is a 60/40 split rear bench, but – let’s be honest – it’s not really big enough for adult comfort. Where things get really interesting, however, is in the handsome Premier trim level. It adds supple Nappa leather-faced seats in a classic tan colour, distinct glossy accents and mood lighting to give the vehicle an upscale feel.

New Subaru Ascent towing capacity, power, and driving impressions

This is the biggest model in the Subaru SUV lineup – fully 4999 mm (196.8 inches) long – but the touch on the wheel is light and responsive. The low centre of gravity, thanks to Subaru’s low-mounted boxer engine, makes the Ascent feel lighter and more agile than a car of this weight – 2,087 kg (4,600 pounds) – has a right to be. 

The Ascent’s 2.4-litre turbocharged boxer engine puts out a respectable 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque, albeit with a slight turbo lag. What’s really impressive, though, is the high-torque Lineartronic CVT transmission. 

Not everyone is a fan of CVTs, but Subaru’s highly refined tranny not only makes the most of the available horsepower but also enables the vehicle to tow up to 2,268 kg (5,000 pounds). That’s a decent-sized boat or trailer. Here’s our article What is a CVT Transmission & is it Any Good? to learn more about this fairly new and increasingly more common transmission system.

2023 Subaru Ascent | Photo: Subaru Canada 

Steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters allow the driver to feel like they’re still at the hand of a manual. The cabin is reasonably quiet at highway speeds and the vehicle feels as solid as a tank. The tuned suspension is both firm enough to provide a stable ride and yet subtle enough to absorb annoying highway bumps. 

Verdict: do the Ascent SUV’s minor updates make it worth it?

In this highly competitive market segment, the Ascent may not hold the fun-to-drive trophy. That honour belongs to the delightful CX-9. Yet the Ascent is self-assured and easy to handle, whether on pavement or beating over muddy paths on the way to the cottage. 

And competitors are all priced hundreds, if not thousands, more. That makes the Ascent an excellent value for families who are looking for a third row to handle an extra kid or family pet. If you can live with a rear bench that’s sized for toddlers only, the Subaru offers excellent safety features, a best-in-class CVT drivetrain and unsurpassed AWD capability all in a solid package.

Ready to buy a used Subaru SUV?

View all our pre-owned Subaru crossovers and SUVs here. Every vehicle from Canada Drives has completed a 150 Point Inspection, comes with a no-charge 30 Day / 1,500 km warranty, and is covered by our 7-Day money back return policy.

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