The 2020 Subaru Outback doesn’t look different, but it’s gone through substantial change. And the 2020 Outback is better than ever.
“What’s New?” is a funny question to bring up when discussing a new Subaru Outback. Ok, yes, Subaru drove into a ditch one year and came up with the Subaru Brat, but for the most part, it has been rock solid and dull in its design and execution methodology. Dull, in a good way, but still dull.
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The latest example in that methodology is the newly designed and re-engineered 2020 Subaru Outback. If someone were to drive the 2020 Outback up next to a 2019 Outback, you’d think they were the same car. But there are some notable differences.
Subaru has a new chassis and suspension that helps the Outback‘s already capable, off-road abilities and gives you a better ride on the highway. On the XT trim levels, you can power all four wheels with a new 2.4-liter turbo engine from the Ascent, and inside, you’ll see a redesigned dash with a beautiful 11.6-inch center touchscreen.
Let’s find out what all of this feels like when put together in the 2020 Subaru Outback.
We like the new rear-seat legroom
We like the off-road pedigree
We like the updated technology
We like the smoother ride
We like the new interior design
We don’t like the anemic standard powertrain
The one good thing that we can say about the base engine on the Outback is that it gets decent fuel economy. The 2.5-liter horizontally four-cylinder loudly churns out 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The CVT seems to remind us of what’s wrong with all CVTs in its sluggish shifting and sometimes not shifting when power is needed. You will need to use the manual function to “downshift” and get some power since the Outback won’t do it for you. While moving around town, it does its job well, and we guess that’s where its focus is.
Where the 2.5-liter fails, the 2.4-liter turbo excels. The turbo gives you 0-60s that are over 2 seconds faster and 100 more lb-ft of torque. Although the torque is excellent, the horsepower is where you see your gains on the highway, and the Outback Turbo delivers. Even the CVT seems to enjoy it more.
Thankfully, this is all tied to an updated and much stiffer chassis than the 2019 Outback had. The benefit is more isolation from road vibration and harshness and better stability on and off-road. We felt it on the highway, especially where the Outback gave a very smooth ride. Subaru‘s steering is a bit too isolated for us, though. It’s the mildly disappointing part of what’s an otherwise excellent road car.
With the 2.5-liter, you can tow up to 2,700 pounds. If you get one of the XTs or Touring, then you have a 350-lb tongue weight and 3,500-lb towing capacity for pulling your toys on and off-road with the 2.4-liter turbo boxer engine.
Your fuel economy depends on the engine. With the 2.5-liter, you can get up to 33 mpg on the highway, which is excellent for a station wagon that’s bigger inside than many small SUVs. But put that 2.4-liter turbo in, and your foot will want to be in the accelerator. Instead of the EPA estimated 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, expect to get considerably lower numbers in your driving. Trust us.
Subaru, we love what you’ve done with the place. Regardless of what we say about the outside curb appeal, the inside looks excellent. The biggest draw is that lovely 11-inch Ram pickup-sized touchscreen sitting in the middle of the very well-designed dash. The touchscreen’s clarity and color are stunning, and there’s no glare from the mid-day sun. Unfortunately, Subaru has hobbled it with a confusing user interface that is a few menus too deep. On the positive side, Subaru successfully uses two processors to handle the speed needed for good response time, but they could spend a little more time making it easier to use.
The seats are very similar to previous models, holding us well while being comfortably supportive. What impresses us most is the increased legroom in the back seat. It’s now a comfortable place to be for an adult. Nappa leather was in our test car. Subaru’s imitation leather-covered everything else, which honestly looks and feels excellent.
You’ll have more than enough storage and cup spaces. And since Subaru knows its customer, the cup holders fit almost any size Hydro Flask. With the new chassis, Subaru gave the rear cargo area extra space too. There are still 32.5 cubic feet in the rear compartment with every seat taken, which is more than many of today’s compact SUVs. This adds up to the Outback being as comfortable as today’s compact SUV when loaded up for travel.
We should note that the Outback base trim gives you two 7-inch touchscreens – one for system/Apple CarPlay/radio and the other for HVAC controls. But every other trim gets you the 11.6-inch mega screen.
The big screen is a blessing and a curse, however. The color is beautiful, and there are multitudes of ways Subaru allows you to configure the screen space. However, the touchscreen – or rather the operating system – shows you how irritating it can be when virtual buttons replace knobs. We made mistakes on Apple CarPlay buttons because they were smaller than what we were accustomed to on, say, the Hyundai Tucson screen. And the HVAC controls were down lower and required taken our eyes off the road to make any changes. Even then, the view angle and tiny virtual buttons caused us to hit the wrong buttons. It was a bit of a functional mess but, we loved the animations and information provided.
All of this brings up a more extensive discussion on touchscreens in general. They look beautiful, but some functions, like HVAC and volume controls, work better when we can touch or move a physical button. At least some automakers are providing haptic feedback to some of their buttons. Subaru has a long way to go to make this visually beautiful system into something safe to operate when driving.
The IIHS tested a 2020 Outback and gave it a Good rating in all six crash tests. It also received a Superior rating for its crash avoidance systems and a Top Safety Pick award.
Unlike many auto manufacturers, Subaru sees the value of providing driver assistance as standard on every trim. Every Outback comes with active safety equipment, including their Eyesight System’s, automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. The lower trim models allow the choice of optional blind-spot monitors and forward-facing cameras.
You often want to stay away from a base model because it offers the most negligible value when compared with other trims. However, Subaru does a great job with the base Outback that changes our minds. The Outback gives you Subaru’s excellent Eyesight Driver Assist tech, for starters. Eyesight includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and collision mitigating preemptive braking.
The Outback also has Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with X-Mode. Pushing the X-Mode button doesn’t give you a superpower but helps distribute the AWD traction abilities as you climb up and downhills. So, no slippy sliding in most situations.
Also added are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system. Mediocre sound on this trim, but it will do what you want.
Moving to the Outback Premium gives you the option of adding blind-spot detection with lane change assist – not available on the base model Outback. The Premium also receives Subaru’s Starlink Safety and Security connected car services. In this package, you get automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, a security system, and roadside assistance.
The Limited adds an excellent quality leather interior and some valuable convenience items like a push-button start and hands-free tailgate. Once you settle in for a drive, the 576 watts, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system is going to sound incredible.
The Onyx Edition gives your Outback a sports-oriented appearance with its blacked-out 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside, you’ll see more activity-focused material with Subaru’s StarTex water-repellent upholstery. X-Mode will help you get out of those challenging situations.
We don’t see the Outback as a luxury vehicle, but it’s Subaru’s number one seller, so why not add some luxury for the social climbers. Instead of the larger engine, you get Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery and ventilated front seats, chrome on random places like the door handles, and power-folding outside mirrors. We’re not fans, but you may like it.
The Limited XT is a Limited with a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine. Coming along for the ride are a power moonroof, heated steering wheel, and navigation.
The XT name adds the desired and more powerful 2.4-liter turbocharged engine with 260 hp and torque to 277 lb-ft. The torque lets you tow up to 3500 lbs, and the horsepower will help you when passing on the highways. “X,” by the way, means “maximum traction,” and “T” means turbo. So, XT models will have the powerful turbo engine and are considered off-road capable with X-mode.
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We appreciate Subaru’s new Outback updates, especially inside the cabin. Extra room on the inside plus updated tech and quality materials make it an excellent place to be. If you love Subaru, this only makes the Outback better. They’ve made their biggest seller better.