Reader Question: Subaru Ascent Wheels and Such

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Mark asks:  I want to get a 2019 Subaru Ascent and I have some questions. I notice they erased your review of it, unfortunately. I wanted to get a Forrester, but the engine is even worse than the Ascent. My main priority is their Eyesight feature. The basic wheel is 18 inches. Will an optional 20 inch wheel improve braking and urban handling? Generally speaking, I’ve heard that options don’t change your depreciation rate. Do you think that’s true of leather seats and pushbutton start? If you need the topic for your next Tom Woods Show appearance, I am fascinated as to why they are shoving continuously variable transmissions down our throats. From what I can tell the only thing they do is improved mileage, uphill performance and lower the sticker. The rest of it is all bad: it wears out before the car does, you have to add oil to all the time and it’s less fun. I don’t see how it nets out economically or for the environment. To me it looks like way to beat the CAFE standards but it doesn’t do any net good.

I put $25 in your tip jar. I really appreciate your appearances on the Tom Wood show.

My reply: I like the Ascent (my review is still up; see here). It is an improvement over the defunct Tribeca in that it’s viable as a family-sized crossover and gives Subaru a competitive vehicle in this segment.  It’s also just a nicer vehicle overall vs. the Tribeca – as I’m sure you already know. I would personally prefer that it came with a flat six and no turbo rather than the turbo four it does come with – because I am conservative and so leery about the longevity of these smallish turbo’d engines –  but the turbo four is as powerful (and torquey) as the six, or even more so.

The reason for the turbo four – and the CVT transmission – is fuel economy, just as you’ve written. But not really fuel economy for the buyer. Rather, for the government. More precisely, to do well on the government’s fuel efficiency tests. Turbo fours – when off boost – use less gas than larger engines because they are smaller engines. The problem is that they become larger engines when on boost. And unless you are very light-footed, your real-world mileage is going to be disappointing. I state this as a guy who has been test driving new cars for more than 25 years now.

But on the government’s tests… and that is what matters as far as CAFE, the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandate. Which all car companies are under tremendous pressure to comply with. The CAFE “mandatory minimum” is slated to almost double within the next ten years, too – to 50-plus MPG on average.

You can imagine the effect this is going to have on car design. I’ve been trying do the canary in the coal mine thing for some time now… .

On the wheels – and tires.

I italicize tires with good reason. Going up to a 19 or 20 inch wheel usually means going down in terms of sidewall height. This improves steering response and handling because the shorter-height sidewall flexes less, but often at the cost of a rougher ride and increased vulnerability to damage. Blowouts (and wheel damage – not cheap) are more likely. Also, these tires (and wheels) will increase rolling resistance and so reduce mileage. Often, by a noticeable 2-3 MPG, all else being equal.

Also, it is often the case that the 19/20-inch tires will wear faster and cost more to replace.

As far as braking: The larger wheel/tire will give a theoretical improvement in braking (reduced stopping distances) but probably only in extreme circumstances, as would be experienced on a test track (hence the italics, again). The Ascent – like most newer cars – has excellent brakes and you are not likely to notice much difference – one wheel size vs. another – in terms of how the vehicle responds to braking inputs during normal on-street driving.

On depreciation: Features (options and amenities) affect resale value and so factor into depreciation. A base trim model of “X” will be worth less than a higher-trim/loaded example of “X” as the years go by. But, certain features – or their lack – can also increase or decrease a given vehicle’s depreciation. A good example is the type of transmission a vehicle has. In some cases, most prospective buyers would want the car with an automatic, so if your car has that, it will depreciate less than the same car with the manual (assuming one is offered).

But, there are case where the reverse is true. A given car may be more desirable – and so depreciate less – if it has the manual. Just one example, but you see the point.

In your case, though, I don’t think it will matter either way as almost all new cars have pushbutton ignition (it’s de facto standard equipment at this point) and leather is very common, even among “economy” cars.

Things like color – and condition – will have a much greater effect on what your car is worth eight or ten years from now.

Thanks for your support – and welcome to EPautos!

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