Skip to main content

Did Subaru Miss With The New Ascent 3-Row SUV? 2021 Is Not Starting Well

The Subaru Ascent started well when it was new, but it’s stumbling right out of the gate in 2021. What is the issue with the all-new Ascent family hauler?

Join us...    

The 2021 Subaru Ascent is not doing well in the automaker’s stable of all-wheel-drive SUVs. Subaru of America reported January sales, and the Ascent family hauler is down 15.4 percent to start the new year. In contrast, Forester is the top-selling vehicle, Outback was up 3.6 percent, and Crosstrek leads the way with a 28.3 percent increase in January.

Unlike the hot Crosstrek, the Ascent 3-Row family hauler sales have cooled off, with Subaru delivering 4,743 models compared with 5,606 sold in January 2020. The all-new Ascent is still the fourth-best selling SUV for SOA but is far behind Crosstrek, Outback, and the number one Forester.

2021 Subaru Ascent, pricing, features, specs

In a challenging year, Ascent finished 2020 down 17.5 percent, further than the other Subaru SUVs. Forester only dropped 1.8 percent, Outback was down 15.4 percent, and Crosstrek 8.7 percent.

In the last quarter of 2020, when things turned around for the segment, the Subaru Ascent was not even in the top 10 best-selling 3-Row SUVs. The Ascent family hauler only had 17,788 models delivered to customers. The number one selling Toyota Highlander had 70,975 vehicle sales. For the entire year, Ascent only had 67,623 total sales.

2021 Subaru Ascent, pricing, features, specs

Did Subaru miss with the Ascent 3-Row SUV?

When the Ascent first launched in 2019, the new 3-Row SUV was a success, and customers responded. Subaru did well in picking up its loyal customers who traded in their Forester and Outback for a larger vehicle. But Subaru has failed to gain new customers from other brands.

Subaru has not lured away many Toyota, Ford, Jeep, Honda, and GM customers. The all-new Kia Telluride (28,504 Q4) and Hyundai Palisade (22,078 Q4) are both selling better than the Ascent (17,788 Q4).

Subaru is doing well with its niche customers who use a 3-Row SUV for more than a family and grocery hauler. Subaru Ascent comes standard with all-wheel-drive, 8.7-inches of ground clearance, and X-Mode for off-pavement excursions.

What does the Subaru Ascent need to lure away customers from the competition?

Reliability has been Ascent’s biggest issue. Consumer Reports had the 2019 Ascent on its 10 Least Reliable Cars list and lost their recommendation due to reliability issues. The Camden, N.J. automaker seems to have corrected the transmission issues in the 2020 and 2021 Subaru Ascent models. But it could take time to convince new 3-Row SUV buyers, it’s a reliable vehicle. Stay tuned.

You Might Also Like: By The Numbers - Subaru's Worst-And-Best-Performing Cars May Surprise You

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Subaru Report - We’ve got you covered! Check back tomorrow for more unique, informative SUBARU news, reviews, and previews you can trust.

Leave your comments below, share the article with friends and tweet it out to your followers!

Photo credit: Subaru

Join us...    


Ann Hubbard (not verified)    February 3, 2021 - 11:15PM

You could have fooled me that 2021 Three seat Ascents were lagging in sales. We checked with four subaru dealerships in our state, and none of them had any 2021's in stock. We had to wait three weeks until one dealership (out of four) got some in.

Zzch (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 10:22AM

In reply to by Ann Hubbard (not verified)

That's because they haven't been building as many, focused on keeping up with outback with limited production capability due to covid. That's the real issue, most of this article is entirely speculation. I work sales at a dealer, this is the real issue, as is usual the issue when subaru reports year over year sales losses.

roberto (not verified)    May 12, 2021 - 3:33AM

In reply to by Ann Hubbard (not verified)

Yeah, same here in Las Vegas. The subaru dealer didn't have any that weren't under contract to test drive... but "it isn't selling well" sure thing, dipsticks. I don't care for the red/orange, and don't like white with a black interior, and that's all they have inbound for the next several weeks. So, now I'm basically waiting for the internet sales guy to call me if one more like I'd like shows up on the order list.... Yeah, isn't selling well. Then again, I went to the chevy dealer next door, and looked at their (only) tahoe: a black on black z71. looked fantastic! they are selling for MSRP + $10,000. Nope, not going to happen! Yeah, I make tons of money, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to give it away! Strange times! I sold my jeep last year, when my wife quit working, and I had some questions about my business income during covid. Turned out fine, and we could use a second car, but I don't have to have it, so I'll wait.

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 10:26AM

In reply to by Gabriel A Albornoz (not verified)

Really? It's no hellcat, but it's middle of the pack for class acceleration, and has a great low end powerband, compares well to most v6s in the class and other turbo 4s. I've never had a single complain about power after driving one.

Mister BT (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 5:26PM

In reply to by Zach (not verified)

We've been happy with our 2021 and we've found power more than adequate. It's the only 3-row SUV we tested that actually felt responsive and connected to the road: everything else felt like an ungainly whale or a floaty couch. Let me tell you, the Pilot is well-named...

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:46PM

In reply to by Mister BT (not verified)

That is the chief complaint I hear about the pilot, but that's personal preference, some people want to actually be disconnected from the road when they drive. I personally think the Ascent finds a great balance, but I am biased

Edward B. (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:22AM

Good article, reliability is important but the SUV is bland and the technology is already dated against the competition - if only Subaru would build a vehicle closer to their prototypes. Lastly, they don’t offer a hybrid option. Toyota wisely provided that option in the Highlander. Subaru tends to rest on its laurels and rarely takes chances, perhaps this will be a wake up call.

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 10:40AM

In reply to by Edward B. (not verified)

This is the ascents biggest problem, in a bid to come out with an all new vehicle they didn't want to reinvent the wheel so you saw no new technology with the Ascent when it debuted, just Subarus stuff tried and true on a bigger platform, the reliability factor is a misconception due to the way consumer reports rates vehicles, subaru is historically not known for recalls, but in the last couple years they had a few including one that covered every 2019 Ascent, which is part of what tanked reliability rating, which is what they are referring to in the article. Subaru is working with Toyota to bring more hybrids into the market, as it becomes more the norm. As of right now, there really isn't a hybrid option that offers the offroad capability of a Subaru. And of offroad capable vehicles Subarus already get the best gas mileage.
I wouldn't be surprised if the next redesign in a couple years subaru were to come out with a huge update in technology for the Ascent, as it is even lagging, even behind the rest of Subarus lineup

Ed B (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 11:05AM

In reply to by Zach (not verified)

I totally agree. We have a 2019 Legacy and when I was thinking about getting the Ascent my wife said why bother, the interior is basically the same, it’s just bigger. Hmm, good points and I certainly couldn’t argue with her logic.

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 2:57PM

In reply to by Ed B (not verified)

Yea, there's a few things, different, they've updated the eyesight for 2021 with lane centering, and cooled seats are an option, same goes for the 2021 legacy, it's a vastly different car than your 2019. I've still got my 2010 and love it but the new Legacy xt has been tempting

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:41PM

In reply to by James schielzo (not verified)

It can't be that big of an issue, it has the biggest brakes in the class, and all are ventilated, both warping and glazing are caused by heat... and I haven't seen a single car with brake issues, I work at a dealer... Also it's a fairly easy fix and should be covered under standard warranty, subaru actually covers wear items during its 3yr/36 if there is any issue... They are better than most manufacturers to deal with on that kind of thing..

Marc (not verified)    May 12, 2021 - 8:12AM

In reply to by Zach (not verified)

We tend to hold cars for 7-8 years so the tech changes in Subarus even dated, are improvements to us. Went from 203 Dodge Journey 4 cylinder SE to 2021 Subaru Ascent Touring and couldn’t be happier. Though we loved the hybrid Highlander, if the steering response was tighter we’d have bought that. Subaru checked all the boxes for us and didn’t seem like driving a target in this social environment either.

John (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:54AM

The best sellers in this segment have V6 engines, offer more room, and more VALUE. Add in reliability issues, and you have another Subaru marketing failure, like their original 3-row, the Tribaca.

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 10:32AM

In reply to by John (not verified)

The 2.4t has more torque at lower rpm than every v6 in the class, the 'best sellers' being the Ford explorer and the highlander, both have their individual strengths, however both actually cost more, are less fuel efficient, and have less room.
The pilot is the only one that really sellers better on the merits you have mentioned, however I have never liked Honda interiors, but that's going to be entirely preference. And once again it doesn't get as good gas mileage, and is smaller.

T Alan Hatton (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 11:38AM

We just purchased an Ascent Touring with full options. Car is fine, but front passenger seat is a huge disappointment. It does not allow for much adjustment and is quite uncomfortable for long rides. The top of the line Forester has 8- or 10-way adjustment - why didn't they do this for the Ascent?

Zach (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:34PM

In reply to by T Alan Hatton (not verified)

This is how most cars in the class are, we are getting a new sienna next month, 55k touring model, 4 way passenger seat... In a minivan.. This seems to be a common thing among Asian brands, subaru only just got the memo with the latest legacy, outback, forester.. Toyota clearly still hasn't, but it's something that is widely available on American brands.. I kinda had to choose between the sienna and a Pacifica and that was one of the trade offs, but reliability was too important to trust the Pacifica.

Jim Bassett (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 12:19PM

We have a 2020 Ascent touring model and love it! It has plenty of power to tow my boat even in our hills, something that can’t be said of most of the other similar brands. Living on a farm in snow country I find the xmode is amazing in snow. The safety features work well. I could gush on. I don’t know what all the Ascent hand wringing is about. As far as reliability we have had zero problems in about 15k miles.

Yan Escarate (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 1:05PM

In October 2020, I got a 2021 Subarú Ascent.
I drove 4000 miles already, until now I have not had any bad experience yet, I hope it will stay that way.

Karen K (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 1:16PM

Maybe cutting back on bills has made Americans finally realize they don't need a gigantic three row SUV to haul a seven pound human?

Lisa Kouame (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 7:47PM

I just purchased my 2021 Ascent and love how it drives and handles in the snow...however the technology is lacking behind the other vehicles in this class...all of them. And that is HUGE for people who drive this size vehicle...not sure why they thought that would be what they could get away with skimping husband has a 2019 Dodge Durango and I have to admit his technology package is more intuitive than the one Subaru has and has the TVs in the back for the kids which is nice.

Brandon Allen (not verified)    February 4, 2021 - 10:39PM

If you adjust for average selling price and margin i bet you'd find subaru is top of the heap. People want these cars more than ever but dealers don't cut costs to sell one because demand is high and they don't flood supply. Stats are misleading.

ASC (not verified)    February 5, 2021 - 5:25AM

One word: pandemic.

No one is going out of their way to seek clustering of eight people inside a vehicle unless they all have the same last name. Why the Crosstrek is on fire: pandemic social distancing for some outdoor pursuits.

Marc (not verified)    February 6, 2021 - 10:37AM

The Ascent is amazing but has its best features spread into multiple review categories. Safety is top grade but every car review site has safety as last category. 8.7” clearance is also not its own category and AWD is mentioned in passing as other car reviews don’t remind you that it’s included in base model and all trims. There’s also COVID and planning for Outbacks, Crosstreks and Foresters as most dealers have few Ascents in stock and many more of the other models.

John (not verified)    February 6, 2021 - 10:00PM

We bought a 19 Ascent and I’ll never recommend them to anyone. Jerky shifting and inconsistent acceleration doomed this vehicle. We’ve owned 3 and this one was a mistake, unfortunately. Dealer is too busy to take my complaints seriously.

Ed (not verified)    February 8, 2021 - 9:49PM

I have a 2020 Ascent with a horrible jerky transmission. The dealer says its normal. I sent a email to Subaru of America with a standard "tell your dealer" response. The CVT is supposed to be a high tech advanced system however I think the engineers forgot the basic rule of what should be a smooth driving vehicle. Everyday I drive I wonder if I should keep this vehicle.

Carl (not verified)    February 20, 2021 - 10:34PM

Come on people , the Ascent is under 50K what do you expect . You cannot get a better vehicle for the price . I work for Mercedes as a tech and let me tell you that the Ascent is hands down a better vehicle . The CVT transmission has been around around in vehicles since the 90’s . I had an old auto tech text book with a chapter devoted to it . The Ascent is “unrefined” but great at the same time . In the snow and slush it is amazing even with the cheap low grade Falkens . All manufactures put the cheapest tire on unless you are paying over 50K for the vehicle even then you aren’t getting the best. The power output is good for the size but the torque curve ( seat of the pants wise ) is way better than all the competitors in its class and out of its class, hats off to Subaru. Let’s not forget the FA24 engine ... no problems there . That engine was designed for the large family hauler. Might even end up in the new STI ( unsure of that) . You say it’s low tech? Come now , adaptive cruise as standard ? Lane departure assist standard? Auto vehicle hold Standard ? AWD standard ? You can also add those creature comfort options as well.. even rear seat entertainment via I pads . We have a 2021 premium and I love it , on road and off road . Besides what other vehicle in its class can you lift and put larger more aggressive tires on and not void your warranty... name one .. to bad so many people are judging a 3 year old vehicle on its first year run that was fixed . We drove it’s biggest competitor ( the Teluride) and the Kia doesn’t even compare to the Ascent .. I say to Subaru , keep it up and stay away from those highly polluting hybrid electric Throw away vehicles.