’22 Subaru Ascent ready for dirt roads and a thirsty family

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2022 Subaru Ascent Limited

Base price: $40,720.

As tested: $43,670 (Includes option package including Harman Kardon premium audio system with 14 speakers, power panoramic sunroof, 8-inch Starlink multimedia system and 2nd-row captain’s chairs).

What is all this excitement? : All-wheel drive is standard; New Onyx trim includes a blacked-out grille and wheels; a third row for tykes.

Powertrain : 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to CVT (continuously variable transmission) with paddle shifters.

How are the performances? : Not thrilling to drive but competent in the turns and comfortable on the highway.

Fuel economy: The EPA says 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined.

Subaru’s biggest SUV has a bold new look for 2022. The Onyx Edition offers a cool aesthetic, with a blacked-out grille and darkened 20-inch wheels. Inside, the washable synthetic leather seats are quickly ready for the next adventure.

Most people who buy the mid-size three-row focus more on the signature Subaru feature, standard all-wheel drive and family seating for up to eight people. They’ll find plenty of cargo space, lockers and 19 cup/bottle holders. Yeah, that’s 2.37 holders per thirsty occupant, so bring a spare bottle.

The Ascent, like the rest of the Subaru lineup, can take the family on light off-road adventures thanks to its 8.7-inch ground clearance, traction management system and hill descent control. It can handle dirt roads full of puddles and protruding rocks, and this Subie can drag alongside a boat or two ATVs with a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds.

For those who prefer asphalt, it is just as suitable for pavement. The steering is responsive and it has a tight turning radius of 38 feet. Its four-wheel independent suspension system is tuned for comfort. Front and rear parking sensors help guide it through tight mall spaces.

The Ascent, which debuted as a 2019 model, looks a lot like Subaru’s Outback: same grille and simple headlight design but on a taller front. By today’s design standards, Subaru would be among the last on the dance floor.

The Ascent gets the same powertrain this year, a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine paired with a smooth but somewhat noisy CVT (continuously variable transmission). Paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow the driver to get faux eight-speed performance from the otherwise gearless transmission.

But even the paddle shifters don’t offer a truly peppy ride. The direct-injected engine brings 260 horsepower with 277 lb-ft of torque, and it takes seven seconds to hit 60 mph. There’s a bit of lean in corners, though Subaru’s Active Torque Vectoring improves grip and stability.

On the highway, it’s stable and confident with ample passing power. The ride is comfortable for long trips, but more could be done to insulate the cabin from wind and road noise. But it’s a good excuse to activate the high-end Harman Kardon Surround sound system with 14 speakers.

The EPA says to expect an uninspiring 20 mpg in the city, 26 highway and 22 mpg when blending.

The Ascent’s cabin is spacious and comfortable with family-friendly materials that are easy to clean. Top trims like the Limited come with heated leather seats, with 10 power settings on the driver’s seat and 4 settings for the passenger.

Instrument gauges flank a reconfigurable driver data display. A separate screen atop the dash contains off-road information and details about Subaru’s X-Mode, which controls engine, torque and braking to deal with snow, dirt or mud conditions.

An 8-inch touchscreen houses navigation and infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The system isn’t as elaborate as some but has large icons, is responsive to input, and easy to learn.

In the second row, the available captain’s chairs are plush but limit capacity to seven instead of eight. The rear seats are heated, fold flat and feature a pair of USB ports, climate controls and sun visors. The third row, like most, offers little legroom and is best suited for children and young teenagers.

In back, a hands-free power tailgate accesses 18 cubic feet of space, but fold down the third row for another 30 cubes. With both rows folded, there are 86.5 cubic feet. Those numbers aren’t best in class (VW Atlas is #1), but it’s not far behind.

Subaru offers a long list of safety features beyond its all-wheel drive, including its EyeSight driver-assist package with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning lane and automatic braking in reverse.

It’s an uphill battle for the Ascent against heavyweights like the Toyota Highlander, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Kia Telluride, with up to four times the sales. And while there were a few reliability issues in the first two years, Consumer Reports magazine says they appear to have been fixed.

The Ascent is ready to serve those with a thirst for exploration and a thirst that requires (are you kidding?) 19 cup and bottle holders.

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