The Updated 2023 Subaru Ascent Seems To At Least Be Half-Heartedly Trying

Screen Shot 2022 06 15 At 11.32.24 Am

Knock knock. It’s the Subaru Ascent gently reminding everyone that it still exists. More importantly, it’s been working on itself to try to feel a bit less forgettable. It’s getting some styling updates and tech revisions for 2023 in an attempt to prove that Subaru even gives half of a shit, and said updates honestly seem like they could do… something. Will they help Subaru pull out of its apathetic product slump? Absolutely not, but the Ascent at least seems to be working towards a reasonably agreeable position in the marketplace.

23my Subaru Ascent Hero

As the concept for the Ascent is essentially a seven-fifths-scale Forester with three rows of seats, it makes sense that Subaru would facelift the Ascent to more closely match the updated Forester’s styling. Now, the current Forester’s styling ranges from frumpy in standard trim to about as ugly as an open wound in Wilderness trim, [Editor’s note: It ain’t that bad. -DT] so messing with the Ascent’s design in such a manner seems almost like walking a tightrope in a white jumpsuit while holding two bowls of tomato soup.

Honestly, I have to hand it to Subaru; this is one of the best applications of the brand’s new styling language yet. The blocky headlights and massive grille really fit the Ascent’s size and stature, although the detailing on the front end can be a bit fussy.

23my Ascent 4

The massive grille spar looks alright on darker colors or when finished in black, but I’m unsure how it’ll look on a white vehicle — likely better than the available chrome bezels on the lower fascia that seem just a touch gaudy. Honestly, I wonder if Subaru is actually ashamed of the Ascent’s new front end; most press kit photos are backlit or heavily-cropped, with the only frontlit shot of the whole front end being high and fairly tight. It’s a shame because the updated Ascent looks better than the new WRX, but sometimes that’s just the way things go.

23my Ascent 1

Moving on to the rear end, it seems like a wholehearted improvement over the old Ascent’s rear styling. The new color-keyed bar through the tail lights feels far more cohesive, while the new inner tail lights feature elements that line up better with the outer tail lights. Notice I said better, not perfectly.

See, Subaru hasn’t spent much money out back, only changing the trim panel above the license plate and the inner tail lights. While it can be tricky to create an updated look with so few changes, it actually seems to have worked here and I’m relieved to see such restraint. While Subaru seems to be gunning for a podium finish in the International Plastic Cladding Competition, the Ascent doesn’t appear to grow a cartoonish faux-diffuser or fever dream Gandini-esque wheel arch trims.

23my Subaru Ascent 8

While the new Ascent’s updated styling is best described as fairly mild, changes to the interior are far more substantial. Let’s start with the 11.6-inch elephant in the room, the massive new touchscreen. While touchscreen-integrated heated seat controls can be rather annoying, the old Ascent’s center stack ergonomics are best described as haphazard. Information was split between three different displays, none of which perfectly matched with any other. This new setup integrates information cleanly while still providing physical controls for volume, tuning, HVAC temperature, and a few other necessities. It’s such an improvement over the old center stack that even a physical control fan like me can give a nod of approval.

23my Subaru Ascent 5

 

A bigger screen isn’t where the tech upgrades stop on the new Ascent. There’s now an available in-car intercom system so you can yell at third-row passengers for behaving badly, plus an available proper birds-eye 360-degree camera system. That intercom system is only available on models with the Harman/Kardon stereo, an upgrade likely worth spending some money on. On the standard equipment front, all 2023 Ascents now get adaptive LED headlights, automatic high-beams, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto, and a wide-angle camera to enhance the effectiveness of the Eyesight driver assist suite. Nifty. Speaking of nifty, the Ascent now has a washer nozzle for the reversing camera, a pretty lovely little touch.

23my Ascent 11

Of course, with improved tech comes and improvement in interior materials, particularly on the Onyx trim level. Look, special blacked-out appearance packages are here to stay for as long as automakers can juice extra money out of them, so at least Subaru is taking steps to make the blacked-out Ascent a bit more tasteful. See, the 2022 model has this vast swath of horrible, nasty faux-carbon fiber plastic across the dashboard and door cards. For 2023, that horrific misstep in materials has been rectified by additional stitched materials, an unequivocal improvement. Moreover, Subaru’s made the interesting decision to go with green contrast stitching on Ascent Onyx models. It sounds a bit weird, but I actually like how it perks the interior up a touch. More fun stitching, please.

23my Ascent 7

As for the Ascent’s powertrain, it remains unchanged. You get a 260-horsepower 2.4-liter turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine hitched to a continuously variable transmission and an all-wheel-drive system with a default 60:40 front-to-rear torque split. Hey, it won’t stir the soul, but it’ll tow 5,000 pounds and make the most of the Ascent’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance in snowy conditions. Sure, Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 in the Pilot makes raucous VTEC noises at high RPMs and the VR6 engine in the Volkswagen Atlas is particularly smooth, but three-row family haulers aren’t exactly designed to be bastions of performance; they’re designed to have as many cupholders and seats as possible, 19 and eight respectively in the case of the Ascent.

23my Subaru Ascent 6

 

Let’s be honest, the Subaru Ascent is a vehicle that had to evolve. The new Nissan Pathfinder, Kia Sorento, and Mitsubishi Outlander have really helped raise the bar in the three-row crossover arena, so Subaru really needed to muster up a facelift to simply try and keep up. While the 2023 Subaru Ascent definitely doesn’t appear to succeed at that goal, at least it looks like reasonably acceptable three-row family transportation. While it would’ve been nice to see Subaru spend some actual money on making a cabin that feels right up to date, nobody can exactly say they’re disappointed here when expectations were so low to begin with. Expect detailed information on pricing and fuel economy closer to this fall, when the 2023 Ascent is expected to hit dealer showrooms.

[Editor’s Note: To address a few comments from Subi fans: We at The Autopian are all about giving writers freedom to say what they believe, and while Thomas obviously doesn’t have any posters of many modern Subarus on his walls, I’m actually a fan of the brand. The Autopian isn’t a monolith; it’s a collection of writers with differing opinions, and I’m always going to let writers share those opinions freely, especially if those opinions can be justified (and trust me, Thomas knows his stuff). -DT]

All photos courtesy of Subaru

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41 Responses

  1. I own 2 foresters. They are great for their generation. There are not many compromises compared to their peers. My disappointment with Subaru is that they are a decade late to the BEV and PHEV party, which means I am unlikely to look at them seriously ever again

    1. I own an Outback, my wife a Forester. My complaints about Subaru are that they miss the details. The tailgate on my Outback doesn’t open far enough for a 5’9″ person to walk under without hitting their head. Like, WTF, my much-smaller and much-lower-to-the-ground Golf opened up far enough that a much taller person could walk under. The gas door freezes shut in the winter, which leads to you walking between the gas door and the driver door about a dozen times to pull the lever and bang on the gas door. The OEM hitch requires some dealer tech to cut a small chunk out of the bumper, but there are no molded guide lines for this grease monkey to follow to keep it centered/nice. Three different push-clip thingys are used to hold on the underbody aero tray. The Forester has six-spoke wheels with five lugs.

      The only thing I’ve found on my Outback that had me say, “Well, that’s just good design!” was the roof rack.

      I’ve been generally happy with my Outback–about the same way someone is happy with their dishwasher: it works fine I guess. And my wife has been happier with her Forester. But I don’t think I’ll be buying another Subaru, and she seems to want a different brand as well.

      1. I have an Outback and my wife has a Forester. I have a serious love/hate relationship with them. We bought them mainly because they were the only AWD / manual transmission / hatchback option at the time. We both love the third pedal… but Subaru has literally nothing to offer us now that fills those needs. The 2.0 they offer with the manual in the smaller cars is downright anemic and the WRX (if you can find one) offers no hatch.

        We were planning on trading in my Outback around now so I let some pain in the ass projects slide longer than I should (I have a 6 mile commute – mostly under 30mph, so I can get away with it). Because of the current market I just gritted my teeth and fought those stupid wheel bearings that rust weld themselves to the hubs if you live anywhere other than Arizona. I now dislike boxer engines so much that I no longer want a 911.

  2. I’m not a fan of the front end of this Ascent. It’s suffering from Grille Engorgement (also known as GE, ask your doctors if you think you are exhibiting symptoms). The grille should be one bar thinner, matching with the line above the fake corner vent cladding. The fake vent cladding looks obnoxious with a little fog light plopped in there without purpose. And the entire front end slopes forward like a PT Cruiser. The underbite makes it seem slovenly, rather than taut and purposeful. Headlights, there’s a bunch of blank space filled in with black textured ‘stuff’ and an overall beady eyed look with yet another light randomly plopped in. I do like the connecting bar between the headlights and tail lights. The rear end looks less like amateur hour than before, but the crossover is a shapeless mass of random shapes to me.

  3. “It’s getting some styling updates and tech revisions for 2023 in an attempt to prove that Subaru even gives half of a shit, and said updates honestly seem like they could do… something.”

    I feel that comment could be applied to Honda, Nissan and Toyota just as much as Subaru.

    1. Toyota hasn’t tried in over 20 years now, and it shows.
      I have to suffer a ’20 Camry XLE (you know, the top trim) occasionally. It’s got more road noise than a motorcycle, as many rattles as a 1990’s Pontiac, a motor that’s a damn good approximation of a carb’d Honda 1.6 in the hands of a ricer both in power and noise, and I will swear on a stack of FSMs that a 386SX25 with 4MB of RAM ran Windows 95 faster than their “infotainment” shit can do anything.

  4. The real headline is you can get it in purple. It’s an alright shade of purple, I’d buy a car in that color.

    Not a Subaru Ascent because I am not in danger of producing multiple heirs but some kind of car.

  5. My sister recently got one of these. Not the update, the previous version. When I asked her why she went with an Ascent (since it’s a vehicle so anonymous that I was barely aware it even existed) she basically said, “I wanted a 3-row SUV, I liked how it drove, and, unlike the more obvious options, it was actually available for purchase. The fact that it existed in reality rather than just on the manufacturer’s website was a big draw.”

    I couldn’t really argue with that.

    1. My sister also sports one and given what it cost her I was amazed she didn’t just stick to the family standard suburban but she wanted better gas mileage. I told her that a hybrid ‘burban would have been neck and neck but she really likes her soccer mom mobile now.

  6. We almost bought a 2020. Really liked it but I started to read reliability horror stories and got scared. A/C issues, CVT issues, infotainment issues, etc. And, the Subaru dealer is 45 minutes from our house, so that didn’t help matters.

  7. I don’t know what’s going on with Subaru. I’ve loved the styling with most cars in the past (even the Baja), but lately they seem to have lost their mojo. The WRX isn’t cool looking anymore, and all the other cars have the same beige-like character.

  8. We’re taking delivery on a 2022 and the wife could not be more excited. In April we put a deposit down on a Palisade, only for the dealership to call us 2 weeks later and say “yeah it’s probably not coming until next year, so expect it to be a 2023 and expect the trim and price to be different.” So we drove over to the Subaru dealership and test drove an Ascent.
    The wife loves it and that’s all I really care about these days. Yeah people complain about the CVT, but that was a non-issue for me. We take delivery in 2 weeks and we are counting the days.

    Expect a 2009 Mazda 3 with a “patina” to show up on Shitbox Showdown around then.

    1. I’m sorry you weren’t fully happy. I’ll likely be getting a 2023. Maybe the front end needs the air flow; that’s really necessary. I do agree they could have the 2024 update package. I was kooking at a $50k limited package+. Glad for the 360 pic. If they want my opion they’ll ask for it.

  9. Who cares how it looks. Have you driven one? The turbo engine and CVT are totally mismatched or mistuned. The turbo only makes power when the revs climb into the boost area. The CVT continually changes “gear” ratios to keep it out of the boost. When it finally decides you are serious about passing a car or going up a hill, it “downshifts” right into the boost and makes a very jerky launch. It is like the accelerator is attached to a bungey cord. This is really bad when on cruise control. The only solution is to use the paddle shifters to do a manual downshift but that is not in keeping with the otherwise smooth-riding bus.

  10. I’m mad about the WRX too, but … this isn’t justified. What are you comparing the “fussy” front end too? I just opened images of the pathfinder, sorento, rav 4, crv, tahoe, explorer… it fits right in. That bugs me, but it’s not outlandishly fussy compared to CUV/SUV faces of late.
    Their failure to keep up in drivetrain modernization with larger companies is sad, but a good strategy. Focusing on tech, chassis, and interior improvements with the shift towards electrification looming makes sense for a mid size player.

  11. I will always look fondly upon the first iteration because a know-it-all workmate bought one. After hearing for weeks about the research & actual search, I worked with him on a Monday after he & his Quiverfull did the inaugural weekend voyage.

    “I mean, it’s no Corvette, but, when the trans kicks down, that v6 really pulls hard!”
    “Uh…you know you bought a Subaru, right? How big is that ‘v6’, again?”

    I did give him a bit of a pass on the whole cvt kicking down as Subaru did program artificial shift-points in. Apparently people expect them. I hated the way it felt in my father’s ‘14 Impreza, but I’m prejudiced against them having driven a Justy with an early cvt years ago.

    1. I’ve added an editor’s note to address this. I myself do not like negativity, because I feel it’s a crutch too heavily used among car journalists. At the same time, if a writer truly believes it, I’m not going to contaminate their voice.

      1. “I’m not going to contaminate their voice.”

        Says the guy with multi-page editor’s notes on at least one article. 😛

        That said, I didn’t get an excessively negative vibe from the article. More “underwhelmed” than “offended by its mere existence”, which, if we’re honest, is a fair assessment of most of the 3 row crossover market.

    2. This is something that really plagued “that other site” and it’s one of the reasons I followed David and Jason over here.

      Related: I’ve always teased my kids for the goofy things that kids do, and they’re now getting old enough to return the favor, which I find hilarious and awesome. But it’s a process to teach them the difference between the art of the subtle and humorous dig at my parenting, vs just straight-up disrespect. Review writing is similar: aggressively dissing the boring but competent car for being boring is kind of lazy and uninspiring. I’d argue it’s even somewhat disrespectful to your readers.

    1. Especially the original Tribeca B5 and the infamous comment about its “flying” grill. Maybe that’s when Subaru gave up and went bland?

      I see a lot of Subarus here in my corner of the northeast; my wife has a Crosstrek and really likes it. There are tons of them cruising around the Ivy-League campus and town I work in (including at least one Forester Wilderness.) To me they are competent, boring, appliances but to most folks here in the land of studded snow tires, they get the job done.

      1. They’re competent, boring appliances that haul a decent amount of shit relative to their peers, and do better in the winter than most cars. They’re useful boxes for people who live where it snows a lot. If you look at a car as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be enjoyed, they do tend to solve a lot of problems.

      2. I began this year with a gray-on-gray 2006 outback with a 5 speed stick. Having a stick made it a lot of fun to drive and I loved the cargo capacity. The engine was starting to make ugly sounds due to a failing head gasket and i ended up trading it.

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