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.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Subaru Legacy Review – VIDEO
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.
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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.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Subaru Forester Review – VIDEO
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.
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