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There’s a hole in the Subaru model lineup — and it’s shaped like a minivan. The brand’s family-geared SUV, the 2023 Ascent, offers many of the same benefits as a minivan. It’s spacious, full of safety tech, and has more cup holders than seats. But some families may catch the Subaru Ascent lacking when they crave true versatility. Those families may prefer a new minivan over Subaru’s three-row SUV when push comes to shove.

Is the Subaru Ascent a minivan?

A new 2023 Subaru Ascent drives down a highway.
2023 Subaru Ascent | Subaru of North America, Inc.

Though the Subaru Ascent shares some traits, it is not a minivan. Instead, it’s a family-sized crossover SUV. 

Subaru designed the Ascent much like the 2023 Outback and 2023 Forester. All-wheel drive, high ground clearance, usable cargo space, and a BOXER engine are standard. The difference is in size — the Ascent is the only Subaru with three rows of seating. It carries more people in both 7-and-8 passenger configurations: more than the Outback or Forester. 

But it’s no minivan. 

Subaru Ascent doesn’t have sliding doors

Rear view of a 2023 Subaru Ascent cresting a mountain road at sunset.
2023 Subaru Ascent | Subaru of North America, Inc.

The 2023 Ascent lacks one of the minivan segment’s most crucial features. The SUV uses conventional hinged doors instead of low-profile sliding doors. That may be a disadvantage while loading and unloading small passengers — swinging doors can quickly turn into dents for parking lot neighbors. Plus, they’re another obstacle to navigate while handling family vehicle logistics. 

You can’t remove the Ascent’s back seats without tools and time

Third-row seating of a 2023 Subaru Ascent in brown leather.
2023 Subaru Ascent Interior | Subaru of North America, Inc.

The new Ascent does offer impressive cargo space. According to Kelley Blue Book, the Subaru has a maximum capacity of 86.5 square feet, with all rear seats folded down. Not bad – but short of the more than 100 square feet of cargo space found in most minivans. 

Part of it comes to back seat packaging. The Ascent doesn’t offer “disappearing” seats that fold into the floor to create a giant cargo box. Neither does it have easily removable rear seats. A quick search on Subaru forums reveals anecdotes of arduous hours spent unbolting the Ascent’s rear seats for removal. 

Two new minivans have all-wheel drive, like the Subaru Ascent

Subaru’s signature feature for decades has been its symmetrical all-wheel drive system. It’s certainly an advantage for the 2023 Ascent, offering sure-footed performance in snow and rain. But the Ascent isn’t the only family hauler with all-wheel drive.

Two new minivan models offer all-wheel drive. Both the 2023 Toyota Sienna and the 2023 Chrysler Pacifica have the option to deliver power to all four wheels. While they don’t offer the feature as standard equipment like the Ascent, they provide capable alternatives. Strap on a set of winter tires; either minivan will produce admirable all-weather performance. 

Is the 2023 Subaru Ascent worth it?

There’s a logical argument to pick a minivan over a Subaru Ascent for family use. Its lack of sliding doors and lesser cargo flexibility knock it down a peg from its minivan rivals. And available all-wheel drive brings two models closer to the Ascent’s capabilities. 

However, choosing a car usually isn’t an entirely rational process. Aesthetics matter and people make decisions with their hearts. That’s where the 2023 Ascent gets its edge. It allows drivers to stick with Subaru’s style and performance while accommodating their growing families. Maybe Subaru is onto something with its “love” campaign after all.