Much-needed muscle
THE GOOD
  • Punchy turbo engine
  • Roomy and comfortable
  • High-tech safety features
THE BAD
  • Abrupt restart on auto start/stop
  • Lousy audio
2020 Subaru Outback Review

Freshly redesigned, the 2020 Subaru Outback went the route of evolution over revolution in its sixth generation.

It may look the same, but this Outback is marginally bigger, rides on the fresh Subaru Global Platform, and gets new tech along with some extra rear legroom. Also available is a new engine option. Lifted from the three-row Ascent, the 260-hp 2.4L turbocharged flat four gives the Outback some much-needed muscle.

Styling: 7/10

The 2020 Outback looks pretty much like the outgoing model: decidedly station-wagon-like in a somewhat ungainly kind of way. Indeed, the Outback won’t win any beauty contests, but it is undeniably identifiable. The 2020 Outback’s lower side body cladding is said to mimic a hiking shoe, and this new Outdoor XT trim expands on the rugged motif with black painted 18-inch wheels along with a black grille and mirror caps. The theme continues inside the Outdoor XT with its exclusive rubber floor mats and synthetic upholstery sporting green stitching. The Autumn Green Metallic paint garnered plenty of approval during my test week.

Safety: 9/10

Subaru always puts up an excellent showing at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), and the 2020 Outback, now built on the proven Subaru Global Platform, gets a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The platform is strong, and the strategic use of high-strength steel, along with carefully calculated crumple zones, make this shell one of the best performers in just about any type of collision.

Helping to avoid them altogether is the brand’s comprehensive EyeSight safety suite that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist that features a new lane-centring function.

Also standard on all 2020 Outbacks are full LED headlights with automatic high beams, and a government-mandated rear-view camera with a washer. The Outdoor XT also gets blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse automatic braking. Indeed, this Subie has your back, front, and sides.

With the exception of the base Convenience trim, the 2020 Outback comes with a three-year free subscription to Subaru’s new telematics service that provides automatic collision notification, emergency assistance, and concierge, as well as remote start/stop, remote lock/unlock, and various other functions from your smartphone.

Practicality: 9/10

Call the Outback a crossover, call it a station wagon, but don’t call it anything but practical. The powered tailgate opens to reveal 920 L of cargo space, protected by a sturdy rubber mat. The 60/40-split rear seats easily flip down, creating a flat floor while freeing up 2,144 L. The Outdoor is the only Outback model to get a full-size spare, which signals its off-road intent. As does the special “all-weather” synthetic seat material that looks like it will take mud and a good wiping-down in its stride.

While all-wheel drive is standard in every Outback, the Outdoor also gets its own version of Subaru’s X-Mode off-road system. It serves up more mud-raking mojo by allowing increased wheel slippage on slick surfaces, along with targeted individual wheel braking. It’s controlled by a knob on the console, enabling the switch from snow and dirt mode to the new deep snow and mud.

With the new 2.4L turbo flat-four engine, the Outback’s towing capacity jumps from 1,225 kg (2,700 lb) to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb). The Outback’s nifty roof rails and their swifty swing-in crossbars return for 2020, improved with new tie-downs.

User Friendliness: 9/10

While on the subject of roof racks, the Outback’s roofline is lower than many crossovers (ah, there’s that station wagon thing again), so hoisting items like kayaks or cargo boxes is less of a challenge. The same goes for loading items into the Subie’s hatch area.

The Outback is an easy vehicle with which to become quickly familiar. The intuitively classic P-R-N-D-L gear selector on the console removes any confusion sometimes experienced with modern shift-by-wire dials and buttons, while the new 11.6-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen has a mostly clear and logical menu system. There are still knobs for volume and radio tuning, along with hard buttons for temperature control. Other HVAC functions, like fan speed and vent selection, are controlled by a touch panel on the lower part of the screen. Response time is quick and resolution good.

Calling up radio stations with voice control works flawlessly, too. You’d be surprised at how many vehicles stumble with that basic request.

Features: 7/10

Along with the aforementioned laundry list of safety systems and 11.6-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and three months of satellite radio, the Outback Outdoor XT comes with heated seats both front and back, a heated steering wheel, a front-view camera, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with built-in compass and universal garage door opener. Selecting this most outdoorsy trim, however, requires a few sacrifices: the all-weather seats lack memory and ventilation. This model also makes do without steering-responsive headlights and navigation, and gets a tinny-sounding six-speaker audio system. Opt for the Limited or Premium trim levels – with or without the turbo motor – and you get navi, the trick headlights, and a 12-speaker stereo.

Power: 8/10

As the top engine in the Outback portfolio (the 3.6L flat-six is gone) this 260 hp, 277 lb-ft turbo four does a stellar job of giving the XT effortless urge form just about any speed. Mated to a revised continuously variable transmission (CVT) with eight “steps” that mimic gear changes (up from six), it’s a big step up from the standard 182-hp, 176 lb-ft naturally aspirated 2.5L flat four that provides just adequate power and no more.

You have to wind out the 2.5L to find the power – and consequently be subjected to the engine drone inherent with CVTs – while the turbo’s fat torque curve does away with all that, making the driving experience noticeably more relaxed, refined, and quiet.

Comfort: 9/10

Subaru generally tunes its suspensions for compliance, and the 2020 Outback Outdoor XT sticks to the script. Generous wheel travel and, by today’s standards, high-profile tires have this tall wagon gliding over most surfaces. Hammer down a gravel road at speed and the Outdoor XT is barely ruffled. The blighted streets of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are handled with ease, and adding significantly to passenger comfort are the well-cushioned seats front and back.

This sixth-generation Outback’s extra 35 mm (1.4 in) of wheelbase is realized in an equal increase of rear-seat legroom. You could call the Outback’s ride height just right, with 220 mm (8.7 in) to work with, making for easy ingress and egress.

Wind noise is well controlled, although road noise can be noticeable on some surfaces. It’s certainly one of the more accommodating and comfy vehicles in this class regardless of the minimal noise pollution.

Driving Feel: 7/10

On the road the Outdoor Outback XT comes across as confident and poised, showing direct steering feel and fine highway stability. It’s not the kind of crossover that will inspire back-road shenanigans, as its compliant suspension means it would rather soak up the bumps than hunt down an apex. Still, the handling is predictable and secure. It’s a well-rounded dynamic recipe that will make for a satisfying long-term relationship.

If you are feeling sporty, the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters quickly shuffle through the eight virtual gears, and with 277 lb-ft of torque to play with, the Outdoor XT is an eager player.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

2020 Outback models fitted with the 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder are rated at 10.1/7.9/9.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined on regular-grade fuel. My week of mixed driving concluded at 10.1 L/100 km. Outbacks with the base 2.5L non-turbo four are more parsimonious fuel-sippers (9.0 L/100 km city, 7.1 L/100 km highway), but for a crossover with this amount of power, turbo XT models are quite efficient. For comparison, the turbocharged 2.0L Volkswagen Tiguan (184 hp, 221 lb-ft) is rated at 11.1 city, 8.1 highway, and 9.8 combined.

Value: 9/10

There are many reasons why Subaru has enjoyed an eight-year run of steady sales growth in North America, and value is certainly one of them. With an all-in price of $38,695 before freight and taxes, this Outdoor XT will undercut a similarly equipped Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 – both of which will be left staring at the Subie’s backside, unable to match its power and refinement.

The Verdict

This 2020 Subaru Outback is certainly better than the outgoing model. It’s bigger, rides on a stiffer platform, gets upgraded technology ,and sports a richer interior. And the newly available 260 hp 2.4L turbo four gives this wagon wings and a big dose of refinement that the base engine just can’t deliver.

Will this rugged Outdoor XT model find some buyers? Very likely, as it’s the entry trim with the new turbo engine. For my money, I’d spend the extra $3,100 for the Limited XT and enjoy the real leather, navigation, and an audio system that I can enjoy.

Much-needed muscle 7/14/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.4L   Model Tested 2020 Subaru Outback Outdoor XT
Engine Cylinders Turbo H4   Base Price $38,695
Peak Horsepower 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 277 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,800
Fuel Economy 10.1 / 7.9 / 9.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $40,595
Cargo Space 920 / 2,144 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None