Driven: 2020 Subaru Outback review
  • Car Review

Driven: 2020 Subaru Outback review

By David Undercoffler | October 16, 2019

Autolist rating: 4/5
But would we buy it? Gladly
Price range: $27,655 - $42,980, including destination but before options

Key takeaways:

  • All-new sixth generation debuts for the 2020 model year.
  • All-wheel-drive, spaciousness and safety remain some of the Outback’s hallmarks.
  • An optional new turbocharged four-cylinder replaces the outgoing six-cylinder engine.
  • The base model, in particular, needs more power, and this generation isn’t particularly thrilling.
  • A new platform means impressive levels of refinement on and off-road.

What is it?

The Subaru Outback is a midsize family station-wagon-meets-SUV currently in its sixth generation. The Outback is based on Subaru’s Legacy family sedan; it was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year. It’s larger than Subaru’s Crosstrek hatchback and Impreza sedan and hatchback but smaller than the brand’s Ascent three-row crossover and similar in price to Subaru’s Forester crossover.

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The 2020 Outback comes with one of two engines. Base models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and full-time all-wheel-drive.

Higher-trim Outbacks are also available with Subaru’s 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Like the non-turbo base engine, this turbo unit is paired with a CVT and full-time AWD. This engine replaces the optional six-cylinder unit that was offered on earlier generations of the Outback.

The Outback comes in four trims for the base engine (Outback, Premium, Limited, and Touring) and three with the turbo engine (Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT).

This new generation rides on an all-new platform that underpins nearly every current Subaru on the market. This makes the new Outback quieter, stiffer, and more spacious; rear legroom is up 1.4 inches, as is the Outback’s overall length when compared to the previous generation.

The other big news for this new sixth-generation version is the massive 11.6-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash, a feature that’s standard on all models save for the base Outback.

What’s good?

TLDR: Roomy, safe and packing a big touchscreen.

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Spacious SUVs are all the rage, but don’t forget just how much room a wagon like the Subaru Outback offers. Subaru stretched the car’s length 1.4 inches over the previous version, and all of that went into rear legroom, which is generous even for tall passengers. The cargo area is a little larger than it was before. During our week of testing, we used this Outback to help a friend move; with the rear seats folded flat, it was remarkable just how much stuff we were able to, um, stuff in the back. Though it’s not technically an SUV, there’s plenty of ‘U’ in this Outback.

Safe Subaru has recently been equipping its vehicles with an impressive list of standard safety gear for which other brands charge big bucks. This new Outback continues that trend. All models come standard with adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision braking, lane departure and sway warning, and lane-keep assist. Higher-trim models add blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alerts, and the top Touring trim adds a facial-recognition setup that will monitor and alert the driver for distracted or drowsy driving, plus adjust the vehicle’s setting automatically based on who’s sitting in the seat.

Touchscreen We test hundreds of cars a year, so believe us when we say that not all touchscreens are created equal. Subaru’s new unit -- standard on all models save for the base Outback -- is a winner. It’s huge (11.6-inches), responsive, and intuitive. Plus, Subaru has built-in hard buttons for knobs or the right features (temperature, volume, and tuning), so you’re never left fiddling with a hard-to-find digital button.

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What’s bad?

TLDR: Tepid styling, down on power, not a great value.

Is that the new one? Even though Subaru claims its (very loyal) Outback customers didn’t want to see a meaningful design change, the company could have done a little more updating. Yes, the interior is entirely new and refreshing, but the exterior -- even to savvy Outback spotters -- is too much like the older model it’s replacing. This is a bummer for buyers who want to show off their new vehicle -- since it looks like the same model that’s been cruising around for years.

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Lacks grunt The Outback needs more power. The base model -- the one Subaru will sell the most of -- has just 182 horsepower, which isn’t enough for the car. Its acceleration is tepid both from a stop and in passing situations or on-ramps, and this lack of power then causes the CVT to drone loudly when pushing the car. The optional turbo engine and its 260 horsepower is definitely an improvement, but even it doesn’t really give you the ‘yes please’ assertiveness we’d like.

No more value play We tested an Outback Premium with the base engine and an options package that added goodies like a moonroof, power rear liftgate, keyless access, push-button start, and a navigation system. The total came to $33,000, which didn’t seem like a particularly good value. This was the specification we’d probably choose if we were buying the car ourselves, but nothing in it felt particularly worthy of the $33,000 price tag.

5 stars of execution:

Safety Features? YES

  • Subaru is currently doing an excellent job of packing its vehicles full of standard, active safety tech.
  • This Outback is no different, offering its EyeSight suite of safety gear as standard on all models.
  • This suite includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision braking, lane departure and sway warning, and lane-keep assist.

Value? NO

  • As we mentioned, we weren’t particularly impressed with the Outback’s value quotient.
  • The car starts at $27,655, which seems a little high.
  • Our tester had the base engine plus a few goodies, but its $33,000 sticker price still seemed too high.
  • The top-end turbo Touring model will run you more than $40,000.
  • For that money, we’d hope for additional refinement or luxury touches, particularly in the exterior styling department.

Efficiency? YES

  • The EPA rated the Outback at 26/33/29 city/highway/combined for the base engine.
  • Those fuel economy figures are each one MPG higher than the previous generation, despite the car growing longer and more capable.
  • Those are respectable numbers given the size of this Outback and the fact that it’s AWD.

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Driving experience? YES

  • Throughout our testing, we were won over by the level of quiet refinement this generation of Outback offers.
  • The engine, ride quality, and noise levels are all impressive, especially given the Outback’s rugged outward demeanor.
  • Yes, the Outback -- especially the base engine -- feels underpowered but not to the point where you should avoid the car because of it.

Execution? YES

  • Overall, Subaru did an excellent job of keeping the Outback true to form.
  • It’s practical, comfortable, rugged, and safe, and it will make existing Outback owners very happy.
  • The added space and newfound refinement are also welcome additions to this generation.
  • We just wish higher-end trims had more sophisticated exterior styling and that both the base engine and the optional turbo had more grunt.

Total Rating: 4 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

The base non-turbo Outback (creatively called the Outback) starts at $27,655, including destination. Standard equipment includes all-wheel-drive, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, the aforementioned EyeSight suite of safety tech, two seven-inch touchscreens for the infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, electronic parking brake and rear seats split 60/40 that fold flat.

The Premium model starts at $29,905 and adds things like the 11.6-inch dashboard touchscreen, a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, LED fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The Limited starts at $34,455 (including destination) and adds leather seats, a power liftgate, different 18-inch alloy wheels, a power front passenger seat, driver’s seat memory, heated rear seats, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system.

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The Touring starts at $38,355 and is the highest-end trim level without the turbo engine. This model adds features like a power moonroof, power-folding satin chrome-finished side mirror caps, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Nappa leather seats, the DriverFocus driver monitoring system, and a navigation system built into the infotainment system.

The Outback turbo models start with the $35,905 Onyx Edition XT. This model has all of the kit of the base Outback Limited plus the 260-horsepower turbo engine, unique black 18-inch alloy wheels, unique exterior trim, and something called StarTex water-repellant seat fabric.

The Limited XT starts at $38,755 and adds leather seats, a moonroof, steering-responsive headlights, heated steering wheel, the DriverFocus driver monitoring system, and navigation.

Finally, the top-end Touring XT starts at $40,705 and includes goodies like ventilated front seats and Nappa leather upholstery.

As we mentioned earlier, if it were our pick, we’d probably opt for the Premium model and be done with it. This gives you all of the things that make the Outback great without adding fluff that gets expensive.

Also consider:

Since the Outback is technically a station wagon -- but a rugged one at that -- there’s little direct competition.

Audi’s allroad is similar to the Outback in terms of approach, but it’s much more expensive (they start at about $46,000). There’s also the Volvo V60 XC wagon -- it too starts at about $46,000 and packs plenty of rugged refinement.

If you act quickly, you might be able to snatch up one of the last Volkswagen Golf Alltracks. These excellent Golf-based wagons pack a bit of extra ground clearance, European refinement and styling, and great driving dynamics. Unfortunately, VW is discontinuing the Alltrack after 2019 due to poor sales and because it wants people buying more of its SUVs.

There’s also the Buick Regal TourX, a European-derived wagon that packs a little off-street cred.

Otherwise, the Outback competes with a wide range of crossovers and SUVs, which includes the Honda Passport and CR-V, Ford Edge, Subaru’s own Forester, the Nissan Murano, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy Blazer, and Traverse, Hyundai Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento, and the Toyota RAV4 and 4Runner.

More Photos

See more 2020 Subaru Outback.