2019 Kia Sorento SXL Road Test

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Kia updated the Sorento’s styling for 2019, making big changes to the lower front fascia. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Have you ever driving a Kia? Even sat inside one? If it was way back at the turn of the millennium it might not have been the best of experiences. Even Kia doesn’t promote its past in detail, the Korean brand celebrating its twentieth anniversary in Canada with limited edition models of its impressive Soul compact crossover and Stinger mid-size four-door coupe, but hardly paying tribute to the forgettable Sephia, Spectra and Magentis.

Those cars offered nothing better than their competitors, and certainly nothing new, instead relying on low pricing to pull in new buyers. Today’s Kia, however, builds vehicles you want to own in spite of their more renowned rivals, but first you’ll need to give them a chance, and that’s exactly what I’m recommending mid-size crossover SUV buyers do with the Sorento.

I’ve driven every Sorento generation, even the first 2002 model as part of its initial Canadian press launch, a vehicle that so impressed me I recommended it to my brother who kept his for nearly a decade. The redesigned 2010 model went from body-on-frame SUV to car-based crossover and therefore improved drivability as well as refinement, not to mention styling, while the 2016 model upped all of the above to entirely new levels. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
New LED taillights and a completely reworked rear bumper mark the changes from behind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

My 2016 Sorento tester wasn’t even in top-line trim, yet I found myself awestruck by its shocking supply of soft-touch interior surfaces, blown away from finding cloth-wrapped roof pillars all-round, impressed with its sizeable full-colour high-resolution touchscreen infotainment system, wowed by its diminutive yet formidable 240-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and simply satisfied by its overall goodness.

With not much changing over the past four years, plus an even more capable V6 on the options menu, one might think it would’ve remained high on my list of highly recommended mid-size crossover SUVs, and so it does except for one considerable detail, since testing this most recent 2019 Sorento I’ve also spent a week with the completely new 2020 Telluride, so I’m no longer recommending the Sorento quite as highly for seven-passenger crossover buyers.

To be clear, the seven-passenger Sorento’s price range slots in considerably further down Kia’s model hierarchy, beginning at $32,795 for the EX 2.4 and topping out with the 3.3-litre V6-powered $49,165 SXL on this page, which is hardly in the same class as the Telluride that starts at $44,995 and tops out at $53,995 for its SX Limited with Nappa. As expected, the recent arrival of the Telluride and next year’s forecast redesign of the 2021 Sorento have already resulted in a reshuffle of the mostly carryover 2020 Sorento’s trims, with today’s base LX FWD model and this top-tier SXL soon to be discontinued.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
LED headlights, LED fog lamps and chromed 19-inch alloys depict this Sorento’s top-line status. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So what about that upcoming 2021 Sorento? I expect it to follow in the tracks of the recently redesigned fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe that utilizes the same platform that the new Sorento will ride on, the former SUV only available with two rows and a maximum of five passengers for 2019, due to Hyundai now having a version of the Telluride all its own for 2020, named Palisade. The new Palisade is actually priced lower than the Telluride at $38,499, so we can expect the future 2021 Telluride to grow its trim line down-market with an SX model to slot below today’s base Palisade so as to provide a seven-passenger crossover option for more mainstream Kia shoppers after this seven-place Sorento gets cancelled.

Previously in this review I said that little had changed since the Sorento’s 2016 redesign, but it should be noted this 2019 model underwent a fairly extensive refresh, albeit somewhat more subtle with respect to styling. The big news is a new eight-speed automatic gearbox for its available 3.3-litre V6, and sadly the elimination of the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbo-four (an odd removal, being that the majority of challengers are swapping out their optional V6s for turbocharged fours in order to improve fuel-efficiency, but I’m guessing a stopgap ahead of the next-gen Sorento).

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These LED taillights are standard on SX and SXL models. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As it is, the 2.4, which produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, now gets used for LX FWD, LX and EX 2.4 models, whereas the 3.3, making a maximum of 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, adds performance to LX V6, EX, EX Premium, SX, and SXL trims. The six-speed autobox is the sole transmission with four-cylinder powered Sorentos, while the two extra gears only benefit the six-cylinder engine. As you may have guessed already, all trims excepting the LX FWD get all-wheel drive.

As with all modern-day multi-speed automatics fuel-efficiency is the main benefactor, but they also help an engine maintain peak output thanks to shorter shift increments, therefore improving performance. Nevertheless, the upgraded Sorento’s claimed fuel economy rating of 12.5 L/100km city, 9.7 highway and 11.2 combined isn’t as efficient at speed as the outgoing six-speed automatic and V6/AWD combination that received a rating of 9.3 highway. In the city, however, where most of us spend the majority of our driving time, the old model’s 13.2 L/100km rating means the new version is much thriftier, while the new eight-speed helps V6-powered Sorentos achieve a less significant 0.2 L/100km advantage.

In case you were wondering how much better the previous 2.0-litre turbocharged four with its six-speed automatic might compare against a new Sorento with the same engine and eight-speed, the old model’s rating of 12.3 L/100km city, 9.4 highway and 11.0 combined is actually better than the new eight-speed automatic in the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which can only manage 12.3 city, 9.8 highway and 11.2 combined. That Santa Fe, incidentally, rides on the same all-new platform architecture as the next Sorento. 

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The Sorento’s cabin gets closer to premium level execution than most of its rivals. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

With respect to the base 2.4 that’s available in the here and now, Kia claims 10.7 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 9.5 combined with FWD, representing a big improvement in city driving over last year’s Sorento with the same powertrain, which could only manage 11.2 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 9.9 combined despite zero changes (gear ratio mods?), while the 2019 Sorento 2.4 AWD achieves a rating of 11.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined, compared to 11.5, 9.3 and 10.5 last year.

If you found yourself scratching your head over some of those fuel economy figures, a quick glance at the refreshed 2019 Sorento might also leave you wondering exactly what was changed stylistically. For instance, the new grille looks exactly like the old grille, as does the hood that’s supposedly changed too, but the lower front fascia is entirely new, the latter very noticeable on SX and SXL trims that previously had four larger LED fog lamps at each corner instead of the new half-sized combinations, the sections below now filled with what appear to be slatted brake vents, plus they’re now framed within taller, V-shaped chrome bezels.

The chromed door handles, chromed side window surrounds, and silver roof rails were part of my aforementioned 2016 SX tester as well, but the chromed side mouldings, 19-inch chrome alloys, and completely redesigned back bumper, which is now packed full of bright metal detailing, are all new. The updates make the Sorento classier than the pre-updated SUV’s sportier design, chrome embellishment normally having such an effect.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A partially digital gauge cluster includes a centre multi-info display that doubles as the speedometer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 2019 refresh also provides renewed headlights and tail lamps infused with LEDs at both ends in SX and SXL trims, plus LED daytime running lights within the headlights, as well as LED fog lamps. Lower trims feature revised projector beam headlamps with LED positioning lamps, plus projector beam fog lights (on LX V6 to EX Premium trims), and conventional taillights with stylish new lenses. New colours join the usual assortment of updated alloy rims in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters wearing 235/65R17, 235/60R18 and 235/55R19 all-season rubber, depending on trim.

Moving inside, the 2019 Sorento gets an updated steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with bright electroluminescent analogue gauges to each side of a large digital speedometer that doubles as a comprehensive multi-information display, and a renewed centre with an updated infotainment touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more. My favourite new convenience is the available wireless charging pad, although the new optional lane keeping assist and driver attention warning systems could prove even more important.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
A large high-resolution touchscreen and dual-zone auto climate control combine for a comprehensive assortment of premium-level features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Those two safety upgrades are part of top-tier SXL trim, this model also providing forward collision-avoidance assist, a feature that’s now beginning to be included as standard equipment in competitive base models, but it’s not unusual to force an upward move to a mid-range trim for blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, these two upgrades standard with the Sorento EX. The rest of the Sorento’s safety equipment is the segment’s normal standard fare, and therefore is included in all trims.

The previously noted base Sorento LX FWD starts at only $28,295 plus freight and fees, and is therefore an impressive value when put up against every other mid-size SUV, particularly when factoring in that it comes standard with 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, chromed door handles, a heated and leather-clad multifunction steering wheel, Drive Mode Select with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, three-way heatable front seats, a 7.0-inch centre display with the Apple and Android smartphone integration mentioned earlier, plus a backup camera, six-speaker audio, and plenty more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The top-tier surround camera combines with front and rear sensors to make parking ultra-easy. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Including all-wheel drive with the base LX model increases its window sticker by $2,300, the $30,595 trim also providing roof rails, proximity entry with pushbutton start/stop and the aforementioned wireless phone charger, while the same trim with the V6 and AWD increases the Sorento’s price by $4,500 to $35,095, while upping content to include fog lights, a sound-reducing windscreen, turn signals within the exterior mirror housings, an auto-dimming centre mirror, two-zone auto HVAC with auto-defog and separate third-row fan speed/air-conditioning adjustment, UVO Intelligence connected car services, satellite radio, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, a third row for a total of seven passengers, trailer pre-wiring, and more.

At $2,300 less than the LX V6 AWD, and $2,200 more than the LX AWD, the four-cylinder-powered $32,795 EX 2.4 gets the just mentioned fog lamps, powered driver’s seat, and three-row layout of the V6-powered model, while also adding a gloss-black grille insert and leather seat surfaces, while the $38,665 EX with the V6 and AWD builds on both the LX V6 AWD and EX 2.4 models with 18-inch machined-finish alloys, a nicer Supervision LCD/TFT gauge cluster, express up and down power windows with obstacle detection all around, and a household-style 110-volt device charger, while the EX Premium starts $2,500 higher at $41,165 and adds front and rear parking sonar, power-folding outside mirrors, LED interior lights, an eight-way powered front passenger seat, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear door sunshades, and a power tailgate with smart gesture access.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
These are some of the best seats in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, made even nicer with Nappa leather upholstery. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Sorento buyers wanting a near-premium experience can choose SX trim that, for $45,165, $4,000 more than the EX Premium, includes most everything already mentioned as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, a chromed grille, stainless steel skid plates front and rear, a stainless exhaust tip, chrome roof rails, dynamic directionally-adaptive full LED headlamps, upgraded LED fog lights, bar type LED tail lamps, sound-reducing front side glass, illuminated stainless steel door scuff plates up front, perforated premium leather upholstery, plus a bigger 8.0-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen boasting rich colours and deep contrasts as well as quick reaction to tap, pinch and swipe finger inputs.

Additionally, the navigation system provides nice detailed mapping and accurate route guidance, while SX trim also includes an excellent 10-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system, ventilated front seats that keep backsides cool during summer heat, heated rear outboard seats that do the opposite in winter’s cold, plus more.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Everyone loves a panoramic sunroof, and the Sorento’s is particularly large. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Finally, my as-tested Sorento SXL adds an additional $4,000 to the tally resulting in a maximum retail price of $49,165, which is considerably less than most fully equipped competitors, some that don’t offer the same level of luxury-grade features than LX trim, but this SXL is better yet thanks to even plusher Nappa leather upholstery, an electromechanical parking brake, a surround parking camera with a divided screen that includes a regular rearview camera with dynamic guidelines to the left and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view to the right, as well as high beam assist headlamps, adaptive cruise control, plus more.

All pricing was sourced right here on CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and standalone options for 2019 and 2020 model (not to mention 2018s, just in case you’re curious), while money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing can add thousands to your potential savings. Actually, at the time of writing there were up to $6,000 in additional incentives available, so it’s well worth checking out.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Of course, you’ll need to check in at your local Kia dealership to drive a new Sorento, and if you choose to I’m quite certain you’ll be impressed. The V6 is very smooth, as is the new eight-speed automatic that swaps gears almost seamlessly and quickly no matter the drive mode selected. I mostly kept it in its default Comfort mode, but Eco was smooth too, and good for saving fuel, whereas Sport mode let the engine rev higher and gearbox shift quicker than it otherwise would, making the most of the powerful V6. Smart mode pays attention to your driving style, the terrain and other factors before automatically choosing the best mode for a given situation, optimizing performance, comfort or economy.

Also good, the Sorento’s fully independent suspension is blissfully smooth too, although when pushed hard through fast-paced curves it manages well for such a big crossover utility. All in all the Sorento should be considered a sportier option than most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, but it’s superb seats, luxuriously soft surface treatments, and generous supply of premium-level features make it amongst the most comfortable in its segment.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
The third row is sizeable enough for smaller folk, but those needing to haul a full load of adults should consider the new Telluride. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Speaking of comfort, EX trims and above include four-way powered lumbar support that ideally applied pressure to the small of my back, while the LX V6 and EX 2.4 models’ two-way lumbar can’t be adjusted as personally. Of note, four-way lumbar isn’t always provided in the lower or upper classes, with Lexus forcing its RX 350 customers to pay $63,950 for a Luxury package or $69,850 for the Executive model before receiving optimal lower back support, with none of the model’s F Sport buyers getting such comfort at all, whereas Infiniti’s QX60 clients are completely out of luck no matter how much they’re willing to pay. An additional Sorento bonus is a driver’s seat squab that extends forward to add support under the knees, while the Nappa leather is amongst the best you’ll likely find in the entire volume-branded mid-size SUV class.

The second-row of seats is plenty spacious and almost as comfortable and supportive as the two seats up front, but the Sorento’s third row is probably best left for smaller- to medium-sized children, the Telluride now a better choice when the need to carry a full load of large teens or adults.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Storage under the cargo floor is made more useful thanks to its ability to securely lock the retractable tonneau cover in place when not in use. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

A few particularly upscale trim details include curving black lacquered appliqués on the backside of each front seat, something that I’ve rarely seen in anything less than a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. It’s an olde British take on luxury that isn’t often used these days, although a quick glance back at a previously covered 2019 Genesis G90 (which shares underpinnings with the dearly departed—from Canada—Kia K900) helps us put a finger on where Kia came up with the concept (scroll back through the photos for the same idea in hardwood). Sorento SXL trim also includes black lacquer on the steering wheel spokes, instrument panel and lower centre console surface, plus highlighting each door panel, although as attractive as it looks when brand new, I’m concerned it’ll scratch as it ages.

Those loading longer items such as skis into the cargo hold will appreciate that Kia has split the second row in the unusually ideal 40/20/40 configuration, allowing both rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable and visually optimal window seats, not to mention the aforementioned heatable rear seats if equipped. This is a dealmaker for me, and usually only found in pricier European SUVs. I also liked the convenience of cargo wall-mounted levers that dropped each side of the second-row down automatically, right to the point of locking safely into place, this resulting in a large, flat loading floor that measures 2,082 litres (73.5 cu ft) in the bottom two trims or 2,066 litres (73.0 cu ft) in LX V6 trim and above behind the first row, 1,099 litres (38.8 cu ft) and 1,077 litres (38.0 cu ft) respectively behind the second row, and 320 litres (11.3 cu ft) behind the third row. There’s some extra storage space below the cargo floor, which even lets you stow the retractable cargo cover securely away when not being used.

2019 Kia Sorento SXL
Passenger/cargo flexibility is a Sorento strong point. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

It’s such details that make the Sorento so good, Kia’s rare attitude of going above and beyond that’s so wonderfully unique in the mainstream marketplace. They don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, so they work harder at impressing you than most Japanese peers, and definitely more so than the Americans. I always thought their global motto, “The Power to Surprise” was kind of hokey, but it really does make sense to those experienced with to their products. The Sorento, now Canada’s best-selling (mostly) seven-passenger SUV, is really that good. As for the Telluride, it’ll blow you away.

 

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier Road Test

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The new 2019 Subaru Ascent is one great looking mid-size family hauler. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To say the mid-size crossover SUV category is growing would be quite the understatement. In fact, when brands might have once been satisfied with one single entry in either the two- or three-row sectors, now we’re seeing separate models addressing various families’ requirements, and then unique trim levels targeting luxury, sport, and off-road oriented buyers. If you’re a volume manufacturer, or even a niche player, trying to find success without a mid-size SUV in the lineup is like a company selling it wares without using social media. It’s not going to happen. 

Prior to the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the market last autumn, Subaru had been AWOL from this critically important segment since its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, went out of production. That SUV was impressive for a number of reasons, particularly its premium-like refinement, but its styling and third-row spaciousness left would-be buyers searching elsewhere. After five years of contemplation, and no doubt designing and product planning, Subaru is back with a three-row mid-size crossover SUV that won’t disappoint anyone when it comes to size, plus it looks pretty good too. 

Even though two-row crossover SUVs lead the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already does well with its compact five-seat Forester and mid-size Outback crossover wagon, so it made sense for them to target larger families and those requiring more cargo space. They’re not alone, Honda having sold its three-row Pilot for 17 years ahead its new two-row Passport arriving this summer, so possibly we’ll see a bigger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point too. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
What do you think? Does its styling appeal to your senses? (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Until that happens, the North American-exclusive Ascent seats eight in standard form or seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter configuration being how Subaru equipped my top-tier Premier tester. It’s a sizeable SUV, stretching 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) nose to tail with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height stands 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. What’s more, it measures 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, plus its track spans 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear. 

Putting this into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s top-selling Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, and some might be surprised to learn that the new Subaru SUV also stands 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big Ford. The only Explorer dimension to exceed the Ascent is width that sees Ford’s SUV 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider, with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more respective front and rear track too. Considering the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s biggest crossover SUVs, Subaru now has something equally large so that no one gets left behind. 

When comparing the new Ascent to other sales leaders, it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (albeit shorter than the new Kia Telluride, with a shorter wheelbase and less width), longer and taller than the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe XL (which is currently in its final days, but take note it’s slightly longer than the new Hyundai Palisade too, but its wheelbase isn’t, nor its width), wider and taller than the Nissan Pathfinder, merely wider than the Dodge Durango, and only taller than the Volkswagen Atlas. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The finer details in Premier trim are very impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, incidentally, the full list (from top-selling to poorest faring during the first three quarters of 2018) being the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, while the just-mentioned Palisade and Telluride are too new to categorize by sales numbers. 

While exterior size is one thing, passenger volume and cargo space is another, and much more important for making decisions. The Ascent provides 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) of passenger volume and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for cargo when both rear rows are folded down. Those numbers are just for the most basic of Ascent trims, incidentally, which also measures 1,345 litres (47.5 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split second row and 504 litres (17.8 cu ft) behind the 60/40-split third row, while all other trims are half a litre less commodious at 2,435 litres (86.0 cu ft) behind the first row, 1,331 litres (47.0 cu ft) aft of the second row, and 498 litres (17.6 cu ft) in the very back. 

These numbers compare well against key rivals, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating layout a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s max cargo volume makes it one of the segment’s largest too. Also helpful, rear passengers gain easier access due to back doors that open up to 75 degrees. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The Ascent even looks good covered in mud, and performs well off-road too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As with most Subaru models, the Ascent comes standard with full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be amongst the more capable of all-wheel drive systems available. Its first advantage is more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally mounted engine and transmission, compared to the AWD designs of competitors that mostly derive them from FWD chassis architectures incorporating transverse-mounted engines. Subaru’s horizontally opposed flat “boxer” engine also let the designers place it lower in the chassis resulting in a lower centre of gravity, which aids packaging and handling. 

The Symmetrical AWD design automatically applies additional torque to the wheels with the most grip, and it’s done in such a way that traction not only improves when taking off from standstill in slippery conditions, but it also benefits overall control at higher speeds. This means the Ascent is very capable on all types of roads and trail surfaces, while its standard X-mode off-road system, together with hill descent control, as well as a sizeable 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming rocks and stumps, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better for tackling tough terrain than most other crossover SUVs. 

Of course I had to off-road it, and when facing the mud and muck I pressed the X-Mode button on the lower console and let it do the rest while I pointed it where I wanted to go. Amazingly it responded almost as well as the bull low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4, although the sound of all the electronic systems, such as traction and stability control, working away in the background as it climbed some very steep, ultra slippery, deeply rutted and just plain yucky sections of trail I would have normally only tried when at the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or something more dedicated to mucking it up, was out of the ordinary. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Premier trim’s three-tone black, ivory and brown interior colour theme looks amazing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fortunately the Ascent took care of my backside thanks to one of the nicer rides in the mid-size class, but I wouldn’t say it’s the sportiest feeling or best handling in this three-row category. It’s fully capable of being pushed hard through a twisting back road at a fast clip, but keep in mind this Subie was clearly designed for comfort before speed. 

It rides on the new Subaru Global Platform (SGP) architecture, which combines a strong yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension, improved further with a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and an electric rack and pinion steering setup in front. It all rolls on 18-inch silver five-spoke alloys shod with 245/60 all-seasons in the Ascent’s two lower trims, and 20-inch machine-finished high-gloss split-spoke rims on 245/50 rubber for the two upper trims, my test model benefiting from the latter. 

High-speed stability is important with an SUV that moves off the line as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter from 2,000 to 4,800 rpm, but I enjoyed it best when not pushing too hard, which bought out the powertrain’s wonderfully smooth character and minimized fuel usage. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Most Subaru buyers probably won’t care that a fully digital gauge cluster isn’t on the menu. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Subaru estimates a Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy rating of 11.6 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined for the Ascent, compared to 12.0 city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined for the larger 3.6-litre H-6 in the much smaller Outback. The new four actually makes 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than the flat-six, by the way, so we’ll probably be seeing this smaller, more efficient turbocharged motor in a future Outback too. 

Now that we’re making fuel economy comparisons, the Ascent looks good when put up against the base Explorer’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four that can only manage a claimed 13.1 L/100km in the city, 9.2 on the highway and 11.4 combined, but it should be said the blue-oval SUV makes a lot more power, whereas the thriftiest Toyota Highlander V6 AWD actually does quite well against both the Ford and Subaru SUVs at 11.7 city, 8.8 highway and 10.4 combined. All in all, the Ascent can hold its own at the pump. 

Helping the Ascent achieve its impressive efficiency is Subaru’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, continuously variable transmissions not only economical but also ideal for this type of large family-oriented vehicle thanks to its smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru includes standard steering wheel paddles to enhance driver engagement, along with a faux eight-speed manual shift mode that does a decent job of faking a regular automatic transmission’s gear changes while providing reasonably sporty driving characteristics, while standard Active Torque Vectoring increases high-speed traction. This advanced CVT was first introduced with Subaru’s WRX sport sedan, and while not optimized to swap cogs as quickly as in the World Rally Championship-bred performance car, it nevertheless combines positive, smooth operation while minimizing running costs. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
This multi-information display sits atop the dash. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Compared to most of the Ascent’s mid-size competitors that come standard with FWD, AWD is standard and there’s only one powertrain on offer, from the base model to top-of-the-line. Trims in mind, the 2019 Ascent is available in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with its standard Convenience features including auto on/off halogen headlamps, LED daytime running lights (DRL), roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, tri-zone auto HVAC, a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a backup camera, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, three-way heatable front seats, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, USB ports for the second row, 19 cup and bottle holders, plus more for only $35,995 plus destination. 

Also impressive, all 2019 Ascent trims includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start assist, pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, and lane keeping assist, while all the expected active and passive safety features come standard as well. 

Moving up through the line, second-rung Touring trim starts at $40,995 in its eight-passenger configuration or $41,495 when the second-row captain’s chairs are added, the latter reducing the total number of seats to seven. The Touring model also includes the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that features blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, plus this trim also includes a special set of machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lights, LED fog lights, a sportier looking rear bumper design featuring integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, front door courtesy lamps, chromed inner door handles, a universal garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming centre and sideview mirrors, a leather-clad steering wheel and shift knob, a bigger 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, more upscale fabric upholstery, a power panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, climate controls for the second row passengers, reading lights for third row passengers, a retractable cargo cover, a power-operated tailgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capability to 2,270 kilos (5,000 lbs). 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
You’ll likely be impressed with the infotainment touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Next on the Ascent’s trim menu is the Limited, which starts at $46,495 in its standard eight-passenger configuration or $46,995 when set up for seven passengers, and adds the larger 20-inch alloy wheels noted before, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlamps with auto high beams, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heated steering wheel rim, a nicer looking primary gauge package with chrome bezels and blue needles (instead of red), plus a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display on top of the centre dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic functions including an inclinometer, while a navigation system gets added to the infotainment display, as does SiriusXM Traffic. Additional Limited trim features include 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat enhanced with powered lumbar support and lower cushion length adjustability, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heated second-row seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, plus more. 

My tester’s Premier trim is top of the line yet at $49,995 it’s still very affordable, especially within a class that often exceeds the $50k threshold before adding options. The Ascent Premier comes fully equipped as is, including a special high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror housings, chromed exterior door handles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rearview camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, standard captain’s chairs for the second row, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, plus more. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Comfort is king in the Ascent’s accommodating driver’s seat. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

By the way, all 2019 Subaru Ascent prices were sourced right here on CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new car, truck, van and crossover SUV sold in Canada, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Along with all the right features is a really nicely finished cabin that’s large and comfortable from front to back. Some noteworthy details include a leather-like soft-touch dash top enhanced with attractive stitching ahead of the front passenger, while just below is a useful shelf unpinned by a really nice bolster covered in more stitched leatherette, albeit ivory coloured for a truly distinct look. This wraps around lower portion of the instrument panel before matching up to more ivory bolstering on the door panels, although Subaru goes a step further by introducing a dark brown for the armrests that matches the previously noted brown leather seat upholstery. Premier trim also features matte-finish faux wood trim, but honestly it doesn’t come close to looking or feeling real. Last but not least, Subaru takes care of everyone’s elbows with soft padded synthetic door uppers front to back, but doesn’t go so far as to wrap any of the roof pillars in cloth like some others in the class. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Second-row roominess is excellent. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Speaking of not measuring up to the best this class has to offer, I was surprised to learn this top-line model doesn’t come with a fully digital gauge cluster, this advanced feature showing up on many of the Ascent’s recently redesigned or new competitors, like Volkswagen’s Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Still, the dials’ blue needles were a nice addition instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display features a cool graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when pressing the brake. It’s fun to watch, but even better this display notifies drivers via visual alert and audio chime that they may have left something, a young child, or possibly a pet in the back seat. 

The bigger multi-information display on top of the dash is used more for Subaru’s EyeSight advanced driver assistance systems, with attractive, detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, plus more. 

Just underneath, Subaru’s impressive new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen really wows the eyes as it provides a bevy of useful functions. It includes all the features and apps noted earlier, plus it responds to inputs quickly and reliably. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
Even the third row is roomy enough for adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fast responses in mind, the heatable steering wheel warms up quickly and remains hot as well, as do the heated front and rear seats, which I appreciate more than those that slowly cool off after a few minutes of maximum strength. I often use heated seats for therapeutic reasons, soothing an aching lower back, and the last thing I want is to keep fiddling with a temperature control switch. Speaking of switches, the button for heated steering wheel is smartly positioned just below the right-side spoke where it’s easy to locate, while the adaptive cruise control system, actuated via a set of buttons just above, worked ideally during high-speed and stop-and-go driving. Likewise, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but rather than maintain the centre of a given lane it bounced off the lines when I purposely didn’t pay attention in order to test its capability. 

A really impressive technology is the Ascent Premier’s auto-dimming centre mirror that does double-duty as a backup camera when activated. Also helpful is the Ascent’s sunglasses holder that doubles as a rear conversation mirror. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
There’s plenty of space for cargo with all the seats folded down. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The Ascent’s driver’s seat was ultra-comfortable and quite wide, so it should be ideally shaped for big people, but it fit my five-foot-eight medium-build body type well too. When that front seat was positioned for my long-legged, short-torso frame, which means I had it pushed farther rearward than someone my height normally would, a far reaching telescopic steering wheel allowed for a comfortable driving position that left me in complete control. What’s more, when the seat was set up this way I still had plenty of room just behind in the second row seat, with approximately 10 inches of available space ahead of my knees and ample for me feet, plus loads for my hips and shoulders as well as more than enough over my head. 

I was even more impressive with the third row. Just for fun I slid the second row as far back as possible and then climbed rearward, via a walkway that provided more than enough room. When seated in the very back my knees were rubbing up against the second-row seatbacks, but moving those seats forward a touch remedied the situation to the point that I had plenty of space in both rear rows. Really, there were three-plus inches above my head in the very back, which means average-size adults should fit in no problem, even while larger adults are seated just ahead. 

2019 Subaru Ascent Premier
The retractable cargo cover neatly stows away under the cargo floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

As I mentioned before, the Ascent provides a full load of cargo space behind the third row. In fact, it’s similar that found in a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below that load floor is a hidden compartment for storing smaller items plus the retractable cargo cover when not being used. Lowering the 60/40-split third row is slightly awkward, first needing the headrests to be manually pushed down into the seatbacks, and then requiring a tug on a strap hanging off the top of the seats, before pushing those seats down. Pulling them back up merely needs a tug on a longer strap attached to the cargo floor/seatback. As for the second row, it lays down by first unlatching it, so you can slide it forward, and then unlatching a second release at which point you can slide them back if you want to line up each side. There’s plenty of space for luggage and/or building sheets, but I must say the captain’s chairs don’t result in a particularly flat loading area. I imagine the standard bench seat would work better, so you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lower trims if you’re planning to do a lot of load hauling. 

Purchasing in mind, you should feel safe buying an Ascent, even though it hasn’t been around very long. Subaru has a good track record for reliability and longevity, and after a week with this example I believe the automaker has done a very good job engineering and assembling its first-ever near full-size SUV. 

Story credit: Trevor Hofmann 

Photo credit: Karen Tuggay