2020 Subaru Outback Limited – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

If there’s a company that epitomizes the “You Don’t Mess with Success” mantra, it’s Subaru. You rarely get a revolutionary, all-new, blow-your-mind model from the automaker. And we’re fine with that. Everything’s so good already, they prefer to perfect what they got.

Introducing the all-new 2020 Outback!

You didn’t notice? Well, it does look very familiar to anyone who has loved the previous five generations of Subie’s tall wagon. The size is about the same – 1.4” longer and 0.6 wider than the previous model. The lines look a bit crisper, with a large hexagonal grille, LED fogs and front cladding. There’s a more rakish profile with a raised rear gate, cladding on the side meant to resemble a hiking boot, and slightly sharper creases and angles for the rear taillights.

It may be where we live, but almost every Outback we’ve seen lately seems to be Crystal White Pearl – and it looks great in that color – but we were pleased to have our tester in Abyss Blue Pearl, a rich deep blue that stands out in a world of silver, white and grey SUV’s. And with our Limited’s handsome standard 18” alloys and roof rails, it had that perfect ready-for-anything look you’d want in an Outback.

Upscale Outback Inside

Say that fast three times… Inside is notably more modern. The first thing that catches your eye is the Volvo-like 11-inch display in the center of the dash. By splitting the screen up into two sections, you have an upper display for navigation/info-tainment type stuff, and a lower screen that you can pull up all sorts of functions like climate control, heated seats etc. In general, it’s easy to use but we a gripe.

When we used Apple CarPlay, WAZE (or other navigation) the actual width of the display makes for a small screen that’s hard to read. Better than your phone, but we’ve been spoiled lately by nice-sized maps.

At least being connected and charged is easy, with four USB ports and two 12-volt DC power sockets, and for the first time in an Outback, an available in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot. We also enjoyed our info-tainment with the excellent sounding 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

The materials on our Limited were beautiful with well-stitched leather and soft-touch materials throughout. The front seats are exceptionally comfy, with lumbar support and adjustable cushion length on the driver’s seat.

Subaru’s spend a lot of time in cold weather climes, so new three-level heated seats with extended coverage up to the shoulders are sure to be appreciated. We found enough chilly weather to enjoy our tester’s optional heated steering wheel as well.

While we like being up front, the rear seat is quite spacious, with more head, shoulder and leg room than before. Cargo room is mostly unchanged, but with a new Hands-Free Power Gate, single-touch lifting cargo cover, and wider rear hatch, loading is easier than ever.

To maximize the bring-along, the rear seats fold easily and fully-flat, giving you plenty of space for whatever activities you’ll be doing.

Loaded with Subaru Goodness

Like the interior and exterior, the driving experience will be familiar to the Subaru faithful, but it has been updated and improved to keep up with the times. Two engines are available for the Outback, a 260 hp turbo motor that would fuel our rally-wagon dreams. Alas, dreams they were, as we had the heavily-revised, horizontally-opposed “boxer” non-turbo 2.5-liter engine that now pumps out 182 hp, and 176 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.

With that torque higher up in the rpm band you might expect sluggish acceleration, but the CVT transmission gets the power on quickly, and you move around well in traffic. You can help it along by using the paddle shifters in manual mode, which imitates an 8-speed automatic. It still is a CVT though, so it seems happiest slurring around, being smooth and efficient. And with an estimate of 33 mpg and a range of over 600 miles, efficient it is.  If you really want performance in your Outback, we recommend going for one of the XT turbo models, which also features a 3,500 lb. towing capacity – the most of any Outback ever.

Being a Subaru, you’ve got standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive that’s excellent. A friend was recently in a snowstorm in Colorado, and her new Outback performed beautifully in the slick stuff – motoring by 4×4 trucks that couldn’t find grip. Ha!

With that AWD and tall, SUV-like suspension, the Outback rides like a dream, gliding over bumps, ruts and whatever, feeling like a luxury machine. We also found that although that suspension is soft, with the grip of all-wheel-drive, the Subie loves being driven hard, and is surprising fun to toss around twisty roads. Rally-car DNA don’t lie.

While not everyone will be playing rally-driver, the Outback is sure to be a family vehicle, and here Subaru’s reputation for advance safety gear shines.  Riding on the new Global Platform, the new bpdy absorbs over 40 percent more energy in front and side crashes.

That’s a great base to build on. Standard on all models is Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology that now includes Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering, which provides steering assist when the vehicle veers outside its lane, helping the driver maintain a direct path.

For the safety-gearhead, there’s a segment-exclusive DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System that uses a dedicated infrared camera and facial recognition technology to identify signs of driver fatigue or distraction and provides audio and visual warnings to alert the driver and passengers. Cool.  Another Outback first, a Front View Monitor captures images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle and displays a 180-degree view on the 11.6-inch display, providing safety and assistance when checking road conditions ahead or parking.

Double cool.

Additional available driver-assist technologies Reverse Automatic Braking,  Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and EyeSight Assist Monitor with head-up display.

In another Outback first, the 2020 model offers a Front View Monitor, which captures images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle and displays a 180-degree view on the 11.6-inch display, providing safety and assistance when checking road conditions ahead or parking.

Upfront Pricing

With everything that comes on the Outback and the loyal following, Subaru could hike the prices and probably still sell every one they make. But they don’t roll that way. The company that’s all about love even makes you smile when you’re ready to buy.

You can get a sturdy, strong, safe and spacious Outback starting at just $26,645. Which is, frankly, a bargain. So much a bargain, we’d pop at least for the Premium at $28,895, which gives you the big multimedia screen, power and heated driver’s seat and dual zone climate control and LED fogs.

Our Limited model started at $33,435, and featured the optional Driver Focus Mitigation, Heated steering wheel, Starlink Multimedia with Tom Tom Navigation, and power moonroof. Add in $1,010 for destination, and we rang the bell at $36,500.  And if you’re interested in that turbo engine, the Limited XT is about $4,000 more.

Competitors are a little tricky – most are trucky SUV’s that are taller and boxier. We recently tested the RDX A-Spec and loved it. But it also came in over 10 large more at $46,795.

A comparable Honda CR-V Touring comes in at $35,513. Similar in price, but if you want real off-road ruggedness in looks and capability, the Subaru squishes it under its hiking boot-inspired cladding. If you want wagony-ness, you could look at the Audi A4 All-road, but it’s going to cost you some major cash.

With the 2020 Outback, Subaru polishes their gem. Same great looks and upgraded interior. Meaningful performance upgrades and state of the art safety. All at a great price.

Perfect for the Subaru faithful, and ready to convert the new into Subaru fans, the 2020 Outback is a great vehicle – whether you call it a wagon, an SUV, or family rally car!


Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.

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