From the February 2023 print edition
Subaru’s three-row SUV, the Ascent, receives a mid-cycle refresh for the 2023 model year, four years after its 2019 launch.
Much of the Ascent’s technology has been updated, but so has its price. For the fleet buyer, this means the 2023 version comes with upsides and downsides.
Among the positives: the latest Ascent comes with some important safety updates. Two important upgrades have been made to the EyeSight safety system found in every Ascent: the main cameras that scan ahead of the SUV now provide a 68-per cent wider field of view, and a third camera is mounted in between to improve the system’s response times to pedestrians and cyclists during low-speed operation and when entering intersections.
Updated control software and a new electric brake booster have also been added. Plus, automatic emergency steering helps to avoid collisions at speeds up to 80km/h. While the IIHS hasn’t yet rated the 2023 Ascent, the 2022 model was already rated as a Top Safety Pick+ before these upgrades.
The eight-inch infotainment screen that was previously standard has been replaced across the line-up with a portrait-oriented 11.6-inch screen, the same one found in other Subaru vehicles such as the Outback, Legacy, and WRX. This includes over-the-air updating for the infotainment system and the built-in navigation system that’s equipped on the top two trims, Limited and Premier. Since wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard (although a wireless charging pad is not available), on-board navigation may not be important to some buyers. However, Subaru’s navigation comes with What3Words, a technology that can navigate to any location on Earth with precision by entering its corresponding three-word identifier. This is one of the most affordable vehicles on the market with built-in W3W functionality, so this could be of significant benefit to fleets whose drivers regularly travel to locations without street addresses. Subaru’s DriverFocus system, a camera-based driver attention monitor, is also new to Ascent for 2023 and is standard on its top two trims.
The updated Ascent receives a significantly improved backup camera that comes with a standard camera washer that functions with the rear wiper washer. A surround-view camera and digital rear-view mirror are exclusive to the Premier trim. The latter offers a camera-based view out the back of the vehicle that maintains visibility even when the cargo hold is full, though this camera is mounted higher on the rear door and doesn’t come with a washer, so it’s more prone to collecting debris.With this refresh, the powertrain sees no changes. Subaru’s 2.4-litre turbocharged engine with four horizontally opposed cylinders is standard and creates 260hp and 277lbs-ft of torque.
As is typical of Subaru SUVs, all-wheel drive is standard, here with brake-based torque vectoring. Despite its size and 22 centimetres of ground clearance, the low-mounted engine and high-torque CVT give the Ascent’s a lower-than-average centre of gravity, which gives it surprisingly good handling. All trims but the base Convenience are capable towing up to 2,270kg or 5,000lbs and include Trailer Stability Assist.
Even with no changes here, one of the downsides of the 2023 Ascent is its slight increase in fuel consumption ratings over the 2022 model. The 2023 Ascent uses 12.3 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving, 9.4 on the highway, and 11.0 combined (as opposed to the 11.7/9.0/10.5 seen in 2022). Our as-tested rating over several hundred kilometres ended at 12.8L/100km, though this was with some idling and mild off-road testing.
The other downside is the Ascent’s price increase. Previously, the Ascent was a bargain as a three-row, all-wheel drive SUV. For 2023, pricing starts at $40,995 for the base eight-seat Convenience trim, which is an increase of $3,700. While it’s unfortunate to see the Ascent’s base price push past $40,000, this is in line with the segment, and its new features justify the increase. Pricing tops out at the Premier trim at $53,995 (freight and PDI are $1,995 extra). For 2023, it now costs the same to order the Limited and Touring trims with either a middle bench seat or second-row captain’s chairs.
While higher prices and increased fuel consumption may give some fleet operators pause, some fleets will benefit enough from the improved technology in the 2023 Subaru Ascent that it continues to warrant serious consideration.