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2022 Subaru Ascent Review: Stepping Out in Formal Wear

The SUV is now available in Onyx version Automotive columnist: , Updated:

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, profile
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, profile
Photo: V.Aubé

Auto123 reviews the 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx.

As we've seen over the past few seasons, the automotive industry is dedicated to finding relatively inexpensive ways to attract more customers. One of those ways is to sell adventure to customers via rugged appearance packages on otherwise urban SUVs. But don’t forget what I’ll call the Classy Formalwear look, those special editions that turn many of a model’s visual elements black for a look sometimes more menacing, sometimes more sporty.

Subaru has applied the Wilderness treatment to the Forester and Outback models, but it’s not likely to do the same for the larger Ascent. Instead, for 2022 we get a new Ascent Onyx edition, which fits into the range between the Touring and Limited levels, but also has the distinction of dropping chrome on the exterior. Thus, the rocker panels, fender surrounds, grille, window surrounds and even the 20-inch diameter wheels are all darkened. While it's clear that Subaru’s Canadian division wanted to maximize the tuxedo look, you can actually drive away in one of these with a colour other than the "Crystal Black Silica" of my tester.

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2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, front
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, front
Photo: V.Aubé

More discreet, but more menacing
Yes, it's true that the dark theme has been used by various automakers in recent history and Subaru isn’t exactly pioneering the genre, but we have to admit that this version is a nice addition for a model whose lukewarm design hasn't really won over all that many big-SUV buyers. As it is wont to do, Subaru’s designers department preferred to take a conservative styling approach with the Ascent, rather than going with something more off the beaten path.

You can guess that the Ascent is not the model that attracts me the most in Subaru’s 2022 lineup, but in Onyx mode, the clumsy lines of the biggest Subaru are at least somewhat transformed, Clark Kent turned to Superman, or something like that. And that’s because the Ascent's naturally gloomy look suits it perfectly in black. There are other colours available for this "sportier" edition of the SUV, but this colour seems like the logical one.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, interior
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, interior
Photo: V.Aubé

An Outback XL
Based on the same global platform used for everything but the kitchen sink at Subaru, the Ascent offers a ride that's more like a car’s than a heavy-duty SUV’s. The driving position is also that of an elevated sedan. Basically, you’re getting an Outback-like atmosphere, but with more shoulder and head room thanks to that big SUV silhouette, and three rows of seats. Where the Ascent stands out from its competitors is with the large windows, a detail that makes parking or even passing on the highway much easier.

The dashboard is typically Subaru, meaning there are big buttons that are easy to use on a daily basis, although the ventilation controls are a bit low. On the other hand, the presence of these three knobs makes it easy to adjust the temperature in the cabin.

While the first two rows of seats are as comfortable as can be – as confirmed by my oldest son after a road trip to the mountains - it's a little tighter in the third row, which we can guess will mostly remain folded in the trunk floor. The option of carrying up to six passengers (seven in the non-captain’s-chair version) is still a plus on occasion, mind you…

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, engine
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, engine
Photo: V.Aubé

A turbocharged 4-cylinder? For this big SUV?
For a while, it looked like turbocharged 4-cylinder engines might become the standard method for moving mid-size people-movers like this one. Mazda started the trend with its CX-9 equipped with a turbocharged 4-cylinder, and Subaru followed soon after with the Ascent. We can also mention the hybrid versions of the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander, while the Kia Sorento is also part of this four-cylinder “trend”. But the revolution wasn’t quite one. Today, most mid-size crossovers still prefer a good old-fashioned naturally aspirated V6 to move that much machine and human cargo.

In this case, the 2.4L turbocharged flat-4 delivers 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of peak torque, which is right on par for the category. To send that power through the four-wheel drive system, Subaru relies on a continuously variable transmission, a format that the brand's engineers have mastered quite well. But for those who want a vehicle that is dynamic as well as stolid, the Ascent is not exactly an ideal candidate. Don't think that the big Subaru is a pain to drive, but let's just say that its vocation is in a different time zone than that of the WRX sedan.

In city driving, you have to be patient, because the unit takes its time before revving up the engine, and it's a bit the same story for highway passing. In other words, for a little more sportiness, you have to be firmer with the right pedal, a behavior that has an impact on fuel consumption. Speaking of, I could only manage 14.2L/100 km after a long highway ride and a good urban stretch. The few short city trips really inflated the SUV’s fuel consumption figures, that's for sure!

According to the Canadian EnerGuide, the Ascent is able to maintain an overall average of 10.5L/100 km, which is a far cry from my own experience. In defense of the vehicle, it was freezing cold during my week-long test drive.

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, three-quarters rear
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, three-quarters rear
Photo: V.Aubé

The last word
The Subaru Ascent may not be the best-selling three-row SUV on the market, but if you ask a Subaru strategist if the crossover can do better than its predecessor, the Subaru Tribeca, they will say yes pretty quickly. The largest of Subaru's vehicles has the advantage of driving like a big family car, and it comes with one of the best all-wheel drive systems on the market. Comfort is good, as is build quality, but it lacks that little spark that you'd find in a Mazda CX-9 or even a Volkswagen Atlas. The Onyx treatment is great news for Subaru, but it certainly won't transform the model’s fortunes in the segment.

We like

Car-like handling
The excellent all-wheel-drive system
Overall quality
The Onyx treatment flatters it

We like less

The design is still a bit dull
Not much space in the third row
Middling towing capacity on the base model

The competition

Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Durango
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Kia Sorento
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander
Volkswagen Atlas

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, front grille
2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx, front grille
Photo: V.Aubé

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