We recently tested the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, and it’s a capable, honest and quite fun SUV. Between that and the Forester and Ascent, Subaru knows how to make an SUV.
But interestingly enough, its best seller isn’t an SUV. Yet it competes with them and shows them up in many ways. Welcome to the Subaru Outback – a tall, capable All-wheel-drive wagon that offers those SUV attributes in a different package. Hey, we like different! And for 2020 the Outback’s all new, too. Let’s take a look.
Familiar but tougher looks
On the outside, you might have trouble distinguishing the all-new 2020 model from the previous one. We think that’s intentional – Subaru isn’t trying to shake up the design world – it already stands out in a world of SUV’s with a tall wagon that looks sleek, yet capable.
The lines are good, and you do notice the wider fenders, large grille and raised tailgate that give an athleticism to the design. with chunky black protective fascia front and rear and a beefy lower side cladding meant to resemble a hiking boot. (Really, Subaru says so!) Tying it all together, you look ready to tackle most off-road conditions.
Our Onyx Edition tester looked especially capable, featuring black-out finishes, badging and 18-inch alloy wheels. This is a little like art imitating life – we see plenty of older Outbacks whose owners have blacked out the trim, raised the suspension and shoved blacked out wheels underneath. It’s a super-tough look – and now you can get it straight from the factory.
Not-Roughing It Interior
Those tricked out Subies may have the look, but it’s unlikely they can serve up the kind of lux and tech inside. Step in and the first thing that catches your eye is the 11.6-inch center tablet display that would look at home in a Tesla. Fear not – volume and tuning knobs are included.
Tesla-like, it controls most of the functions, including info-tainment, climate control, X-MODE and vehicle settings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto of course are along for the ride – but our WAZE app got squished to the upper two-thirds of the display which made it hard to use. But use the Onyx’s standard Navi, and Voila, it’s full screen and looks large and lovely. Harrumph…
One nice touch, the ’20 Outback will be the first vehicle to offer the new Chimani app, which serves up a comprehensive guide to more than 400 national parks in the U.S. and includes park history and highlights written by local traveler experts. Now that is very cool.
The info-tainment is solid with available Wi-Fi hotspot, and a great-sounding 12-speaker Harmon Karmon audio system. Road trip anyone?
You’ll be comfortable, that’s for sure. 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar are full-sized and supportive, while new three choices of heating temp and extended coverage into the shoulder area make sure you’re toasted to perfection.
You’ll also be spoiled in the Onyx with its exclusive gray two-tone interior. And while we like leather, Subaru’s choice of a new water-repellant durable StarTex™ material looks great and makes sense for the kind of active lifestyle Subie owners enjoy.
Those in back don’t get short changed – there’s more rear head, shoulder and legroom than before. Loading up gear is easy with the Outback’s new Hands-free gate that works by simply waving you hand across the Subaru emblem – no silly one-legged dancing trying to sweep your leg under the bumper like most competitors!
Subaru leans heavily on leading-edge safety, and like our recent Crosstrek, the standard EyeSight Driver Assist Technology now includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering. EyeSight not only watches outside; it uses facial recognition technology to identify if the driver is getting drowsy or distracted and provides audio and visual warnings.
All this on top of an arm’s long list of available goods like Reverse Automatic Braking, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Our tester also had the Front View Monitor – a first for the Outback – which captures images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle and displays a 180-degree view on the big monitor. Extra handy for pulling into tight parking spaces.
Welcome Back, Mr. Turbo!
A big thrill for us is the return of the available turbocharged engine into the Outback lineup. Gone since 2009, the rush of turbo goodness comes from a 2.4-liter boxer engine and kicks up an impressive 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. (The standard 2.5-liter non-turbo serves up 182 horsepower and 176 lb.-ft of torque).
Your only choice is the Lineartronic CVT transmission, and while it does it’s best to portray an 8-speed automatic, it’s not quite there. After using the paddle shifters and trying to shift it into sportiness, we left it to its own devices, and it works best letting you ride a large wave of torque. It may not be exhilarating, but it sure is quick, with 0-60 in mid 6’s.
Most Outback owners won’t be at the dragstrip anyway, they’ll be enjoying the superb Symmetrical All Wheel Drive. Active torque vectoring helps you get around curvy roads and slippery stuff, and 8.7-inches of ground clearance will get you where you’re going on road or off.
The Onyx is a great choice for off-road by the way, with unique Dual-Mode X-MODE, which gives you added capability in snow, mud and steep inclines. Go for it!
And if you don’t venture off-road, there’s lots to love in the Outback – the tall ground clearance gives a wonderfully supple ride, the turbo power whooshes you along, and the cabin is notably quieter. Add in those great seats, and that adaptive cruise control, and you’ve got an amazingly comfortable road trip vehicle. The turbo even lets you tow up to 3,500 lbs., so you can bring all the toys.
Can I Afford one with All The Toys?
Sure. Just depends what you want. Your entry-level Outback starts at $26,975, and is very nicely equipped, with standard all-wheel-drive, EyeSight Driver Assist, Starlink with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 8.7-inches of ground clearance – even raise roof rails with cross bars. There is something so appealing about a basic (relative term) wagon with all the safety and capability. And tremendous resale value should make it easy on the long-term wallet. You can ladder up trims for more features.
Getting into Turbo time will set you back $34,895, like our Onyx Edition XT tester. We had Option Package 2 ($1,845) which includes the 11.6-inch multimedia display with navigation, power moonroof and Reverse Automatic Braking. Great value, and a smart choice. Add in $1,010 for destination, and we rang the bell at $37,750.
Competitors would depend on how much you want a wagon over a traditional SUV. An Audi All-Road comparably equipped comes in at an eye-watering $52,000. If you think an SUV would work there’s a bunch, but we’d go first to the Subaru Forester – heck, you get all the Subie goodness, in a more traditional package, similarly priced. And check out the Crosstrek, too!
Whether you want to stand out from the SUV crowd, or just love a wagon, the Subie is a wonderful vehicle.
Capable, fast, comfortable, safe and ruggedly handsome, the 2020 Subaru Outback is a Wonder Wagon!
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.