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Taking the high road with Subaru’s 2019 Ascent SUV

Stop #2 on Lisa’s high-points-of-Halifax outing in the 2019 Subaru Ascent, Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, is an urban wilderness that, once developed with a trail system, will claim the title of largest urban park in North America.
Stop #2 on Lisa’s high-points-of-Halifax outing in the 2019 Subaru Ascent, Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, is an urban wilderness that, once developed with a trail system, will claim the title of largest urban park in North America. - The Chronicle Herald

The Ascent definitely bears the family resemblance that will appeal to loyal Outback and Forester buyers looking to up size.

I felt the need to get higher than sea level in this week’s tester, the 2019 Subaru Ascent. With a model name like that from a brand like Subaru, it made sense. Grounded in Halifax, there would be no Rocky Mountain High. Instead, I would content myself with ascending three of the highest points in the Halifax area.

I set out early afternoon on a weekday, feeling the guilty pleasure of escaping the office to drive around on my tongue-in-cheek mission, be a tourist in my own town and absorb the finer points of life in Subaru’s largest-ever vehicle, the 2019 Ascent.

It’s difficult to talk about Subaru’s all-new, three-row SUV without mentioning the brand’s first foray into this segment, the B9 Tribeca. That vehicle, produced from 2005 until its lacklustre finish in 2014, was a three-row vehicle that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Although I liked the styling, most critics claimed this was one area where Subaru erred with the Tribeca. It didn’t look like a Subaru. The Ascent definitely bears the family resemblance that will appeal to loyal Outback and Forester buyers looking to up size.

And up size it is. It’s 15 centimetres longer than the Tribeca and, while the Tribeca never outshone its competitors in cargo space, the Ascent offers plenty — more than 2,400 litres of cavernous carrying capacity with the second and third row folded down.

 Lisa’s first stop on her tongue-in-cheek mission to visit three of Halifax’s highest points in the 2019 Subaru Ascent was Geizer Hill, where the trailhead was blocked by heavy work equipment. - Lisa Calvi
Lisa’s first stop on her tongue-in-cheek mission to visit three of Halifax’s highest points in the 2019 Subaru Ascent was Geizer Hill, where the trailhead was blocked by heavy work equipment. - Lisa Calvi

The Ascent’s third row is not too cramped and leg room is sufficient. If I’m not in the driver’s seat, though, the second row, with its premium adjustable captain’s chairs (a $500 option), is higher on my list.

My first destination was Geizer Hill. Until I did the research for this column, I honestly had no idea about this walking trail leading up to a couple of transmitter towers. The summit is one of Halifax’s high points but the trail head was ice-packed from a recent storm and blocked by heavy work equipment, so the Ascent would have to move on.

The journey to the next stop featured a little rip on a four-lane highway and one of my favourite types of roadways, with a legitimate reason to push the pedal, the merge lane.

I think the Ascent was excited, too, for the opportunity to show off Subaru’s powerful new 2.4-litre four-cylinder direct injection turbocharged “Boxer” engine. With 260 horsepower and a very decent torque rating of 277 lb.-ft. of torque, merging onto the highway was a snap.

The area of HRM framed by Hammonds Plains, Kearney Lake and Timberlea is a surprising urban wilderness. Blue Mountain is at the centre, next to an area called The Promised Land (to be explored in the future). At 150 metres above sea level, the top of Blue Mountain is the highest elevation in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

A parcel of land almost the size of the Halifax Peninsula that includes forests, lakes, granite plateaus, barrens, wetlands, lakes and streams, has been protected under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act. Trails are unmarked but well-used by hikers, canoers and mountain bikers. The hope is that a trail system will eventually be developed.

When that happens, the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area will claim the title of largest urban park in North America. Right in our own backyard.

Of course, the Ascent and I both knew we wouldn’t be driving to the top of Blue Mountain but we sure had fun trying to access the trailhead. The SUV has great road stability, it’s a Subaru after all, with symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive, solid braking and driving dynamics. The steering is a bit too responsive at higher speeds for my liking.

Some reviews of the vehicle mention the unfavourable sound of its high-torque lineartronic continuously variable transmission. Although I’ve never been a fan of the notorious drone of this type of transmission no matter the fuel savings, I didn’t mind the sound of the Ascent’s. I also enjoy a set of steering wheel paddle shifters to add a bit of excitement on hills and curves.

 Arriving at Citadel Hill, Halifax’s most iconic high point, in time for sunset capped off Lisa’s mock mission to visit three of Halifax’s highest points in the 2019 Subaru Ascent. - Lisa Calvi
Arriving at Citadel Hill, Halifax’s most iconic high point, in time for sunset capped off Lisa’s mock mission to visit three of Halifax’s highest points in the 2019 Subaru Ascent. - Lisa Calvi

I like that the vehicle takes regular fuel. Its fuel economy ratings are 11.6 L/100 km (city), 9.0 L/100km highway and 10.4 L/100km combined. On my high-point outing, I got 11.0 combined but I certainly wasn’t demonstrating my nerdy side in driving manners.

Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system is standard on the Ascent along with X-mode with hill descent control. With X-mode activated, the driver has more control climbing steep inclines and potential wheel slip on slippery surfaces is reduced. Hill descent control keeps the vehicle from increasing speed when heading downhill.

As you head uphill on the Ascent’s trim packages, available features are an eight-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, smart rearview camera, a Subaru first, steering responsive LED headlights with High Beam Assist, power rear tailgate, smart-looking 20-inch alloy wheels and a gargantuan panoramic sunroof.

Inside, my comfortable tester in Limited trim, is refined with leather seats, a sporty leather-wrapped heated steering wheel and shift knob and upgraded gauges. The second row has heated seats and manual sunshades on the windows.

The shark fin antenna on Touring and Limited trims adds a jaunty touch to the Ascent’s exterior look.

I had intended to be at Citadel Hill, my final high-point stop, by 4:20 to catch the sunset atop Halifax Peninsula’s highest point. I regretfully left the Blue Mountain area and hopped back on the now-busy highway. I glanced to my right noting, off in the distance, the silhouette of Blue Mountain and its hidden wilderness treasures, in the setting sun.

Thanks to my mock mission in the 2019 Subaru Ascent, I had discovered a couple of high points in Halifax’s delights.

Price as tested: $48,795

Follow Lisa on Instagram: @FrontLady

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