Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The All New Subaru Ascent: The ultimate family hauler

tl;dr We are thrilled with our Subaru Ascent Limited, read on for more details on other models we considered and my experience with negotiating pricing with the awesome Costco Auto Program

Soon after we closed on our new house, I started thinking about whether our two sedans would have the capacity to haul the 'stuff' that we'd soon be using with two young children (double stroller, luggage, diaper bags, groceries, etc.). It became abundantly clear very quickly that we would need a larger vehicle. Alas, 7 months pregnant we began our search. 

The criteria for our new vehicle included: 
  • large cargo/trunk space (because kid STUFF)
  • comfortably fit two carseats in the second row and still be able to access the third row
  • three rows of seating and the third row should be comfortable
  • Apple CarPlay
  • will fit in our garage (which is sort of short)
  • safety/reliability
All in all, we are thrilled with our Subaru Ascent Limited, read on for more details on other models we considered and my experience with negotiating pricing with the Costco Auto Program

2019 Subaru Ascent Limited, Tungsten Metallic with Warm Ivory Leather

Our consideration set was built based on Consumer Reports reviews and IIHS top safety picks. There aren't a ton of 3 row SUVs or minivans on the market that meet both these requirements, so the list was narrowed pretty quickly. On the minivan front, we sat in the Honda Odyssey (no driving), and eliminated it because Consumer Reports showed that the predicted reliability for the 2018 and 2019 versions of this minivan was subpar (1/5). The Toyota Sienna was eliminated from consideration as well due to the fact that it was not an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2019. 

With both minivans eliminated, I turned to the list of top IIHS Safety Picks and Consumer Reports Recommendations for MidSize SUVs and started deciding which we would test drive. 

We decided to test drive the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX9 and Audi Q7. On paper, the Subaru Ascent seemed to have everything we were looking for, but driving each vehicle was crucial to see which felt best in real life.

These are my high level pros and cons about all the cars that we chose not to purchase. I have provided my full review on the Subaru Ascent at the end.

Toyota Highlander

  • Hybrid version available with amazing gas mileage
  • High predicted reliability, and proven performance from past years
  • Easy access to third row with captain's chairs in second row
  • Felt that it drove like a really big car
  • No Apple CarPlay and Toyota's Entune System (for entertainment and tech) is really really bad. Rumor has it that the 2020 Toyota Highlander will be CarPlay compatible (finally!)
  • Third row feels tight and not great for taller people

Honda Pilot

  • High predicted reliability, and proven performance from past years
  • Excellent cargo room in back
  • Apple CarPlay tech functionality
  • Drive was fine but not exceptionally smooth

  • Third row felt tight, especially with someone in the passenger seat, a carseat in the 2nd row captain's chair, and a person in the third row
  • Harder to maneuver between second and third rows easily
  • Drives like a big truck

Mazda CX-9

  • Price, cheapest of all the vehicles we were considering. 
  • Well rated by Consumer Reports & IIHS.
  • Apple CarPlay Functionality
  • Drives like a car

  • Space. This vehicle is SO cramped. There isn't enough space in any row for anyone to feel comfortable when you have more than 4 passengers. 
  • Supposedly you can tilt the 2nd row without having to remove the carseat to enter the 3rd row, but in reality there is so little space to maneuver even with that feature that it's kind of useless.
Audi Q7

  • Smooth drive
  • Push button third row
  • Feels like a luxury car in terms of construction/material quality
  • Price. This is a $70k vehicle, and even used, it's at least $50k. I had really high expectations because of that, and they were definitely not met in value or design. 
  • The 2nd row has a bench seat which seats 3 people, while the 3rd row seats only 2. This is useless when you have carseats in the 2nd row and you have to manually lift the seat (after removing the carseats) to access the 3rd row. Audi should have made the 2nd row power controlled so that it would be less heavy lifting. 
  • Second row will feel cramped, if it's even possible to fit a human between two carseats. 
  • Technology - the only USB charging port is in the front of the car. 
  • Storage. There isn't nearly enough cargo room to lug a double stroller, groceries, and your guests. 
Subaru Ascent

  • Space. Cargo room and passenger room in all 3 rows is amazing, even with the passenger seat, 2nd row carseat, and person in the 3rd row seated at the same time. Bonus, it fits in our garage.

  • 3rd row access. There are two ways to access the 3rd row when a carseat is in the 2nd row, without having to remove carseats if necessary. You can push the captain's chair forward and slide in the side, or you can push the captain's char back and squeeze in front of the carseat to the 3rd row. This gets even easier once the carseats are forward facing. I was able to get to the third row while 7 months pregnant with ease.
  • Thoughtful design. Subaru has really kept families in mind in their design of this vehicle. There are USB charging ports in each row, and 19 cupholders. The front and rear A/C heat can be controlled manually from the first and/or second row. 
  • Trunk capacity. I can easily fit my Uppababy Vista without having to disassemble it, and can lift it out of the trunk easily as well. Even with a massive stroller, there is still plenty of room for groceries (when the 3rd row is folded). When the entire 3rd row is being used, I can still fit the Zoe Double Stroller and a diaper bag plus a bag of groceries. 

  • Apple CarPlay is easy to set up and use on this vehicle.
  • Large screen with excellent backup camera. 
  • Automatic braking when a safety hazard is detected. I think this comes on most models now, but it has been incredibly helpful in preventing accidental bumps. 
  • Blind spot monitoring on both sides of the vehicle, again I believe this is standard for most vehicles now, but if it isn't it should be.
  • Drive / Ride. The drive is fun, doesn't feel like I'm driving a massive truck and the ride is also smooth. You hear road noise still because it is an SUV, but overall it's a very pleasant experience as a driver and a passenger.
  • Excellent Service experience at Subaru dealership. We had a minor issue with a rear bumper sensor being oversensitive. While it took 2 months to get the replacement part, once it arrived the dealership service experience was top notch (better than Toyota and Hyundai). They send you home via an Uber, and send an Uber to pick you up. The service person will text you personally with updates, and you only have to deal with one person throughout the entire process, and never have to re-explain the context of your call or concern. Really really excellent. Our repair was free as it was covered under warranty. 
  • Gas efficiency. I'll be honest, it's pretty terrible gas efficiency for the city, we're averaging about 16 mpg in LA traffic. On the highway, it's around 35-40mpg which is much better. We didn't buy this car thinking it would be as efficient as our hybrids, but I was expecting around 20mpg in the city and that's not happening.
  • Front facing camera is only on Touring model. I really wish I had the forward facing camera on the vehicle to know how close I am to the wall in our garage. It isn't an option you can buy, and is only available on the Touring model. 
  • Maintenance and Warranty add ons are pricey. There is a standard 3 year warranty on the vehicles, but this does not cover electrical components on the vehicle after 3 years. Given all the tech in the vehicles now, repairs can get pricey. It's worth having the peace of mind in my opinion. 
  • Limited color options for seating in the Touring version (highest trim line). We drove the Touring model in the US for the Ascent, but ended up purchasing the Limited model as it had all the features we really wanted. I also was not a fan of the brown leather on the Touring model, and there are no other color options (so weird that they don't allow that kind of flexibility). 
  • Brand new model with limited understanding of how it will perform over time. This was a risk we decided to take, and it has been fine for us but I know there have been a few recalls that have affected others.
Pricing & Negotiation

Having worked in the auto business for 5 years, I decided to test pricing quotes and negotiation a few different ways. 

1) I negotiated directly with a bunch of dealers once I knew which vehicle and add ons we wanted (this ended up being the least successful / most costly result). 
2) I requested quotes through TrueCar, and this actually put me in touch with the same dealer that Costco has a partnership with. This was the middle line quote, so if you can't get Costco, I'd definitely try TrueCar. 
3) Costco Auto Program. I submitted my information through Costco, and was put in contact with a dealership that they partner with for Subaru. Costco and the dealership/OEM set monthly pricing deals, and at the time the Ascent was being offered through Costco's partnership at $1500 over invoice (versus no discounts directly through the dealership). Costco ended up being the best price by several  thousand dollars at the end of the day. It was a painless process and I'd highly recommend it. 

No matter what brand and model of vehicle you end up purchasing, I'd highly recommend getting pricing through Costco Auto. They have one to one relationships with dealers in your geographic area, and it's a free program for Costco members. This reduces the burden and time you spend negotiating as a car buyer.