Vehicles like the Subaru Outback, which has been in continuous production since 1994, demonstrate the keen powers of precognition possessed by Japanese automaker Subaru. At a time when SUVs represented a much smaller share of the market, before crossovers had truly come into vogue, the company released a more adventure-ready version of its Legacy station wagon, effectively splitting the difference between wagon and utility vehicle. A cursory glance at today’s new car offerings will tell you just how ahead-of-its-time that decision was.
Now, some 25 years later, there’s a brand new sixth-generation Subaru Outback on the market, and my, how things have changed. While mechanically the Outback is still little more than a lifted, five-door version of the Legacy, the Outback of today is a true crossover utility vehicle with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and plenty of space and versatility. The newest iteration rides on the Subaru Global Platform, giving it significantly more torsional rigidity than the vehicle it replaces, and like all modern North American Subarus (save for the BRZ), all-wheel drive is standard.
It also has a richer feature set than any previous iteration (go figure), offering Subaru’s first-ever power liftgate as an option and, remarkably, standard Subaru EyeSight driver assistance across all trim levels. EyeSight is a suite encompassing distance-pacing cruise control, automatic lane-centering, lane departure/sway warning, and pre-collision braking.
The Subaru Outback is a hugely important model for the automaker in the North American market. Last year, the Outback represented just over a quarter of the brand’s U.S. sales, at a time when the brand as a whole seems unstoppable.
For the North American market, the Subaru Outback is built at the automaker’s Lafayette, Indiana assembly plant alongside its sedan cousin, the Legacy, as well as the Impreza and Ascent models.
Pros/ Controlled and refined ride / Nicely executed interior / Standard AWD
Cons/More "inoffensive" than "exciting" / One transmission option: a CVT
Bottom Line/The new Outback is a good reminder of how and why Subaru is on such a tear in North America.
Table of contents
Subaru Outback Fuel Economy
However they’ve managed it, Subaru has nailed the trick of making truly fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive systems, and the 2020 Subaru Outback is the latest beneficiary of this know-how. The mid-size crossover manages an impressive 26 mpg combined city/highway in EPA testing with the available 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder, and 29 mpg combined with the naturally aspirated 2.5L engine, from 26 mpg on the city test cycle and 33 highway.
Those figures for the 2.5L are comparable with many FWD compact cars, and the Outback has a full-time AWD system, a higher ride height, and a larger frontal area – a key contributor to aerodynamic drag – to contend with. It just goes to show that an automaker doesn’t need to subscribe to the “downsize and turbocharge” ethos in order to make a fuel-efficient vehicle, *ahem* Ford *ahem*.
But we digress.
Subaru Outback Safety Rating
While the all-new sixth-generation Subaru Outback still hasn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing, the previous iteration of the ever-popular model was a 2019 Top Safety Pick Plus. Its crash test performance was virtually unimpeachable, the Outback earning top marks in every category, including both of the difficult small overlap frontal crash tests. Moreover, the IIHS rated the Outback’s frontal crash prevention system Superior, and the nonprofit even had good things to say about the headlights and LATCH child seat ease-of-use.
There’s a bit of a cliché about Subarus being uncommonly, insanely safe vehicles – one that’s been propagated in the Japanese automaker’s advertising, whether or not they originated the stereotype. As with most clichés, this one does have some empirical evidence to back it up.
Subaru Outback Features
With Subaru being such a safety-forward brand, is it any surprise that advanced active driver assistance features have become a bit of a focal point over the past few years? Subaru EyeSight driver assistance is standard across all Outback trim levels, incorporating distance-pacing cruise control, automatic lane-centering, lane departure and sway warning, pre-collision braking, and pre-collision throttle management under the umbrella of one standardized feature suite. That’s awfully generous when one considers the Outback’s comparatively low starting price in its segment.
Blind spot monitoring with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert is available from the second trim level on up, and higher trims make available additional driver assist features like rear automatic braking, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and DriverFocus distraction mitigation. That last feature sounds cheesy, but it’s pretty revolutionary for how it works. Using infrared cameras and facial recognition software, equipped 2020 Subaru Outback models can monitor for signs of fatigue or distraction, issuing warnings and even bringing the vehicle to a stop if the driver fails to respond to the vehicle’s prompts.
Sidenote: DriverFocus can also recognize who’s behind the wheel, recalling saved settings like climate control preferences and seating/mirror positions depending on who’s driving. It even issues a personalized greeting to the driver.
Other noteworthy available features on the 2020 Subaru Outback include a panoramic moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats, Subaru’s first-ever implementation of a power liftgate, and an 11.6-inch infotainment screen with Subaru Starlink telemetrics, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
Subaru Outback Pricing
Pricing for the 2020 Subaru Outback starts at $26,645 before destination, and for that, you get a decently well-equipped mid-size crossover with Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance suite, Starlink infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen. The next step up, the Premium model, starts at $28,895 before options, and the higher-spec Limited and Touring models will set you back $33,445 and $37,345, respectively.
At the top of the trim hierarchy is the 2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT, which starts at $39,695 before destination and options. At that level, the only available options are bolt-on or drop-in extras – things like extra body cladding, trailer hitches, roof rack solutions, etc. But those can add up to thousands of dollars in additional cost, if you can’t practice sufficient restraint.
Outback Premium $28,895
Outback Limited $33,445
Outback Touring $37,345
Outback Touring XT $39,695
Subaru Outback Competitors
The Subaru Outback’s primary competitors are fellow two-row mid-size utility vehicles from other mass-market brands – vehicles like the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, and Nissan Murano. It’s arguably the best value of the bunch, owing to its low starting MSRP, standard Subaru EyeSight, and excellent fuel economy for its class.
True, the Hyundai Santa Fe does undercut the Outback with regard to starting price, but the difference in fuel economy more than makes up for it – up to 29 mpg combined in the Outback (standard AWD) vs. 25 mpg max. in the Santa Fe (FWD). Even the fuel economy from the Outback’s available turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder is comparatively good, and that engine matches the Murano’s plucky V6 for horsepower and surpasses it in torque.
The Subaru Outback may not feel as “premium” as some of the other vehicles in its segment – notably the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano – but the difference isn’t so great that the Subaru will scare off potential buyers.
2020 Subaru Outback Review
By Craig Cole | Sep 28, 2019
More advanced, refined and capable, the 2020 Subaru Outback is better than ever.
But you should expect nothing less from a vehicle that’s been totally redesigned. This family hauler, which is now in its sixth generation, is new from hood to hatch, once again borrowing heavily from the Legacy four-door as it has since the mid-’90s.
Even though the automaker is keen to call this five-passenger machine a sport utility vehicle, let’s not kid ourselves. Given those sedan roots, it’s really an elevated station wagon, a term that’s, regrettably, been a a dirty word in the mind of consumers for three decades or more.
Goodness Baked Right In
Whatever you feel like calling the latest Outback, it’s much improved in many ways. Providing a bedrock-like foundation is the Subaru Global Platform, which is far stiffer and stronger than the architecture the previous generation was built around. Accordingly, you should expect exemplary refinement and segment-leading crash-test scores, almost certainly a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
But who needs top-notch crashworthiness unless you plan on getting in an accident? I don’t! Still, Subaru’s EyeSight suite of fancy driver-assistance features is standard. This includes things like adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision braking, vehicle distance warning, lane-departure prevention and much more.
Outback buyers are treated to essentially the same cabin as in the Legacy, and that’s not a bad thing. This interior offers ample head- and legroom in both rows, plus the seats are long-haul comfortable. Soft plastics are a-plenty, while stitched leather in higher-end models makes it feel like you didn’t get ripped off.
As for luggage space, you won’t be lacking in this department, either. Fold the back rests flat and you get nearly 76 cubic feet (2,144 liters) of space. Keep ‘em in their upright-and-locked position and there’s a still-generous 32.5 cubes (920 liters). In compliance with EPA testing methods, maximum passenger volume clocks in at up to 109 cubic feet (3,087 liters) in models not fitted with a moonroof.
Other available technology includes in-vehicle Wi-Fi and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Sound system. A Subaru-first power liftgate is also available. With the key fob on your person, just wave an extremity near the badge on the rear hatch and it pops open in about 4.5 seconds, twice as quickly as some rivals. Subaru folks also claim this is an easier gesture than flailing a leg underneath the rear bumper.
The most basic Outback model brandishes two 7-inch touchscreens on the dashboard, but every other version features an enormous 11.6-inch portrait screen. Not only is it bright and colorful, it’s home to the audio, HVAC, vehicle settings and other many other functions. A bonus, the user interface is mostly easy to use even if some of the graphics are a bit cartoonish.
All models save the entry-level one feature heated front buckets with three intensity levels and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. Touring models gain ventilated seats for enhanced comfort in sweltering weather.
Subaru’s innovative DriverFocus distraction-mitigation system is available in the new Outback. As this feature’s name suggests, it keeps track of the motorist’s face via a small camera mounted on the dashboard. If they look away or show signs of drowsiness it can alert them with audio and visual warnings, potentially preventing a crash.
The Outback shares an underlying architecture, technology and an interior with the Legacy, it should be no surprise these two Subarus also have the same powertrains. What a surprise!
But before I get into the details of what’s under the hood, a brief word about trim levels, because it matters. Seven models are offered: Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT.
Understanding the Outback range is important because it indicates what’s under the hood. The first four trims feature a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated boxer four-cylinder engine. It’s good for a class-competitive 182 horses and 176 pound-feet of torque.
Providing a heaping helping of additional giddy-up, XT models are graced with a much more powerful 2.4-liter turbocharged unit that delivers 260 ponies with 277 pounds of twist.
Both engines feature direct fuel injection and run on regular-grade gasoline. Also, they’re both far more refined than Subaru powerplants of yore, which all too often sounded like poorly maintained farm equipment.
The sole transmission offered is a continuously variable automatic. Of course, all-wheel drive is standard across the range. A Subaru without four-corner traction is like an American flag without stars or a pizza sans cheese, unthinkable!
Since CVTs are like pushing on a rope, this vehicle’s maximum tow rating is a rather unimpressive 3,500 pounds (1,588 kg) for XT models. Versions with the base engine can only drag 2,700 (1,225 kg). If you regularly tow or need to schlep large loads there are probably better vehicles out there.
When it comes to fuel consumption, the base engine is rated at 26 miles per gallon city (9.0 l/100 km), 33 highway (7.1) and 29 mpg (8.2) combined. Fortunately, the turbocharged model is not unduly wasteful in comparison. It’s rated at 23 (10.1 l/100 km), 30 (7.9) and 26 (9.1), respectively.
Putting it all in motion, what surprised me most about the 2020 Outback is that it actually seemed better to drive than the Legacy on which it’s based. I have no idea how this is possible, but in nearly every situation it seems more refined and punchier, though, perplexingly, no bigger or heavier. Subaru engineers must have worked some black magic while developing the Outback.
Ride quality is excellent, well controlled over imperfections yet luxury-car supple. Acceleration with the turbocharged engine is nearly instantaneous, hurtling this wagon (or crossover, if you prefer) from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in around 6.5 seconds. Best of all, it moves vigorously from a standstill, exhibiting none of the Legacy’s curious low-rpm sogginess.
The Outback features 8.7 inches of ground clearance, more than enough for moderate off-roading, just don’t expect to tackle Moab or follow a Jeep Wrangler down the Rubicon trail.
Thanks to the use of laminated glass, the 2020 Outback is around 3 decibels quieter on the highway than before. Even when driven at speed on weather-beaten pavement its cabin remains composed.
The transmission has a wider ratio spread than before, also benefitting from NVH and durability improvements. Unfortunately, it’s still not one of my favorite CVTs. It feels a bit indecisive and tends to make the engine drone at times.
Subaru’s all-new, sixth-generation Outback is the perfect station wagon for modern times. It’s roomy and refined, feature laden and safe. About its only downside is its inoffensiveness; don’t expect any thrills here.
Despite all the improvements made to this popular vehicle, pricing has crept up by a mere $300. A base-model starts at a totally reasonable $27,655, including $1,010 for delivery fees. But if you need it all, a top-of-the-line Touring XT model kicks off around $41,000. Look for the 2020 Subaru Outback at dealerships right now.
|Engine /||2.5L 4-cyl / 2.4L turbocharged 4-cyl|
|Horsepower /||182 / 260|
|Torque /||176 lb-ft / 277 lb-ft|
|Transmission /||CVT automatic|
|Drivetrain /||All-wheel drive|
Our Final Verdict
The 2020 Subaru Outback is by no means a radical departure from the iterations that preceded it, but nor does it need to be; the discontinued fifth-generation Outback has been going strong despite its age. While the mid-size crossover competition gets stiffer with each passing year, this new Outback has all the right stuff to thrive in the market. Its thoughtful, generous mix of creature comforts and driver assistance tech, along with its impressive fuel economy, standard all-wheel drive, and low starting price, make it very compelling as a complete package.