The Ascent may be a surprisingly good three-row SUV and the redesigned Forester has been selling well, but the Outback is still Subaru’s best-selling car and its best-known model. The 2020 Outback marks the sixth generation of Subaru’s venerable crossover. If you’re a long-time Subaru owner looking to upgrade, there’s plenty to like here. If you’re new to Subaru, the Outback has some selling points that make it stand out from the crowd of compact crossovers.
On the outside, not a lot has changed for the Outback. With 8.7 inches (22cm) of ground clearance, the Outback still rocks that classic let’s-go-off-roading-to-the-grocery-store look. Built on Subaru’s global platform, the sixth-generation Outback looks very similar to the previous year’s model. Unless you’re looking closely at the grille, which has black accents instead of chrome, or the taillights, you’ll be hard-pressed to spot any big differences. The biggest changes come under the hood and inside the cabin.
The 2020 Outback still comes standard with the naturally aspirated 2.5L boxer engine, but there’s now a turbocharged 2.4L power plant that comes with the XT model we tested. Available in an Outback for the first time since 2009, the turbocharged engine is capable of 260hp (191kW) at 5,600rpm and 277lb-ft (376Nm) of torque at 2,00rpm. The standard, horizontally mounted 2.5L engine sees some modest performance gains from last year: 182hp/134kW and 176lb-ft/237Nm, up from 175hp/129kW and 174lb-ft/235Nm—basically the same as the Forester. What hasn’t changed is an eight-speed Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, which has the same upside (fuel economy) and downside (noise) as always. The entire Outback lineup now comes equipped with paddle-shifters and an eight-speed manual-mode function.
Subaru has also outfitted the Outback with an all-new suspension. The MacPherson struts in front have a new internal rebound spring, and there’s also a new 23mm hollow stabilizer bar paired with aluminum lower L-arms. In the rear, you’ll find a double-wishbone layout with coil springs, subframe, and a new 19mm hollow stabilizer bar.
The turbocharged 2.4-liter engine is definitely peppier than the identical 2.5-liter engine that powered the Forester we drove last year. The Outback XT is more responsive and quicker off the mark than the base model—that additional 82hp makes a massive difference. That said, when you’re behind the wheel, you’ll experience a typical Subaru ride due to the horizontally mounted power plant in combination with the CVT. I don’t think the additional horsepower is worth the $12,000 price premium over the base model, even with the other perks that come from the Touring trim level. The base Outback starts at $26,795.
Inside the Outback
You’ll notice the biggest changes inside the Outback. Like the redesigned Subaru Legacy, the Outback now sports an 11.6-inch touchscreen display with a vertical orientation. Gone is the mini-display on top of the dashboard; all of the infotainment functions are now viewable on a single screen. Both Android Auto and CarPlay are standard if you want to jam to your own tunes or use Waze to get where you’re going. The downside to the massive display is the elimination of physical climate controls. Adjusting the AC or heat now requires a couple taps on the screen, which can be distracting.
In general though, the Outback’s cockpit layout is top-notch. All of the controls are within easy reach of the driver, and you can use the massive touchscreen and the smaller display in the middle of the instrument panel to customize the info you want to see. Visibility from behind the wheel is excellent, as is the case with Subaru’s other SUVs and crossovers.
Subaru prides itself on safety, and the carmaker makes its suite of driver-assist technologies (EyeSight) standard across the lineup. DriverFocus, which made its debut on the Forester last year, is now standard across the Outback lineup. It uses a camera to scan the driver’s face and emits a warning beep when it detects the driver isn’t looking at the road. It’s not foolproof, but it can be a useful tool in reminding you to pay attention to the road. Subaru also touts improved crash protection, as the redesigned Outback can absorb 40 percent more energy in front and side crashes than the previous iteration.
Mileage and money
The Outback XT is rated at 30mpg (7.84L100km) on the highway and 23mpg (10.23L/100km) in the city; we saw 26.4mpg (8.91L/100km) in a week of mixed driving. If you stick with the 2.5L direct-injection four-banger, Subaru says you’ll get 33mpg (7.13L/100km) on the highway and 26mpg (9.05L/100km) in the city. There’s also plenty of room for your kids and all of their stuff, with 32.5 cubic feet (920L) of cargo space. This expands to 75.7 cubic feet (2,144L) with the rear seats folded down.
At nearly $40,000, the XT is hard to recommend, as the additional power doesn’t translate to a meaningfully better driving experience. But the rest of the lineup offers excellent value across the base, Premium, Limited, and Touring models. If your old Outback is looking like it’s been through the outback one time too many, you’ll be thrilled with a new one.
Listing image by Eric Bangeman