Can you just imagine future Subaru Outback ads? Subaru versus the mountain goat, only once the all-electric Outback is up on top of the mountain it will need to plug into a diesel generator in order to…
Can you just imagine future Subaru Outback ads? Subaru versus the mountain goat, only once the all-electric Outback is up on top of the mountain it will need to plug into a diesel generator in order to get back down. Advantage goat.
The oft-heard term, “Get woke, go broke” comes to mind when a niche automaker like Subaru announces plans to toss away its most notable brand identity trait, the horizontally opposed “boxer” engine, in order to appease the green crowd and align with some global governments’ impending regulations to eventually ban internal combustion engines.
At a time when the current U.S. administration is loosening new vehicle emissions restrictions, the European Union, China and other markets are tightening them, on vehicles at least (Europe will soon be celebrating new fossil fuel pipelines from Russia and China is seemingly building coal-fired power plants—to fuel said electric cars—faster than anyone can count).
It makes sense that Subaru would want to continue being able to sell into these markets after internal combustion engines are banned, and therefore is planning to electrify its lineup. The process will begin with the introduction of a hybrid-electric drivetrain powering key models, its source for hybrid technology coming from Toyota, which owns 16.5-percent of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), Subaru’s parent company. The short-lived 2014-2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid was this union’s first project, but it didn’t find enough marketplace interest to remain viable.
Currently important to those in charge of Subaru is the retention of its distinctive brand character traits, which have long included the aforementioned horizontally opposed engine configuration, as well as standard all-wheel drive for most of its models (the Toyota co-developed BRZ sports car only comes with rear-wheel drive). The previous Crosstrek Hybrid, for instance, used Toyota’s hybrid technologies together with Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine, thus making it perform and sound just like other models wearing the idiosyncratic alternative brand’s six-starred blue-oval badge. What Subaru doesn’t want is simple badge engineering, like Toyota has done many times (including the Subaru-powered albeit co-developed Scion FR-S/Toyota 86, the Mazda2-based Yaris Sedan, etcetera), as the niche automaker would run the risk of diluting its very unique brand image.
“Although we’re using Toyota technology, we want to make hybrids that are distinctly Subaru,” said the brand’s chief technology officer, Tetsuo Onuki, to Reuters news agency. “It’s not only about reducing CO2 emissions. We need to further improve vehicle safety and the performance of our all-wheel drive.”
While Onuki made a point of mentioning that all-wheel drive will continue to be an important differentiator with future Subaru models, the inclusion of AWD is becoming more commonplace amongst its competitors. Both Nissan and Mazda recently introduced redesigned passenger cars with optional AWD (Nissan’s Altima makes AWD standard in Canada), and while Subaru’s trademarked “Symmetrical AWD” is considered by many to provide better traction than most rival AWD systems, whether or not its even delivery of power can be achieved as effectively when hooked up to a solely electric power unit will remain to be seen. As it is, plenty of electric vehicles now offer AWD, so Subaru’s current traction advantage may not be as novel in 15 years time, making it just another brand when its current crop of boxer engines are no longer available.
EVs in mind, Subaru and Toyota are currently co-developing an electric powertrain, which will result in at least one electric vehicle apiece at some undefined point this decade, with additional models expected. Subaru claims that hybrid- and pure electric-powered models will represent at least 40 percent of its annual global production by 2030, with all hybrids discontinued within another half decade or so.
Ten years is a long time in the automotive sector, let alone any consumer vertical, and much can happen in battery technology development, the introduction and/or development of alternative fuels, car/ride sharing development, etcetera, not to mention geopolitical developments (not all of which may be positive) that could easily force changes to Subaru’s plans.
The win-win for Subaru is garnering green accolades now without much action initially being taken, making its owners feel as if their brand of choice is righteously marching toward utopia within a decade and a half, but the reality is an ultimate target that’s so far off into the future that it represents little if no real commitment, other than the likelihood of a new hybrid model or two within the next couple of years, plus at least one EV.
Notably, Subaru isn’t alone in making such all-electric future plans, with General Motors (in 2018) having pitched a U.S. national environmental program designed to motivate all automakers to transform at least 25 percent of their lineups to zero-emissions vehicles; Ford stepping up with an $11.5-billion spending program to result in more than a dozen new hybrids and EVs by 2022; Toyota (as part of its Environmental Challenge 2050 program) vowing to reduce vehicle life-cycle emissions by 25 percent or more by 2030, while targeting 2050 for the elimination of all carbon emissions; Mercedes-Benz claiming that half of its non-commercial passenger car lineup will be electric by 2030, plus full carbon neutrality will arrive within the next two decades.
Volvo might be the world’s most progressive automaker thanks to its promise to make half of its passenger cars wholly electric by 2025, that each cars’ life-cycle carbon footprint will be reduced by 40 percent by the same year, that the carbon output of its entire global operations (including suppliers) will be reduced by 25 percent by 2025 as well, and lastly with a plan to use a minimum of 25-percent recycled materials in its vehicle production when that same year arrives.
While some may chalk up the majority of these plans as politically correct grandstanding, we all can feel confident that Subaru is currently selling the Greatest Outback Of All Time (G.O.O.A.T.), with the term “all time” likely including its Outback EV of the future.
Incidentally, the Outback mid-size crossover is Subaru Canada’s third most popular model with 10,972 unit sales during calendar year 2019, behind the brand’s best-selling Crosstrek subcompact crossover SUV that found 15,184 new buyers, and Forester compact SUV with 13,059 new sales last year. Additional Subaru models include the Impreza compact sedan and hatchback with 9,065 deliveries in 2019, the Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV with 4,139 new buyers, the rally-inspired WRX/STI sport sedan with 2,707 new sales, the Legacy mid-size sedan with 1,752 customers last year, and the previously-noted BRZ compact sports coupe with 647 buyers during the same 12 months. Check out full pricing, including trims, packages and individual options at CarCostCanada, plus learn about available rebate info, special financing/lease rates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Also, make sure to check our photo gallery above for Subaru Canada’s current 2020 lineup of new models, as well as the videos below showing its humourous the new G.O.A.T. (#GOOAT) TV ad, as well as a slightly longer behind the scenes “meet the goat” backgrounder.
The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard…
The compact class is incredibly competitive in Canada, but thanks to continually improving its exterior design, plus major strides made in interior refinement, big gains in cabin infotainment, and a diehard adherence to its unique horizontally-opposed powertrain connecting through to standard all-wheel drive, Subaru has found a way to keep its Impreza thoroughly relevant when others are getting discontinued.
News of model cancellations is never good to a car enthusiast, even if the vehicle in question is a rather bland compact commuter car. After all, the same market shifting issues that caused the elimination of the Chevy Cruze and its electrified Volt is responsible for the demise of Ford’s Focus and its two sportiest trims, not to mention the fun-to-drive Alfa Romeo-based Dodge Dart a couple of years ago. And these four are only in the compact segment. Plenty of others have fallen by the wayside in the subcompact and full-size passenger car classes too, all making space for new crossover SUVs and EVs.
Subaru produces its share of crossovers, its most popular Crosstrek based on the very Impreza 5-Door being reviewed here. I’m actually a big fan of that innovative little CUV, but I’m also a proponent of smart compact wagons, which is more or less what the Impreza 5-Door is.
Call it a hatchback if you want, or a liftback if you want to make it sound sportier, but in reality the Impreza 5-Door is a wagon through and through. No doubt some in Subaru’s marketing department would rather I don’t say that, but they should be well aware that this Japanese brand has an ardent following of wagon-loving zealots. After all, the Outback is little more than a raised Legacy Wagon, the latter model no longer with us, unfortunately, but a mighty find rally car in its time, not to mention an excellent family hauler.
Subaru has spiffed up the Impreza’s styling in recent years, and it really does look a lot more upscale and premium like, even in its more basic trims. This Sport tester comes with fog lamps and LED-enhanced headlights even though it’s just a mid-range model, not to mention side sill extensions, a subtle rooftop spoiler, and attractive LED taillights, while machine-finished twinned-Y-spoke 17-inch alloys with black-painted pockets round out the sporty look.
Subaru makes a 4-Door Impreza sedan as well, but I’m willing to guess the 5-Door is more popular in Canada. They both look nice and each serves a purpose as well as personal styling tastes, the sedan providing the security of a trunk, useful for those that regularly need to keep valuables locked away from prying eyes, while the latter gets the convenience of added cargo space of a hatch or liftback. The trunk can manage a load of 348 litres, which isn’t bad for a compact, but compared to the 5-Door’s 588-litre cargo hold behind the rear seats, not to mention is uninterrupted 1,565 litres of available volume when the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are lowered down, it’s no contest.
The car I recently tested is a 2019, and yes I’m fully aware the 2020s are already upon us and therefore this review will have a very limited shelf life. Nevertheless, those willing to choose the 2019 can access up to $2,500 in additional incentives (at the time of writing), as seen on CarCostCanada’s 2019 Subaru Impreza Canada Prices page, whereas those wanting the refreshed 2020 model can only save up to $750 in additional incentives, unless they join CarCostCanada to access dealer invoice pricing at which point they could find themselves saving thousands.
Subaru makes its EyeSight suite of advanced driver assistive systems standard on all Imprezas upgraded to an automatic transmission for 2020, while it’s only available in Sport and top-line Sport-tech trims for 2019. The car I tested didn’t include EyeSight, which meant it was missing pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keep assist, lead vehicle start alert, and adaptive cruise control. A Starlink connected services package is also available for 2020, included in most Impreza trims, while both 4- and 5-Door styling has been updated front and back.
The Impreza’s four trim lines remain the same from 2019 to 2020, and include the base Convenience, plus Touring, Sport and Sport-tech, with 2019 pricing ranging from $19,995 to $30,195 for the 4-Door and $20,895 to $31,095 for the 5-Door. Subaru leaves the base price alone for 2020, but ups some pricing in between with the new 5-Door adding $100 to the bottom line for $20,995, and top-line Sport-tech trim costing $30,795 and $31,695 for the 4- and 5-Door body styles respectively.
The 2019 Impreza Sport 5-Door model on this page retails for $25,395, this car increasing to $26,195 next year. Like the two bottom trims it can be had with a five-speed manual or optional Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the latter being how Subaru equipped my tester. As always, Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD comes standard, not only making this the sole car with standard AWD in the compact class, but one of the only vehicles to be offered with AWD in this segment at all.
To be clear, Mazda recently anted up with an AWD 3, while Toyota’s Prius can now be had with its new hybridized e-AWD system. Volkswagen offers its Golf Alltrack until they sell out (it’s sadly being cancelled after model year 2019), but it’s more of a Crosstrek competitor anyway, while the Golf R competes with Subaru’s WRX STI. There you have it, all the AWD competitors in the compact class, a very small number for sure.
Speaking of VW, it’s ironic that a relatively small Japanese brand has kept the German manufacturer’s boxer engine design alive and thriving all these years. Subaru has long claimed the horizontally opposed engine configuration as its own, only sharing it with Porsche and, occasionally, Ferrari, with this latest 2.0-litre, dual-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder making a reliable 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque via direct-injection, dual active valve control, and electronic throttle control. This is significantly stronger engine output than most competitors’ base engines. In fact, only three rivals make more power, albeit not much more, while just four put out greater torque.
The result is strong performance from standstill all the way up to highway speeds and beyond, all of the extra torque working very well with my tester’s CVT, which provides especially smooth, linear power delivery. The paddles are useful for downshifting mid-turn, but I found the engine and transmission worked best when left to their own devices. The Impreza’s ride is very smooth too, while its agility through the corners is also typical of fully independent suspension setups, Subaru having infused a set of MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends. This is a more sophisticated design than some of its challengers that use cheaper rear torsion bar suspensions, and can really be felt when pushing hard through curves covered in uneven pavement. Rather than having the rear axle bunny hop over the rough stuff, my Impreza’s 205/50R17s stayed locked on course, the little five-door certainly showing the effects of Subaru’s storied rallying heritage.
This was when I wished my test car had been equipped with the five-speed manual, as it would have been more fun to play with and potentially easier to extract more speed, but truth be told the paddles worked wonders when more engine revs were needed, even though they’re hooked up to a CVT. It was good enough, in fact, that I might lean towards the CVT if this were my own personal ride, not only because it would make driving life in the city a lot more agreeable, but also because the automated transmission is a lot thriftier with a claimed fuel economy rating of 8.3 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.5 combined, compared to 10.1, 7.5 and 8.9 respectively for the manual.
While a serious driver’s car, the Impreza is also extremely comfortable, and not just because of its just-noted ride quality. The driver’s seat offers good adjustability, but strangely no lumbar adjustment in this trim. Fortunately the seat design is inherently supportive, and thanks to excellent reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column I had no problem getting into a good position for optimal control of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and sporty metal pedals. The steering wheel is nicely shaped for a sporty, comfortable feel with the hands at the proper 9 and 3 o’clock positions, while ample switchgear on its spokes allow for control of audio, phone, cruise, and trip/multi-information display functions.
Unlike most rivals, the Impreza’s mostly analogue gauge cluster merely splits its dials with a colour TFT readout for speed, gear selection, real-time fuel economy, fuel level, the odometer and trip mileage. The actual multi-information display is housed in a hooded 4.2-inch colour display atop the dash. It provides a comprehensive level of information, its top half-inch or so displaying the time, interior temperature, climate control setting, and exterior temperature, while the larger bottom section can be set up based on driver preference with options including audio info, real-time fuel economy and projected range, all-wheel drive torque distribution, a row of three gauges encompassing water temp, oil temp and average speed, and more.
While the quality of graphics and screen resolution of the multi-information display has made big strides this generation, Subaru’s biggest single area of improvement over the past few years has been in-car infotainment, particularly the centre touchscreen and its many features. The move up to Sport trim increases the display from 6.3 to 8.0 inches in diameter, and it’s an extremely high-quality touchscreen with crystal clear definition, beautiful vivid colours and extremely rich contrast. The overall tile design is attractive, with big colourful “buttons” overtop a starry blue background that looks attractive and is easy to use, with the main functions being radio, media, phone, apps, settings, and Subaru’s Starlink suite of apps. There’s no navigation in Sport trim, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer route guidance through your smartphone, which is likely good enough for most peoples’ needs. The apps panel includes Aha and iHeartRadio, while dual USB ports and an aux plug allow smartphone access. The backup camera is excellent too, and benefits from dynamic guidelines.
All HVAC controls can be found just below on a dedicated interface, and in Sport trim is a single-zone automatic climate control system featuring three dials and a couple of buttons to actuate. Setting the heatable front seats is done via two rocker switches on the lower console, but even the two-way warmer’s highest settings aren’t anywhere hot enough to feel therapeutic.
There’s no heated steering wheel rim in Sport trim and no seat warmers offered in back at all, which is strange for a car that would likely be used as a family ski shuttle during winter months, but nevertheless the Impreza Sport 5-Door’s rear quarters are nicely finished, yet without secondary air vents on the backside of the front console or anywhere else.
It’s roomy in back, with about eight inches of space remaining ahead of my knees when seated behind the driver’s seat that was set up for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso frame, plus ample area to stretch out my legs with my feet under said driver’s seat. There’s no shortage of room side-to-side either, plus a comfortably wide folding armrest at centre with dual cupholders, and about three inches left over above my head. The outboard rear seatbacks offer good lumbar support too, so it’s easy to overlook the lack of amenities in back.
I’ve yet to mention this Sport trim’s upholstery, which is a high point thanks to a nice durable feeling fabric featuring an attractive patterned insert surrounded by grey striped bolsters with contrast stitching. Each Impreza generation improves interior refinement, with this latest fifth-gen model a wholly more hospitable place for driver and passengers front to back with respect to materials quality and design. Just look at the contrast-stitched leather-like soft-touch dash top, which is easily as good as this class gets, the impressive surfacing treatment even flowing down the right side of the centre stack and copied over to the left portion as to provide a visual balance. It’s gorgeous. The door uppers get a similar soft synthetic treatment and the armrests feel like genuine stitched leather, while Subaru adds more depth via carbon-fibre-like inlays, satin-silver/grey accents, tasteful applications of chrome and more, not to mention especially tight fitting switchgear throughout the cabin. Anyone buying into this class should be more than impressed with the Impreza’s interior.
I’ve mentioned cargo dimensions already, and while it sits in the middle as far as space behind the rear seatbacks and much better than average when those seats are folded, I wish Subaru had thought of including a centre pass-through for loading in longer items like skis. Of course you can squish someone into the centre position if carrying four, but the outboards seats are much more comfortable and the view out the windows more enjoyable for those in back. Subaru includes a retractable cargo cover within a solid, attractive aluminum cross-member that’s easy to pull out and store behind the first row of seats if no one is seated in the second row, or lay on the cargo floor if someone is.
All things said the Impreza 5-Door is a car I could buy and live happily with. It’s just the right size, offers up lively performance with decent fuel economy, promises strong reliability, and delivers the level of refinement and quality I’ve grown used to. Its infotainment is now as good as this class gets, and while I would’ve liked a few more features in this Sport-trimmed tester, a top-line Sport-tech model I tested a couple of years ago delivered more than enough goodies to satisfy the tech geek within. Everything considered, the Impreza wholly worthy of your attention.
The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have…
The Outback has long been my favourite family-oriented Subaru, unless you consider the four-door WRX STI a family car. I know my son would’ve tried to convince me of its practicality, but he would have done the same for a BRZ back in the day. Now he’s a man and while I’m still his old man, I’m also an aging man, so not surprisingly comfort is starting to matter a lot more than performance, while having somewhere to haul my stuff around is important too.
A quick glance at this mid-size crossover wagon might cause you to question whether or not it’s as roomy inside as one of its slightly taller five-seat crossover SUV competitors, such as Ford’s Edge, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Chevy’s new Blazer or Nissan’s Murano, or even Jeep’s more 4×4-capable Grand Cherokee, but not so. While the Outback sits lower than any of the just-noted utilities, its cargo capacity, which measures 1,005 litres (35.5 cubic feet) when all seats are in use or 2,075 litres (73.3 cubic feet) when the second row is lowered, is nearly identical to the Edge, Santa Fe and Grand Cherokee, and considerably more spacious than Murano and Blazer, so there’s no practical reason to choose an alternative SUV over the Outback.
In fact, while I’d like to see a centre pass-through or an even more versatile 40/20/40-split second row in the Outback or any of its aforementioned rivals, the Outlook provides handy cargo wall-mounted levers to lower its 60/40 split-folding seatbacks down automatically, plus a nice retractable cargo cover and rugged available cargo mat, making it ideal for all types of hauling duties including winter sports.
Of course, the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive is probably its best all-season asset, its Symmetrical layout renowned for providing an even distribution of torque to each wheel and better weight distribution overall, including a lower centre of gravity thanks in part to its volume brand-exclusive horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine design. I’ve tested Outbacks since I initiated my writing career 20 years ago, and even drove the exact same one as this in white last year, and thanks in part to standard electronic traction and stability control its all-wheel drivetrain provides impressive capability no matter the road conditions, even when the white fluffy stuff surrounding my test car in the photos is on the road. It’ll climb out of much deeper snow than that, of course, something I experienced numerous times in ski hill parking lots and in winter conditions elsewhere, while its flat-four and -six engines maximize torque, which is optimal when dealing with off-road-like conditions.
Incidentally, Subaru refreshed the Outback for 2018 and is currently launching its redesigned 2020 Outback, so if you head down to your local dealer you’ll likely see the new one sitting in the showroom and some 2019s (which are identical to the 2018s) still on the lot, the latter models still needing homes and therefore reduced in price to sell quickly. At the time of writing CarCostCanada is reporting up to $3,000 in additional incentives for 2019 Outbacks, while you can also check this website for trim, package and option prices, plus rebate information and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands when it comes time to negotiate, so for this reason alone it’s a good idea to consider a 2019.
Of course, the decision to choose a redesigned or outgoing model shouldn’t only be based on finances unless one’s limited budget demands, yet I still can’t see 2020 Outback buyers being wooed solely by styling as the new version hardly looks much different than the old one from the outside, despite subtle changes from front to back. See next to each other, the new one looks more refined and sleeker, but I understand why the old model’s chunkier, more rugged design would have more appeal to plenty of buyers.
Open either model’s front door and you’ll see an interior delivering more plush luxury than their exteriors let on, the new version receiving the mainstream volume sector’s biggest centre display at 11.6 inches, while it’s now positioned vertically instead of horizontally, as is done with this 2019 Outback’s generously sized 8.0-inch touchscreen. I’m not about to detail out the 2020 version right now, being that I haven’t even sat inside one yet, but I can appreciate why some would-be buyers will be anteing up just for that mammoth monitor.
This said I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone chose the 2019 Outback in order to get my tester’s fabulous 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine, which is being discontinued ahead of the 2020 model. Most recently it’s been optional in top-tier Outbacks and loaded up versions of Subaru’s Legacy mid-size sedan, but as soon as I learned that the brand’s newest Ascent mid-size three-row crossover SUV wouldn’t be offering the six-cylinder variant I knew its days were numbered.
For a quick history, the flat six arrived as an option for Subaru’s 1988–1991 XT two-door sports coupe. It was based on the brand’s four-cylinder of the time, and was soon upgraded for that model’s successor, the much more appealing 1991–1996 SVX, a model that I tested and totally blew me away back in 1994. This engine was replaced by the EZ30, a ground-up redesign that was notably almost as compact as the EJ25 four-cylinder of the time, the smaller 3.0-litre version being optional in Legacy/Outback models from 2002/2001-2008/2009, and the almost identically sized yet more potent 3.6-litre EZ36 iteration added as an option for the 2009 and 2010 model years respectively. As a side note, both versions of the EZ engine were used in the new Ascent’s three-row crossover SUV predecessor, dubbed Tribeca, with the 2006-2007 variant getting the smaller variant and 2008-2014 models using the larger.
Enough history? I don’t normally deep dive so far into the past when it comes to engines, but when a relatively small brand makes such a big move, it seems relevant to go over some of the details. It’s also a bit of a shame. Most of us feel a need to help green our planet in some way or another, and altering the way we drive is certainly a less intrusive way than going vegetarian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but even though 2019 to 2020 fuel economy figures show night and day savings, these don’t fully reflect real-world driving that might have a heavier right foot applied more often than not, causing a smaller four-cylinder engine to rev higher in order to extract the same performance that a larger displacement six-cylinder engine would need to for the same result.
Before comparing consumption, 2019 model year engines include an entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, plus the 3.6-litre H6 I’ve already covered a length except for output numbers that equal 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. For 2020, the base 2.5i receives a complete overhaul resulting in 90 percent of its components replaced for 6 more horsepower and 2 lb-ft of additional torque, which combine for a new total of 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, while a new optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine displaces 2.4 litres and makes an even more abundant 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is a nominal increase of 4 horsepower yet a very generous 30 lb-ft of extra torque when compared to the outgoing six.
How about efficiency? The 2019 Outback 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 8.5 combined compared to 9.0 city, 7.1 highway and 8.0 combined for the new 2020 base engine, which is certainly an improvement. Comparing 2019 Outback 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 12.0 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.5 combined rating and the new version achieving 10.1 city, 7.9 highway and 9.0 combined.
To Subaru’s credit there doesn’t seem to be any downside with the Outback’s optional move from a six to a turbo-four, and few brands have had more experience building boosted four-cylinder engines, its WRX legendary for multiple world rally championships as well as dependability (those two normally going hand in hand), but I will miss the six-cylinder engine’s smooth, refined operation and throaty growl at takeoff.
Shifts occur via continuously variable transmission, so while it feels much like a conventional automatic swapping its cogs as required, it’s actually Subaru’s High-Torque Lineartronic CVT with an eight-speed manual mode that mimics gear changes very well, unless pushed higher up into the engine’s rev range where it doesn’t pull off the process quite as well. Subaru includes paddle shifters for more hands-on engagement, but after playing with them for testing purposes I never found the need for them again.
While quite quick off the line and plenty capable for passing slower moving vehicles on the highway, plus reasonably agile through fast-paced corners when pushed hard, the Outback hasn’t really been designed for performance buyers. No, this tall wagon is all about comfort, and to that end it’s best just to leave this ultra-smooth transmission in default mode and enjoy the ride, which is, by the way, superb. In fact, it has one of the most compliant suspensions in the industry, making it ideal for bumpy cottage roads and trips to the ski chalet, let alone tooling around town while running errands.
I’ve long found Subaru’s standard full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive system superior to other AWD systems I’ve tested, one of its advantages being an “X-MODE” button on the lower console that when activated controls the engine’s output, transmission shift points, the AWD system’s torque-split, plus the braking and hill descent control systems in order to overcome more challenging off-road conditions than most rivals should ever attempt. I wouldn’t go so far to say the Outback could replace a true four-wheel drive utility, but its advanced AWD and impressive 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance certainly make it more capable than most car-based crossover rivals.
As you might imagine, I’m looking forward to getting into the 2020 Outback (next week in fact) just to see how it improves on this 2019. Obviously the larger centre touchscreen mentioned earlier in this review will be a night and day upgrade, which I’ll report on at length in a future review, but it’ll be just as interesting to see how Subaru updates the rest of the cabin. I’ll need to be especially good to beat the current Outback’s near premium levels of interior refinement, as it already boasts such niceties as fabric-wrapped A pillars, a soft-touch dash-top and instrument panel that’s contrast stitched and wraps all the way down the sides of the centre stack, padded door uppers, inserts and armrests front to back, and leather upholstery with contrast stitching in my almost top-line Limited model.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks good and feels great in the palms and fingers, its nicely carved out thumb indents adding a sportier touch. The buttons and rocker controls on the steering wheel spokes are high in quality and function well, while all of the cabin switchgear is up to snuff, particularly the audio and dual-zone automatic climate control knobs on the centre stack.
It wasn’t long ago that Subaru trailed the segment in electronic interfaces, but the brand has been taking such sizeable strides forward in this respect that as noted earlier it’s now a segment leader, and while the 2019 Outback won’t wow your neighbours like the new 2020 will, it’s still competes well next to its peers. Both models use fairly traditional primary instrument clusters featuring analogue dials to both sides and a tall, vertical multi-information display (MID) at centre, but the 2020 says sayonara to the sportier double-hooded motorcycle-style gauge design currently being used for a more conventional look that’s actually a letdown at first glance, but that said its 5.0-inch MID can now be upgraded to a full 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
That means 2019 Outback Limited and Premier trims aren’t much more intriguing ahead of the driver than base 2.5i, Convenience and Touring models, other than the base 3.5-inch MID being replaced by a much nicer colour 5.0-inch version when EyeSight gets added (more on this in a moment), but over on the centre stack it’s a different story altogether.
The 2020 base Outback comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, by the way, an upgrade from the 2019’s 6.5-inch centre display, while the top-line 2019 model gets a reasonably large 8.0-inch touchscreen, as mentioned earlier in this review. Unless you just stepped out of the updated car or something premium from Germany, my tester’s infotainment system looks fairly state of the art, thanks to lots of gloss black surfacing around the monitor so that it all just blends together as if it’s a giant screen, while the digital interface graphics simulate a deep blue night sky with twinkling stars for a background and colourful smartphone/tablet-like tiles for selecting functions.
The reverse camera system is very good, aided by dynamic guidelines, while infotainment highlights include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, plus the usual AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio sources, as well as satellite and Aha radio, USB and aux ports, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, and Bluetooth with audio streaming, all played through four speakers, while Touring trims and above include the 1.5-inch larger touchscreen along with a second USB port and two additional speakers.
I’m tempted to go into detail about trims, packages and standalone options, but it’s not like you’ll be able to order a 2019 Outback anyway. What you see will be what you get, and you’ll probably need to be quick to snag a 2019 anyway, especially one with the inline-six. This said I’d like to cover some as yet unmentioned features found in my Limited trimmed test model, which include 18-inch alloys, auto on/off steering-responsive LED headlights, fog lamps, welcome and approach lighting, proximity-sensing keyless entry, pushbutton start/stop, brushed aluminum front doorsill protectors, genuine looking matte woodgrain and silver metallic interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel, three-way heated front seats, navigation, adaptive cruise control, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, two-way driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, a Homelink garage door opener, an excellent sounding 576-watt, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a powered moonroof, two-way heatable rear outboard seats, a powered rear liftgate, and more.
Additionally, those EyeSight advanced driver assistive systems noted earlier include pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, lane keeping assist, lead vehicle start alert, reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and high beam assist.
The Limited 3.6R with the EyeSight package starts at $41,395, which is $1,500 more than the Limited 3.6R without EyeSight, while that model is $3,000 more than the Limited with the four-cylinder engine. The base Outback 2.5i starts at only $29,295 by the way, while other 2019 trims include the $32,795 Touring 2.5i, and the $39,295 Premier 2.5i that comes standard with EyeSight. You can add the Eyesight package and engine upgrade to Touring trim, although the six-cylinder is the only option available to Premier customers, other than colour choices of course, but exterior paints won’t cost you any more no matter the trim.
While the 2019 Outback might range in retail price from $29,295 to $42,295, remember that CarCostCanada was claiming up to $3,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, so be sure to check out their 2019 Subaru Outback page for more info, which also provides detailed pricing, info on the latest rebates, plus otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the Outback provides mid-size SUV-levels of cargo carrying capacity, so it only makes sense there’d be no shortage of room for full-size adults up front and in back too. It’s comfortable as well, the front seats nicely shaped to provide support in all the right places, particularly at the lower back, while side-to-side bolster support is also good for this comfort-first segment. Rear seat spaciousness is generous too, especially when it comes to headroom.
Another bonus in back is refinement, with its surfaces and details finished just as nicely as those in the front compartment. A big, wide centre armrest folds down to an ideal height for average-sized adults, and better yet it features large cupholders with grippy rubber clasps to keep drinks secured in place. What’s more, a covered compartment on the backside of the front centre console incorporates a duo of USB charging ports as well as an auxiliary plug, while rocker switches for the aforementioned rear seat warmers sit right beside, and rear vents are housed just above. Back seat readers will appreciate the spot lamps overhead, while the door panels get nice big bottle holders.
It feels right to wrap up a Subaru Outback review on a practical note, despite how upscale its interior looks and feels, and how luxurious its smooth six-cylinder power and even smoother ride is. It’s a car that’s even better than advertised, and that’s something truly special in today’s sensationalized world. Whether you choose to go with this superb 2019 Outback or choose the updated 2020 model, I believe you’ll be fully satisfied.
Subaru has just introduced a redesigned 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan with new styling, updated engines, and a revised interior, but outward changes are so subtle you’d be forgiven for mixing up the new…
Subaru has just introduced a redesigned 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan with new styling, updated engines, and a revised interior, but outward changes are so subtle you’d be forgiven for mixing up the new 2020 with this 2019 model. So why write about a 2019 Legacy when the 2020 is already on the way? Subaru retailers still have new 2019 models available, and these can be had for very good deals.
According to CarCostCanada at the time of writing, you can save up to $3,000 in additional incentives on a 2019 Legacy, and that’s over and above any further discount you manage to personally procure. A first step would be to visit CarCostCanada where you can learn about pricing details, including trims, packages and individual options, while you can also find out about rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
Subaru refreshed its Legacy mid-size sedan for the 2018 model year, and therefore this 2019 version remains unchanged. The model tested for this review was in mid-range $31,695 Sport trim, which sits above the base $24,995 2.5i CVT, $28,295 Touring, and $29,795 Touring with Subaru’s EyeSight package of advanced driver assistive systems, which includes automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, rear proximity warning with reverse automatic braking, blind spot detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, but Sport trim (that comes standard with EyeSight) is still more affordable than the $33,795 Limited 2.5i and $36,795 Limited 3.6R (also standard with the EyeSight package).
The “2.5i” and “3.6R” designations refer to standard and optional engines respectively, with the latter having been discontinued for the 2020 Legacy and Outback crossover wagon, incidentally, replaced by the more potent 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder introduced in last year’s Ascent mid-size SUV. Compared to this year’s 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, which is good for 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, the new four makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, while the base 2.5-litre four-cylinder found in this Legacy Sport and all other Legacy trims, which produces 175 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, gets 90 percent of its components replaced for 2020 resulting in an additional 6 horsepower (for 182) and 2 lb-ft of torque (for 176), a nominal difference off the line yet noticeable at the pump.
The 2019 Legacy 2.5i achieves a claimed 9.3 L/100km on the highway, 7.0 in the city and 8.2 combined compared to 8.8 city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined for the new 2020 base engine. Comparing 2019 Legacy 3.6R fuel economy to the new 2020 2.4i is even more dramatic, with the outgoing engine managing an estimated 11.9 L/100km city, 8.3 highway and 10.3 combined rating and the new version achieving 9.9 city, 7.3 highway and 8.5 combined. The Legacy’s standard all-wheel drive means its base powertrain isn’t quite as thrifty as its mostly front-wheel drive competitors, but the differences are nominal, while both its old 3.6R and new 2.4i are much more efficient than the Camry’s available V6, for example.
Rather than delve too deeply into the differences between the new 2020 Legacy and this current 2019 model, I’ll touch on a few key issues as part of this road test review and keep some of the other details for a future review of the redesigned car. As noted in the beginning of this review, styling updates are so minor I’d hesitate calling it a refresh. In fact, Subaru Canada doesn’t mention anything about styling in its 2020 Legacy press release, an unusual tack, but I imagine this is good news for those who liked the previous design, and should help this current sixth-generation model maintain its resale/residual values. I find both models handsome enough and sportier looking than some rivals, while Subaru clearly isn’t trying to woo would-be buyers with anything too extroverted, like Toyota is with its new Camry XSE.
The Legacy’s wallflower appearance may be one reason its sales are so low, the 1,298 units Subaru sold after Q3 2019 just a hair over 11-percent of the 11,579 Camrys delivered during the same nine months. Still, it’s not last, the Legacy outselling Kia’s Stinger, Mazda’s 6, Honda’s Clarity plug-in, Buick’s Regal, Volkswagen’s Passat, and the same German brand’s new Arteon four-door coupe, while coming very close to Kia’s Optima. This leaves it eighth out of 14 challengers, which really isn’t too shabby. Then again, the Legacy’s numbers pale in comparison to Subaru’s own Outback that sold 7,756 units over the same three quarters, the tall crossover wagon basically the same car under the skin.
Fortunately, sales success doesn’t necessarily reflect how good or bad a given vehicle is, and other than being slightly smaller than most of its mid-size sedan rivals, it shows no disadvantages. Subaru has an enviable record, achieving “Best Overall” brand status in Consumer Reports’ latest 2019 Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction and Safety, not to mention tied in the “Best Road Test Score Mainstream” category with Chrysler. Subaru was above average in J.D. Power’s latest 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study too, albeit below average in the same organization’s 2019 Initial Quality Study. This said the 2019 Legacy was rated best for “Mid-Size” sedan consumers in Vincentric’s latest “Best Value In Canada” awards, as did the Outback in its segment.
No doubt interior quality gave the Legacy a leg up with the various third-party analytical firms’ rating programs, its premium-like padded composite dash top and instrument panel stitched across its lower edge with a classic Subaru blue thread, while that blue stitching also trims the inside rim of the leather-clad sport steering wheel, all the armrests, and the leather-like bolsters of the otherwise light grey textured fabric seats. Additionally, some very authentic-looking glossy carbon-fibre inlays accent the instrument panel and door uppers, butting up against some attractive satin-silver metallic trim, while gloss-black and matte-finish black composites join yet more satin-finish and chromed metal accents. Subaru details out both front and rear door uppers in the same luxurious padded composite as the dash, and wraps each A-pillar in fabric for an extra level of pampering and sound deadening.
Despite the new 2020 model providing a fresh new interior highlighted by a massive 11.6-inch vertical display that looks like it’s been pulled right out of a Tesla (other than the new base model that makes do with a 7.0-inch touchscreen), this 2019 version still looks up to date. In fact, its 8.0-inch touchscreen (uprated from the 6.5-inch screen in the 2019 base model) looks pretty state of the art when compared to most competitors thanks to a large glossy black surrounding panel that juts out of the central dash as if it’s one big screen. The display itself provides a rich blue background complete with graphical stars, overlaid by colourful tablet-style tiles for each function. The backup camera is excellent, and includes dynamic guidelines, while on top of standard infotainment features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Subaru’s proprietary StarLink smartphone integration, other features include AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA plus satellite and Aha radio, a USB and aux port, SiriusXM advanced audio services, SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and four-speaker audio, while Touring and above trims include the larger display plus another USB port and two more speakers.
If you want navigation, a better 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, as well as a heatable steering wheel rim, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels and more you’ll need to move up to the aforementioned Limited model, while features pulled up to my Sport tester from lesser trims include a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support (that did a pretty good job of lining up with the small of my back), cruise control, and heated front seats from the base model, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power glass sunroof, and fog lights from Touring trim, plus proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton ignition and a 5.0-inch LCD multi-information display (within the gauge cluster) from the Touring model with EyeSight.
Special Legacy Sport features include 18-inch machine-finish alloys with black-painted pockets, steering-responsive LED headlights, a glossy black grille surround, satin-silver side mirror housings, side sill extensions with chrome mouldings, and a diffuser-style rear bumper cap with big chrome-tipped tailpipes at each corner, but take note this value priced Sport model won’t be available with the 2020 redesign. The new car’s sportiest trim pulls its GT designation from the past, and suitably comes standard with the quicker 2.4i engine in a new Premier trim as well as a renewed Limited model.
Once again Subaru’s renowned symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring comes standard, and makes a big difference to how this car drives in slippery and even dry conditions. Let’s not forget Subaru honed its symmetrical AWD system through decades of World Rally Championship contention and still produces the legendary WRX that brought home so many titles. The Legacy was rallied too, by the way, in Group A from 1989 through 1993, although its single race win during its final year was nowhere near as glorious as the Impreza’s three championships, yet how many other mid-size sedan nameplates even have one WRC win to their credit? To save you time looking it up, exactly none.
As you might expect, the Legacy Sport is amongst the mid-size sedan segment’s more enjoyable cars to drive, not specifically for its straight-line speed, which would really benefit from the WRX STI’s 310-horsepower mill, but it gets up and goes quickly enough for most peoples’ needs and similarly to other base drivetrains in this class, while its Lineartronic CVT makes for smooth sailing all the way from standstill to highway speeds and beyond. Subaru includes a set of paddle shifters to enhance the process, and while allowing for hands-on engagement via six preset ratios that feel fairly close to the stepped gears in a conventional automatic when not pushing too hard, the transmission doesn’t provide the type of snappy gear changes found in most conventional automatics. I used them more for downshifting, the process giving this CVT a sportier feel and the benefit of engine braking, while upshifting early can save fuel in a regular automatic, but I doubt it makes much if any difference with a continuously variable transmission.
A CVT’s design can help smooth out a vehicle’s ride as well, and it may very well do so for the Legacy Sport that provides comfort first and foremost. Its ride quality is truly superb, yet the car holds its own through the corners as well thanks to a well-sorted fully independent MacPherson strut front and unequal length (short/long arm) double wishbone rear suspension setup, not to mention 225/50R18 Goodyear Eagle LS all-seasons connecting car to pavement. It really feels confidence inspiring when pushed through tight, fast-paced curves, while it’s just as adept at darting in and out of congested traffic or widening its gait on an open freeway.
The comfortable driver’s seat should provide ample adjustability for most body types, my short-torso five-foot-eight frame having no problem reaching the top of steering wheel when its tilt and telescopic column was extended all the way rearward. This means my seat was set farther back than most people my height would, but this didn’t hamper rear seat legroom enough to cause any problem.
Sitting directly behind, I had nearly 12 inches between my knees and the backside of the front seat, plus room enough to completely stretch out my legs when my winter boot-shod feet were positioned underneath. Likewise, I had plenty of space to each side, allowing a comfortably wide armrest with dual integrated cupholders to be folded down in between, while about three inches was left over above my head, which means a six-foot-plus rear passenger should fit quite comfortably in back. As far as rear seat amenities go, two USB charging points are offered, but only the centre dome lamp provided light for those wanting to read a conventional book.
The trunk is quite spacious at 425 litres (15 cu ft), and features the usual 60/40-split rear seatbacks that can be released by pull-handles under the bulkhead. I’ll make my usual plea for a centre pass-through or better yet, a three-way 40/20/40 rear seatback split, so skis can be placed down the middle while both (potentially heated) rear window seats can be put into use, because this would make the Legacy an even better snow shuttle than it already is. This said, not many challengers in this class offer the rear-row flexibility I’m looking for, so it will hardly be a deal-breaker, other than causing yet more buyers to look to the mid-size crossover SUV sector for their next ride.
So there you have it. Even the outgoing 2019 Legacy is well worth your attention, especially for those needing or wanting four-wheel traction as winter approaches, the only other cars in this class to offer standard all-wheel drive being the new Altima, Stinger and Arteon, but the latter two are actually four-door coupes targeting a near-luxury demographic, with the Optima and Passat serving the convention mid-size sedan buyer. Buick’s Regal makes AWD optional, but it’s a much pricier alternative too. There’s a good argument for Subaru’s rally-proven Symmetrical AWD over any others, and many of its additional attributes, including all the industry accolades noted earlier, make the Legacy an intelligent alternative in a Canadian market that’s preparing for a snowier than normal 2019/2020 winter, or so says The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Not being forced to chain up mid-winter is reason enough to choose AWD, and the Legacy is a smart choice.
The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced…
The mid-size crossover SUV segment has more than blown wide open in recent years, with every mainstream volume manufacturer now in the game and most making sure their entries are as fresh and advanced as possible.
Before the new 2019 Ascent arrived on the scene last fall, Subaru had been out of this market segment for a half decade. Its previous mid-size crossover, the 2005 to 2014 Tribeca, impressed in plenty of ways except for styling and third-row spaciousness, so Subaru made sure its Ascent was large enough and easier on the eyes.
Despite two-row crossover SUVs leading the mid-size sector in individual sales, Subaru already has the compact five-seat Forester and the mid-size Outback tall wagon, both very successful models, so therefore the Japanese brand made the choice to address those with larger families and a need for more gear-toting space. Others have done likewise, with Honda having made its three-row Pilot available for 17 years before its all-new two-row Passport showed up this summer, so maybe we’ll see a larger five-seat Subaru SUV at some point in the future.
Until then, the North American-exclusive Ascent is configured for eight occupants in standard trim and seven with its optional second-row captain’s chairs, the latter setup being how Subaru outfitted my top-line Premier test model. It’s not a small SUV, measuring 4,998 millimetres (196.8 inches) front to back with a 2,890-mm (113.8-inch) wheelbase, while its overall height reaches 1,819 mm (71.6 inches) tall including its standard roof rails. Additionally, it spans 2,176 mm (85.6 inches) wide with its side mirrors extracted, while its track measures 1,635 mm (64.4 inches) up front and 1,630 mm (64.2 inches) at the rear.
To put it into perspective, the new Ascent is 48 mm (1.9 inches) shorter than the mid-size three-row SUV category’s best-selling Ford Explorer, albeit with a 24-mm (0.9-inch) longer wheelbase, while some might also be surprised to find out the new Subaru is 42 mm (1.6 inches) taller than the big blue-oval utility. The only Explorer measurements to exceed the Ascent span from side-to-side, which see Ford’s SUV stretching a sizeable 119 mm (4.7 inches) wider with 66 and 71 mm (2.6 and 2.8 inches) more front and rear track respectively. It should be noted the Explorer is one of the mid-size segment’s largest SUVs.
Comparing the new Ascent to other top-sellers shows that it’s longer, wider and taller than the Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento (but 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 now outgoing, but it’s a fraction longer than the new Hyundai Palisade as well, although 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.
By the way, that was only a partial list of the Ascent’s three-row mid-size crossover SUV challengers, the full list (from best-selling to least during the first three quarters of 2018) including the Explorer, Sorento, Highlander, Atlas, Pilot, Durango, Pathfinder, Chevrolet Traverse, Santa Fe XL, Dodge Journey, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, and Ford Flex, plus the just-noted new Palisade and Telluride (which are too new to categorize by sales numbers, but should do well).
Even more important than exterior size is passenger volume and cargo space, which for the Ascent measure 4,347 litres (153.5 cubic feet) for the former and 2,449 litres (86.5 cu ft) for the latter when both rear rows are folded flat. 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 figures compare well against key competitors, with the Ascent’s passenger volume even greater than the Explorer’s, and its standard eight-occupant seating configuration a rarity in the class, while the big Subaru’s maximum cargo capacity makes it one of the segment’s most accommodating too. Also important, rear passenger access is made easier thanks to second-row doors that open to 75 degrees.
Being that the Ascent is a Subaru SUV, it includes standard full-time Symmetrical AWD, which has long proven to be one of the more capable all-wheel drive systems available. Its initial advantage starts with more evenly balanced weight distribution thanks to a longitudinally-mounted engine and transmission, its competitors’ AWD setups derived from FWD chassis architectures that house transversely-mounted motors, plus Subaru’s horizontally-opposed flat “boxer” engine allows for a lower centre of gravity, which improves handling and packaging.
Additionally, Symmetrical AWD applies more 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 results in an SUV that’s plenty capable no matter the road or trail surface it’s traveling over, while its standard X-mode off-road system, complete with hill descent control, plus its generous 220 millimetres (8.66 inches) of ground clearance for overcoming obstacles, snow banks, etcetera, makes it better than the crossover SUV average for tackling rougher situations.
During our off-road test, all we needed to do was press the X-Mode button on the lower console and it responded almost as well as the low gearing range of a truck-based 4×4. You can hear the electronic traction and stability control systems going to work as it was searching for traction, and it went up some very steep, slippery, muddy patches that I would’ve normally only attempted with something with a bull-low gear set, like a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner.
On that note the Ascent provides one of the nicest rides in its class too, something I really appreciated when off-pavement, but I won’t go so far as to say it’s the sportiest or best handling in this three-row category. It’s still capable of coursing through winding backcountry two-lane roads at a decent clip, but don’t expect it to increase your adrenaline levels unless high-speed body lean is your idea of a good time.
The new SUV utilizes the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), which combines rigid yet lightweight unibody construction with a fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup, enhanced further by a stabilizer bar mounted directly to the body at the rear and electric rack and pinion steering up 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 tester benefiting from the latter.
And yes, good road-holding is important in an SUV that gets up and goes as quickly as the Ascent. Its horizontally-opposed 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides strong performance off the line and plenty of passing power too, thanks to 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the latter maximized between 2,000 and 4,800 rpm, but I found it best when driven in a more relaxed manner where the powertrain was wonderfully smooth and didn’t use a lot of fuel.
Subaru claims 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.4 combined for the new Ascent, compared to 12.0, 8.7 and 10.5 respectively for the larger displacement 3.6-litre H-6 in the considerably smaller Outback. Considering new four-cylinder produces 4 more horsepower and 30 additional lb-ft of torque than that now aging flat-six, we’ll more than likely see this smaller, much more efficient turbocharged engine in a future Outback as well.
The Ascent also compares well against the base 2.3-litre turbo-four-powered Explorer that gets an estimated 13.1 city, 9.2 highway and 11.4 combined, although the Ford makes considerably more power, while the most efficient version of Toyota’s Highlander V6 AWD actually performs impressively with an almost identical rating to the Ascent, of 11.7, 8.8 and 10.4 respectively. Needless to say the Ascent competes at the pump very well considering its performance and size.
Aiding efficiency is the Ascent’s High-torque Lineartronic CVT, the continuously variable transmission not only thrifty but also ideal for mid-size crossover SUV applications due to smooth, linear power delivery. Subaru adds a standard set of steering wheel paddle shifters to improve driver engagement, along with a pseudo eight-speed manual mode that does a pretty good job of mimicking a regular transmission’s gear changes while featuring fairly sporty driving characteristics as well as standard Active Torque Vectoring to increase grip at high speeds. Subaru first introduced this advanced CVT for its WRX performance car, and while not set up to respond as sharply as it would in its world rally-inspired sport sedan, it still does a great job of combining positive, smooth shifts with minimal fuel consumption.
Unlike many of the Ascent’s mid-size rivals, its AWD is standard and powertrain a one-size-fits-all affair, no matter the trim level. On that note, the 2019 Ascent can be had in Convenience, Touring, Limited and Premier grades, with standard Convenience features not already mentioned including auto on/off halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display, three-zone automatic climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, a rearview camera, six-speaker audio, satellite radio, three-way heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, second-row USB ports, a total of 19 cup and bottle holders, and more for just $35,995 plus freight and fees.
Each and every 2019 Ascent trim also includes standard Subaru EyeSight driver assist technologies such as 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 too.
For $40,995 in eight-passenger trim or $41,495 with second-row captain’s chairs, which reduces the total seat count to seven, Ascent Touring trim adds the Subaru Rear/Side Vehicle Detection (SRVD) system that includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, as well as unique machine-finished five-spoke 18-inch alloys, body-colour side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals and approach lighting, LED fog lamps, a sportier rear bumper cap with integrated tailpipe cutouts, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, front door courtesy lights, chrome inner door handles, a Homelink garage door opener, a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, premium cloth upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, magazine pockets on the front seatbacks, second-row climate controls, third-row reading lights, a rear cargo cover, a powered liftgate, a transmission oil cooler, trailer stability control, and pre-wiring for a trailer hitch that increases towing capacity to 2,270 kg (5,000 lbs).
Limited trim, starting at $46,495 in standard eight-passenger layout or $46,995 in its seven-passenger configuration with second-row captain’s chairs, adds the larger 20-inch alloys mentioned earlier, plus steering-responsive full low/high beam LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, black and ivory soft-touch interior surfaces, a heatable steering wheel, an upgraded gauge cluster with chrome bezels and light blue needles (in place of red), and a 6.3-inch colour multifunction display atop the dash that shows the time, temperature and dynamic features such as an inclinometer, while a navigation system with detailed mapping is included within the infotainment display, as is SiriusXM Traffic, whereas additional Limited features include a 14-speaker 792-watt Harman/Kardon audio system, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat upgraded to include powered lumbar support and cushion length adjustment, driver’s seat and side-mirror memory, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, two-way heatable second-row outboard seats, integrated rear door sunshades, third-row USB ports, and more.
Top-tier Premier trim, which comes fully equipped at $49,995, even including standard captain’s chairs, adds an upgraded high-gloss black grille insert, satin-finish side mirror caps, chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, a front-view camera, a Smart Rearview Mirror with an integrated rear-view camera, woodgrain inlays, brown perforated leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a 120-volt power outlet on the rear centre console, and more.
Incidentally, all 2019 Subaru Ascent pricing was sourced from CarCostCanada, where you can also find detailed pricing on trims, packages and standalone options for every other new model sold in Canada, plus otherwise hard to get rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands.
As for interior accommodations and finishings, the dash top in our Ascent Premier was mostly covered in a leather-look soft-to-the-touch synthetic, featuring stylish stitching across the middle in front of the passenger. Just below is a handy shelf that’s similar to the Highlander’s in function, while more leather-like composite, also stitched with real thread, supports that shelf across the lower portion of the dash before visually melding into the door panels, this surface treatment in a lovely ivory colour. The black and ivory colour theme is nicely complemented by brown armrests in the same tone as the aforementioned brown leather seats, while Premier trim also includes woodgrain inlays that don’t even try to look or feel genuine despite having a slight matte finish. I should also mention that elbow-pampering soft-touch door uppers can be found front and back, but don’t expect fabric-wrapped roof pillars as on some other mainstream mid-size SUVs.
The primary instruments are nicely done, but this top-line model does not include a full digital gauge cluster, a feature that’s starting to show up in many of the Ascent’s recently new or redesigned competitors, such as the Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Palisade. Just the same, the dials’ blue needles are a nice touch instead of the usual red found in lower trims, while the vertical TFT multi-information display includes a nice graphic of the SUV’s backside with taillights that light up when you press the brake. It’s kind of fun to watch, but this display is even more useful for reminding drivers they may have left something, someone or some pet in the rear seating compartment by notifying via a visual alert and audio alarm chime, as well as other functions.
This said the larger multi-information display atop the dash goes to work when the aforementioned EyeSight ADAS systems are put into action, with really attractive and detailed graphics, while this display also provides speed limit information, navigation system info, an inclinometer and other off-road features, and more.
Just below on the centre stack, the Ascent gets Subaru’s beautiful new high-resolution 3D-like infotainment touchscreen that we first enjoyed in the new Forester and WRX models. It’s a giant step up in visual attractiveness and functionality, getting all of the features and apps noted previously while I listed off standard and optional items, while responding to input quickly and reliably.
Speaking of quick response times, the heated steering wheel rim and three-way heatable front seats come on quickly and remain hot as well, instead of slowly cooling off like so many others are programmed to. The switch for steering wheel heat is logically located just under the right-side spoke where it’s easy to find, while the adaptive cruise control system, activated via buttons just above, works perfectly in both high-speed and stop-and-go situations. Similarly, the lane departure system held the Ascent in place when cruising down the freeway, but it tended to bounce off the lines instead of maintaining the centre of a given lane when my hands weren’t on the wheel (not that I recommend driving without hands on the wheel, but I was testing the system out).
Speaking of technologies, the Ascent Premier’s centre mirror gets pretty close to mirroring a sophisticated smartphone or tablet. It does double-duty as a backup camera when a switch just below is flicked rearward, whereas pulling that lever forward causes it to revert to a regular auto-dimming mirror. Less sophisticated yet also appreciated, the Ascent’s handy sunglasses holder doubles as a conversation mirror.
The seats are extremely comfortable and wide, good for large people yet also accommodating for my five-foot-eight medium-build body type. With the driver’s seat set up for my long-legged, short-torso frame, meaning that it was pushed farther rearward than it would be with some other people of my stature, I still had no problem comfortably reaching the steering wheel when the column was extended as far back as possible, plus when walking around to the second row and climbing in directly behind the driver’s seat I found the rear passenger accommodations very spacious and comfortable. In fact, there was about 10 inches of nothing between my knees and the front seatback, plus more than enough room to move my head and shoulders around.
Even more amazing, with the middle row pushed as far back as possible I still had ample room in the third row. To be clear, my knees were touching the second-row seatbacks, so moving those seats forward a smidge would’ve made it easier to move around in the very back, but I had close to three inches over my head, meaning the third row could be used for average-sized adults, even when larger adults are sitting in the first two rows.
As noted earlier, there’s a fair bit of room behind the rearmost seats for gear, this space about as large as a full-size sedan’s trunk, while below the load floor there’s another compartment for stowing what-have-you along with the retractable cargo cover when not in use. Folding the 60/40-split third row down is a little bit awkward, but it works well enough. First you’ll need to manually slide the headrests into the seatbacks, and then tug a strap on top of the seats before pushing the seats forward. To get them back up, just pull the longer strap that’s attached to the cargo floor/seatback. The second row folds 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 match up each side. There’s certainly a lot of space for luggage or building materials, but the captain’s chairs don’t form a very flat loading surface. I’m guessing it would work better with the standard bench seat, so if you’re doing a lot of hauling you may want to purchase one of the Ascent’s lesser trims.
As far as purchasing an Ascent at all, I think Subaru has done a very good job with its second-ever mid-size SUV. First, it looks like a Subaru, albeit on steroids, and should be attractive to those buying into this category, while its overall size and ability to haul plenty of passengers in comfort plus loads of cargo should appeal to all but those looking for a full-size utility. The Ascent’s fit and finish is quite good for the class, electronics very good, standard and optional features set impressive, performance and fuel economy compromise spot on, and overall feeling of quality more than up to par. Therefore if you like Subaru and you need to add space and utility to your mobility, the Ascent is well worth your time and attention.