Since it arrived for the 2019 model year, Subaru's Ascent has pretty much been an also-ran in the three-row midsize SUV segment. Through the first half of calendar-year 2021, it was outsold by the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride, Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Palisade, among others.
Subaru figures it's time to make a move. So, for 2022, the brand has bestowed upon Ascent a new Onyx Edition trim -- an ebony raiment that Subaru hopes will get Ascent deeper into the black in more ways than one.
Essentially a sassier version of Ascent's seven-passenger Premium trim, the Onyx exterior lives up to its ebony moniker with black bumpers, grille, mirror caps, roof rails and pillars, window framing, wheel arches and badging. Inside, the walk on the dark side continues with a black-and-dark gray interior ambience that, in lieu of wood, shows a matrix-pattern accent trim on doors and dash.
Also, in addition to all the standard stuff found on the Premium model -- upgraded infotainment screen, heated seats and other perks -- Onyx adds standard seven-passenger seating with middle-row captain's chairs, Reverse Automatic Braking, power liftgate and heated steering wheel. In fact, Onyx's only option, with which our tester was equipped, is a $2,200 package that includes a panoramic moonroof, navigation and a retractable cargo cover.
Onyx aside, if you liked the 2021 Ascent, you'll like the 2022. Same vehicle.
This seven- or eight-passenger SUV remains available in Base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims, too. And, of course, being Subaru SUVs, each one features standard all-wheel drive, an X-Mode bad-weather/off-pavement drive selection and Hill Descent Control. Every Ascent also features three-zone climate control and Subaru's EyeSight suite of technologies, which includes auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning, among other driver hand-holders.
To ensure all on board are hydrated and charged up, Ascent provides 19 standard beverage holders, eight USB charging ports and a 120-volt household-style outlet.
The all-important infotainment setup includes a 6.5-inch screen in base models, but that grows to 8.0 inches in tonier trims. Regardless, every Ascent is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
In our 2022 Onyx, we had the upper-crust 8.0-inch screen and found it reasonably user-friendly with a logically laid-out screen, hard buttons for easy access to main-menu items like navigation and audio, and much-appreciated knobs for radio volume and tuning. Meanwhile, climate-function controls are well labeled and intuitive.
Powering every Ascent is a 2.4-liter turbo four that makes 260 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter fully on tap at just 2,000 rpm. That power is sent to all four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission that, alas, can feel whiny in full automatic mode. Happily, that gearless gearbox also boasts paddle shifters capable of accessing eight preset ratios when in manual mode, making the powertrain feel more responsive under load and in passing.
On the road, Ascent is quiet and smooth. The flat-four turbo provides peppy acceleration around town and adequate get-up-and-go during passing maneuvers. Despite a hefty curb weight well north of two tons, our Ascent Onyx greeted 60 mph in about 7 seconds while realizing 21 mpg in 260 miles of mixed city/hwy driving.
Interior room, as expected, is marvelous in rows one and two -- as mentioned, we had middle-row captain's chairs -- and doable in row three, although kids will be most comfortable in that last perch, which wears out its welcome fast with adults.
In the final analysis, Onyx is an excellent big-family SUV that, in daily living, pretty much acts as a minivan surrogate with tougher styling. The Onyx Edition dresses up that surrogate in black-tie and tails.