Subaru is famous for building durable, go-anywhere vehicles, and the Ascent brings that capability to a larger size. With room for up to eight passengers, the 2021 Subaru Ascent is an AWD three-row crossover that competes in a highly crowded and competitive field. If you’re wondering which Ascent has the best balance of features and value, keep reading for our trim review.
2021 Subaru Ascent Base Trim Pros and Cons
The base Ascent trim level features Subaru’s excellent 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four, producing 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. We’ve found this engine to be decidedly punchy, beating the Toyota Highlander’s V-6 in the quarter mile, and delivering performance numbers similar to a V-8-powered Dodge Durango. Naturally, straight-line performance isn’t why you buy a three-row crossover, but when there are eight passengers (and their luggage) aboard, that power is most welcome. A 2,000-pound towing capacity is standard, which requires only a $499 hitch to unlock the capability.
This being a Subaru, AWD is standard on every trim level. This gives it a leg up over rivals like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, where the option is another $2,000. On paper, the Ascent has the best fuel economy, with a decent 21/27 mpg city/highway rating compared to the AWD Highlander (20/27) and Pilot (19/26), but in reality, we struggled to reach the combined estimate during our year-long test. Part of this can be attributed to the 20-inch wheels on the Limited trim, which dings fuel economy to 20/26 mpg. Our average still didn’t live up to projections, however.
Look beyond the performance to find things like swiveling LED headlights with automatic high-beams, tri-zone automatic climate control, and adaptive cruise control with lane assist and centering. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available through the 6.5-inch Starlink touchscreen system. All in all, it’s a well-equipped base trim level.
2021 Subaru Ascent Premium Trim Pros and Cons
Moving up to the Premium trim requires a $2,500 commitment, but it’s also a notable upgrade in features. Towing capacity increases to 5,000 pounds, and in our long-term test, we found that the Ascent was more than up to the task, pulling trailers and boats with ease. Cold-weather owners will appreciate the heated seats, mirrors, and windshield wiper de-icer, although the upgraded leather-wrapped steering wheel misses out on heating.
The Premium also gains an eight-way power driver’s seat, tinted privacy glass, and rear-seat climate controls, while the Starlink infotainment touchscreen grows to 8.0 inches and features voice control capability. A suite of connected services features concierge and vehicle assistance with the touch of a button, provided you opt in for the subscription.
2021 Subaru Ascent Limited Trim Pros and Cons
This is the trim we picked for our long-term test, which gains 20-inch wheels (and loses 1 mpg in both city and highway estimates). The larger wheels didn’t hamper the Ascent’s off-road ability, however, thanks in part to the 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
In addition to the larger wheels, the $5,000 premium for the Limited trim also adds a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar and extendable thigh support, which is great for long-distance trips. Seating surfaces are in leather, the second-row seats are heated, and the steering wheel is finally heated. This luxury-focused trim also features an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink, proximity entry and ignition, and rear door sunshades.
For many, the addition of a power liftgate might be worth the upgrade. That said, if you can live without the heated wheel and leather, the power liftgate is also available in a $1,460 option package on the lower Premium trim, along with proximity key and auto-dimming mirror.
2021 Subaru Ascent Touring Trim Pros and Cons
Opting for Touring demands a near-$6,000 jump from Limited, which equates to a tremendous $13,000 premium over the base trim. To be fair, Touring pulls out all the stops in an attempt to justify its price. Here you’ll find a 120-volt power outlet, ambient interior and floor lighting, a power sunroof, and higher-grade leather on the steering wheel. Leather seats are available in your choice of Java Brown or Slate Black, and the front seats are also ventilated.
The Touring also piles on the tech, including a front-view camera and a camera-based rearview mirror. You’ll also find satellite navigation, rain-sensing wipers, and a 14-speaker stereo system. It’s an impressive collection of features, but not worth the substantial coin required.
So Which 2021 Ascent Model Is Best?
The Ascent Premium offers the best combination of amenities at an attractive price point. Many of the desired features found at higher trim levels can be added as options, including the 14-speaker stereo, satellite navigation, and power sunroof. While leather and that all-important heated steering wheel are exclusive at the Limited trim and above, we’d still go for the Premium and add options from there.