2022 Subaru Ascent Review and Test Drive

It's the family-friendly Subaru, but is it friendly enough for your family?

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Blue Front Quarter RightChristian Wardlaw

Review QuickTakes:

Subaru has surfed the SUV wave to remarkable success, and naturally, the road it has traveled has occasionally been bumpy. Considering the company's Outback model was one of the first modern crossovers when it went on sale in the mid-1990s, it took Subaru quite some time to formulate a good recipe for a three-row SUV.

However, the arrival of the Subaru Ascent for the 2019 model year finally seemed to bring the right blend of design, interior room, and utility mixed with the brand's traditional all-weather drivability and commitment to safety. Essentially, the Ascent is akin to an extra-large Subaru Forester, and given the Forester's enduring popularity, that's not a bad thing.

Simplicity is a part of the Ascent's appeal. You get a standard turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive (AWD), packaged with your choice between five trim levels. For this 2022 Subaru Ascent review, I test-drove the new Onyx Edition in Southern California. It came with an optional panoramic sunroof, navigation system, and cargo cover, bringing the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) to $41,870, including the $1,175 destination charge. Subaru provided the vehicle for this Ascent review.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Blue Side ViewChristian Wardlaw

2022 Subaru Ascent Review: The Design

Great styling has never been a Subaru hallmark. Seemingly, the best the company can do is craft something inoffensive, and that description applies to the 2022 Ascent. Sturdy roof rails, rugged lower body trim, a prominent grille, oversized lighting elements, and swollen fenders lend the Ascent a purposeful appearance. At the same time, the Onyx Edition's blacked-out look successfully adds a sprinkling of sportiness to the SUV's styling.

The busy interior blends analog instrumentation with three different digital displays, making it easy to lose track of where you're supposed to look to find a specific piece of information. In addition, numerous layers, surfaces, tones, textures, and panel seams add to the visual cacophony.

Secondary controls, such as the lane-keeping system's off button on the ceiling, are sometimes hard to find. But at least Subaru provides that function and doesn't force the driver to go through a menu-hunting exercise using the infotainment screen.

Adding to the lack of cohesion in the cabin, the Onyx Edition has exclusive shiny trim spanning the dashboard's width, floor mats that don't exactly match the underlying carpet color, and two-tone racing-stripe seats. Fortunately, the Onyx Edition doesn't go all black within the cabin. Instead, the headliner is "greige" (grayish beige), and the synthetic leather is a mix of this color and a medium gray. The optional panoramic sunroof also helps to lighten the mood.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Interior Dashboard Front SeatsChristian Wardlaw

As for the interior materials, the mix of hard plastic and softly padded surfaces is what you'd expect in a midsize family SUV that needs to be easy to clean up. In addition, the Onyx Edition is the only version of the Ascent equipped with StarTex. This synthetic, water-resistant leather is a good match for an active, outdoorsy lifestyle and foul-weather climates. However, it can also trap sweat on hot, muggy summer days, and the Ascent Onyx Edition does not offer ventilated front seats to help solve that problem.

If you live where winters are brutal, the Ascent is a refuge if you choose any version except for the base model. Premium trim adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated side mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer system. Heated second-row seats are standard with Ascent Limited and Ascent Touring trims.

The Ascent offers a comfortable driving position thanks to its eight-way power driver's seat, standard beginning with Premium trim. Unfortunately, the front passenger doesn't benefit from a similar range of adjustments. Subaru offers a second-row bench seat or captain's chairs, and the Onyx Edition comes only with the latter. The rear seat cushions are flat, but the chairs are mounted high for a good view out, and there is plenty of legroom and foot room.

Partly because the Ascent's rear doors are wide and they open to a nearly 90-degree angle, and because Subaru clearly marks how to tilt and slide the second-row seats forward, entering the third-row seat is easy. Once you're aboard, the third row is a tight fit for taller adults unless the people sitting in the second row are willing to slide forward a bit. However, the seat itself is reasonably comfortable, and there is good foot room under the captain's chairs.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Second Row SeatsChristian Wardlaw

Exiting the third row isn't a hassle because the second-row seat release mechanism is easy to find and use. In addition, because the third-row seat isn't mounted as close to the floor as in some midsize SUVs, you can hoist yourself out with less effort.

Subaru offers a variety of places where you can store items, including a dashboard shelf that runs from door to door. However, the shelf has no liner, so things placed there will slip, slide, and rattle. It needs a rubber surface to prevent this from happening. In addition, a tray under the climate controls is ready to accept the available wireless smartphone charging pad.

Passengers get cupholders within easy reach on the door panel armrests in the second row. There are several places to stash things, and the standard triple-zone climate control system includes rear controls in most Ascent models. Sturdy pegs protrude from the inner part of each seatback, perfect for hanging up a child's school backpack or holding a coat.

Cargo space measures 17.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seat (17.6 cu-ft with the panoramic sunroof). A large storage bin lives beneath the load floor, and I packed it full of grocery bags during a shopping trip. Most Ascent owners are likely to use the SUV with the third-row seats folded down, which expands cargo capacity to 43.5 cu-ft (42.1 cu-ft with the panoramic sunroof). The maximum cargo space is 75.6 cu-ft (72.8 cu-ft with the panoramic sunroof), which is small for the segment.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Infotainment SystemChristian Wardlaw

2022 Subaru Ascent Review: The Technology

All versions of the 2022 Ascent have Subaru's Starlink infotainment technology. In the base model, the 6.5-inch touchscreen display is small, but starting with Premium trim, you get an 8-inch touchscreen. Both feature traditional stereo volume and tuning knobs as well as physical system menu shortcut buttons. Separately, Subaru mounts the Ascent's climate controls beneath the infotainment system.

Standard features include Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, and access to integrated Starlink applications such as internet radio. The systems even offer an old-school 3.5mm auxiliary input jack and a CD player. With the larger 8-inch touchscreen, the system includes a high-resolution display and Wi-Fi access. In addition, a navigation system is available.

I prefer the functionality of this more traditional setup to what's coming in the refreshed 2023 Subaru Ascent, which has a larger portrait-mounted display with integrated climate controls embedded into the SUV's dashboard. Unfortunately, the larger screen, currently used in the Subaru Legacy sedan and Outback crossover, loses some intuitiveness.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Driving Assistance ControlsChristian Wardlaw

Hopefully, the new system will offer an improved voice recognition system because the one in the 2022 Ascent is not conversational. For best results, I advise using simple command structures, such as "Find hospital." But even then, the results are imperfect and frequently not what anyone who owns a modern smartphone will expect.

Furthermore, Starlink could not interpret several of my evaluation voice commands. For this reason, and to preserve your sanity, I recommend using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

If you upgrade to Limited or Touring trim, the Ascent comes with a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system. However, the standard six-speaker stereo sounds remarkably good, so you may not feel the need to spend more to get decent audio quality.

Switching now to a discussion of the 2022 Subaru Ascent's safety features, the SUV comes with standard EyeSight, a laudable collection of driving assistance and collision avoidance systems powered by dual cameras mounted above the rearview mirror.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Adaptive Cruise Control DisplayChristian Wardlaw

EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and lane-centering assist. Separately, status indicator lights shine on the windshield within the driver's line of sight to convey EyeSight's status at any given time.

EyeSight might be a little too communicative with its driver. For example, frequent system status changes can be irritating, and when you're using the lane-keeping and lane-centering assist systems, the steering inputs are a little too obvious to the driver. Also, EyeSight can suddenly disengage for whatever reason, whether due to direct sunlight, missing lane markings, etc.

Starting with Premium trim, the Ascent adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Rear automatic braking is standard, beginning with Onyx Edition trim. While this technology in other vehicles sometimes has trouble with my home's driveway and street angle, the Ascent initiated no sudden, unexpected slamming on the brakes while leaving home. Touring trim adds a forward-view camera and camera-based rearview mirror to the Ascent, further improving the already impressive outward visibility.

Safety ratings are outstanding. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2022 Ascent its highest possible rating in every safety assessment, resulting in a Top Safety Pick+ designation that applies to all trim levels. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Ascent five-star ratings in every crash test combined with a four-star rating for rollover resistance. These represent excellent scores.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Turbocharged EngineChristian Wardlaw

2022 Subaru Ascent Review: The Drive

Subaru equips every Ascent with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generating 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 rpm and 4,800 rpm. Like other Subarus, the engine uses a horizontally-opposed layout, meaning the pistons lay flat within the engine, jabbing outward from the crankshaft.

This design is often called a flat-four or boxer engine, and aside from Subaru, Porsche is the only automaker that uses this engineering approach. (Yes, the Toyota GR86 has one, but it's a Subaru powerplant.) The primary benefits of a boxer engine are compactness and a lower center of gravity for improved handling, but boxers also have a pleasant grumble and vibration that lends a vehicle added character.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Blue Rear Quarter RightChristian Wardlaw

Subaru pairs this engine with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to maximize fuel economy. It has eight programmed ratios and a set of paddle shifters, but these enhancements don't rid the SUV of unexpected surges of power and ratio changes when you don't expect them. The Ascent's frequently uneven power delivery regularly draws negative attention to the transmission.

Subaru's Active Torque Split AWD system is standard, primarily powering the front wheels until conditions require that more of the powertrain's output should flow to the rear wheels. In addition, the automaker's X-Mode drivetrain technology helps maximize traction in various situations, and the Ascent also features standard hill descent control and a brake-induced torque vectoring system. Ground clearance measures 8.7 inches, more than most midsize SUVs.

Past experience driving the Subaru Ascent off-road demonstrates that the SUV is more capable in the dirt than many of its rivals. The Ascent's tidy dimensions, excellent outward visibility, high ground clearance, and powertrain make this vehicle feel nimble and maneuverable while adventuring well off the pavement.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Blue Rear Quarter LeftChristian Wardlaw

You'll spend most of your time on the road, though. While the drivetrain's sometimes uneven power delivery is irritating, the Ascent is generally agreeable thanks to a suspension that can easily soak up speed humps, speed bumps, and the cracks and crevices common in urban and suburban settings. Furthermore, the Ascent's handling impresses, thanks partly to excellent steering and the grip of the 20-inch wheels and tires. Certainly, the boxer engine's lower center of gravity also helps.

Nevertheless, the Ascent's relatively small footprint, a curb weight approaching 4,500 pounds, and somewhat soft suspension tuning can make the tall Ascent feel wobbly when driving on a curvy mountain road with an undulating surface. Under these conditions, you may experience lateral body rocking, fore-aft porpoising, and occupant head toss as the Ascent's weight shifts from side to side. However, these traits are not uncommon in the vehicle class.

The brakes on my test vehicle were not up to snuff. The Ascent Onyx Edition used for this evaluation had more than 7,500 miles on it, and the brakes heated up fast, producing an audible rumble, then a vibration through the pedal, and then a pedal shudder. Fade wasn't a problem, but the brakes certainly did not give me any confidence that they were game for the task of towing up to 5,000 pounds of trailer.

As for gas mileage, the official EPA fuel economy rating is 22 mpg when the Ascent has 20-inch wheels. However, my test vehicle's turbo-four averaged 21.1 mpg on the evaluation loop.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Blue Front Quarter LeftChristian Wardlaw

Is the 2022 Subaru Ascent a Good SUV?

Yes, the Subaru Ascent is a good SUV, though it measures smaller inside than many of the alternatives in the midsize SUV segment. Current Subaru owners who need a larger vehicle will almost certainly like the 2022 Ascent, and anyone seeking a crossover SUV that's both capable off-road and comes with top-notch safety ratings will also find it compelling.

Compared with many of its rivals, 2022 Ascent prices are appealing, too. But this SUV does have its flaws, so you'll need to consider how they might impact your overall satisfaction with the Ascent.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx Edition Cargo SpaceChristian Wardlaw

author photo
Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.
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