2023 Subaru Ascent First Drive Review

Harry Zhou
by Harry Zhou
Refreshed for 2023 the Subaru Ascent gets styling tweaks and some significant technology updates inside.


Engine: 2.4L I4 Turbo
Output: 260 hp, 277 lb-ft
Transmission: CVT, AWD
Fuel Economy (MPG): 19-20/25-26 (city/hwy)
Fuel Economy (L/100 KM): 12.3/9.4 (city/hwy)
Starting Price (USD): $35,120 (inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $42,990 (inc. dest.)

It’s a brisk December morning in Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s key viticultural areas.

Visible exhales in the air make it hard to see the supposedly mild climate that makes this place suitable for growing wine grapes. We arrive here to get a sampling of the 2023 Subaru Ascent, a new revision of the largest testament to the brand’s undying fandom. It’s great the seat heaters are already on when we plant ourselves inside.

Driving along the country roads, the only thing more abundant than hibernating grape vines were other Subaru drivers. If terroir is an important concept in oenophile circles to define the context of a wine, it’s probably fair to apply the same idea to a vehicle—even if cars aren’t grown from the dirt and the rain. We drive for a few hundred kilometers in the new Ascent to find out why there are so many Subarus in wine country. Maybe we will discover why a rugged three-row SUV might make the most sense.

What's New for 2023

Stylish yet subtle - we wouldn't expect anything else from a Subaru.

Having only joined the mid-size three-row SUV rumble in 2019, the Ascent’s refresh three years into its lifecycle helps to keep it contemporary against the competition. The front end sports a sharper sculpted design, with new LED headlights, grille, and front bumper. At the back, the new taillight design now wraps around the revised rear gate garnish. The new Ascent now looks more chiseled and better aligns with the rest of the Subaru family. Onyx Edition models receive a new 20-inch ten-spoke wheel design while Limited and Touring models get a two-tone machined version of the design.

SEE ALSO: Subaru Ascent vs Subaru Outback: Which Crossover Is Right for You?

Though the Ascent only accounts for a minor portion of Subaru’s total sales volume, it’s an important model in satisfying the needs of growing suburban families along with all of their stuff. It’s no surprise then that the bulk of the improvements are found on the inside. A familiar dashboard design now houses a much larger 11.6-inch infotainment screen. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard features on all trims, as are LED interior lighting and USB-C ports in the front and back.

While higher trim versions come equipped with 20-inch wheels, this specific tester had the standard 18-inch wheels and rubber. As a side benefit, models with the smaller 18-inch wheels get superior fuel economy with 20 city/26 highway MPG compared to 19 city/25 highway MPG for models with 20-inch wheels.

Tech and Safety

A new wide-angle mono-camera is found hiding behind the rear-view mirror. This is a big addition that offers a 68-percent wider view which helps with low-speed pedestrian detection. Together with the updated EyeSight Version 4, Pre-Collision Braking, Lane Departure Prevention, Lane Centering, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Automatic Emergency Steering functions are now available or improved upon. Surround View Monitor is available on top trim levels which grants a 360-degree top-down view of the vehicle and aids in parking or maneuvering.

Interior Style and Quality

A look at the most significant update inside the Ascent, the 11.6-inch infotainment screen. A familiar dashboard design now houses a much larger 11.6-inch infotainment screen. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also now standard features on all trims.

Additions on higher trims also include the implementation of what3words. It’s a program that uses a concise way to accurately define a geographic location. DriverFocus checks for driver alertness and prevents distracted driving, which is useful with the very comfortable 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat. The most expensive Ascents get an interior trimmed in Nappa leather.

The new Cabin Connect function is a neat feature that allows the driver to shout commands at rowdy back row passengers. Found on higher trims, rear row riders receive a tour bus-like experience through the Harman Kardon audio system, effectively carrying the driver’s voice throughout the cabin. No worries about boisterous transmissions from the back though, since Cabin Connect is a one-way system. All Ascents sold feature a free trial of Subaru’s Starlink telematics services. In colder climates, having the ability to warm one’s seat by an app on a phone is a luxury like nothing else.

Powertrain and Efficiency

The luxurious second row captain's chairs shown here can also be swapped out for a bench, which increases overall seating from 7 to 8.

Subaru owners tend to get themselves into rough terrain every now and then. There’s a comforting assurance of having a family car able to take on some off-roading when needed. It’s a cherished value amongst owner’s circles. The Ascent understands this and applies it with ease, only it can do so with up to eight people inside.

SEE ALSO: Kia Telluride vs Subaru Ascent Comparison

Our drive through the wintertide Prince Edward County sees driving conditions fluctuate between dry pavement, gravel, mud, and rain-filled ditches. On paved roads, the suspension is comfortable if not firmer than expected, providing a measured feel for the road. The turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-four engine does not change from the previous year, putting down the same 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. The power to pass at speed is accessible, albeit not without a bit of a grunt, while the CVT attached can hamper the urgency of which it happens. Driving around on the often serpentine regional roads, the steering can feel somewhat detached.

While slightly lower than some rivals, the Ascent's 5,000 lbs tow rating (on all but the base model) won't leave you wanting.

Take a departure from the cushy pavement onto soft trails, and it all starts to make sense. The lax steering smoothes out the feedback through the steering wheel on rough terrain, making the off-road experience an adventure rather than a twitchy rally leg. Confidence in the Ascent never wavered once regardless of terrain. But activating the Subaru’s X-Mode made the drive even more sure-footed by having the system automatically modulate engine output, transmission, torque-vectoring, and braking. All models except the Base (Convenience in Canada) will also now tow up to 5000 pounds (2,270 kilograms). Our drive with its combination of paved roads and trails saw an average consumption of 22.4 mpg (10.5 L/100 km).

Value: Dollars and Sense

The Ascent features design traits borrowed from other Subaru models, easily distinguishing it as a part of the family.

For the US market, you can have the Ascent in a range of five trims. A base Ascent starts at $35,120 (including the $1,225 destination fee) and comes equipped with essential amenities like tri-zone climate control, rear vision camera, USB-A and USB-C ports, and 19 cup holders throughout. The Premium trim at $37,720 adds an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, Blind-Spot Detection with Lane-Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. The available All-Weather Package includes heated mirrors, heated front seats, and windshield wiper de-icer. To spring for the 7-seater option at the Premium level will incur an added cost of $1,460.

The Onyx edition adds sporty design elements and jumps in mid-pack at $42,520. For another $300, you can have the Limited trim with power adjustable front seats, heated seats for the front and second row, seat and mirror memory, and leather interior trim. A 7-seater configuration of the Limited is available at no additional charge. The Onyx Limited combines the panoramic moonroof and StarTex water-repellent upholstery found on the lower Onyx trim with a Harman Kardon audio system for $47,520. The Touring trim ditches the synthetic upholstery in favor of Nappa leather, along with folding mirrors, chrome accents, and front seat ventilation for $49,420.

Canadian Ascents

Perfectly happy getting off the beaten path, our Ascent tester had no issues getting a little closer to the shores of Lake Ontario.

In Canada, the Ascent is also available in five trim levels with a shuffling of the names. The Convenience trim will be your entry into the Ascent range, starting from $42,990 CAD (including the $1,995 destination charge). Touring (starting from $47,490 CAD) and Limited (from $52,890 CAD) trims can both be configured as either a seven- or eight-seater at no additional cost, with the Onyx Edition sitting in the middle at $49,290 CAD. At the top of the range, the Premier trim with its leather seating and upgraded audio will start from $55,990 CAD.

SEE ALSO: Subaru Ascent vs Honda Pilot: Can Subaru’s Newest Seven-Seater Crossover Beat The Honda?

Options abound in the three-row mid-size SUV segment. Obvious competition come from the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, and Mazda CX-9. The Korean cousins Hyundai and Kia also have their offerings in the form of the Palisade and Telluride, respectively. As well, Ford offers the Explorer, and the Volkswagen Atlas adds another option for those shopping in the category.

The Verdict: 2023 Subaru Ascent

At home in its natural habitat, the Ascent perfectly fits Subaru's outdoor lifestyle brand.

Created for families that have outgrown their Crosstrek or Forester, the Ascent gives the room to pack in another row of dogs or cargo. There are many rivals on the market that will offer the same package, but none quite deliver the indefinable feeling of trust that Subaru fans have come to cherish. Subaru’s brand loyalty is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s one that’s earned over generations of serving families and their needs on and off the road.

The refreshed Ascent ensures the brand’s largest offering sticks to the core tenets of what it means to be a Subaru. It’s a value contender that packs in safety and entertainment while providing confidence on all terrains. Despite its flaws, the Ascent is a prudent choice for an active—or aspires to be active—growing family with its hauling capabilities and all-wheel drive.

In Prince Edward County, we drove through hours of quiet roads untouched by the aggression of the city, where pedestrians are scarce but any passersby sent you off with a wave. Those who live here are unhurried but require a functional car to take on all sorts of road conditions. Out-of-towners envious of a kinder way of living flock here with their families to experience the calm. It’s no wonder so many Subarus end up here. On these roads, the sensible Ascent just makes sense.


How much does the 2023 Subaru Ascent cost?

For the US, a base Ascent will start from $35,120 (including destination) while the range-topping Touring trim will start at $49,420. In Canada, the Convenience trim will begin at $42,990 (including destination) with the luxury Premier trim starting from $55,990 CAD.

When is the 2023 Subaru Ascent available?

The refreshed Ascent is available now with deliveries starting to arrive at dealers.

Is there a hybrid version of the Ascent?

There isn’t a hybrid option for the Ascent for the 2023 model year.

How Much Can the Subaru Ascent Tow?

All trim levels of the Ascent can tow up to 5,000 lbs, with one important exception. The Base model can only tow 2,000 lbs.

When did the Subaru Ascent come out?

The Ascent first went on sale in late 2018 as a 2019 model year vehicle.

How much does the Subaru Ascent weigh?

Weight for the Ascent depends on the specific trim level.

Base: 4,421 lbs

Premium: 4,437 lbs

Onyx Edition: 4,533 lbs

Onyx Edition Limited: 4,570 lbs

Limited: 4,499 lbs

Touring: 4,590 lbs

What is included in the Technology Package and what does it cost?

For an additional $3,550 the Technology Package adds the 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation system; premium Harman Kardon audio with QuantumLogic Surround Sound plus a Panoramic Moonroof and Cargo Cover.

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  • All-terrain trustworthiness
  • Really big screen
  • Lots of new tech


  • Detached steering feel
  • Uncertain CVT
  • Top trims aren’t animal-free

Harry Zhou
Harry Zhou

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