What is it?
2020 Subaru Outback First Drive
Wagon Looks Aside, the Outback Is One of the Best Midsize SUVs Money Can Buy
The Outback is Subaru's two-row midsize crossover SUV. It's broadly similar to Subaru's Forester in terms of capability but is a little bigger and has more of a wagon-like profile. This redesigned 2020 Outback features updated styling, two new engines, more high-tech safety equipment, and more upscale interior appointments.
Why does it matter?
Is the Outback a wagon with SUV-like capability, or is it an SUV with wagon-like styling? That question is still hard to answer. Either way, we're fond of the Outback and its versatile nature. It's comfortable and well-stocked with features, making it an ideal family vehicle. It's also one of the better choices in its class for going off-road or loading up recreational gear.
What does it compete with?
One of the Outback's most appealing rivals is the all-new Honda Passport, which is comfortable, quiet, refined, and decently capable off-road. The Outback also has to go up against well-rounded competitors such as the Ford Edge and the Hyundai Santa Fe. Toyota's 4Runner is another possible choice if you are seeking even more rugged off-road ability.
How does it drive?
The Outback's standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine provides 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. Power is up slightly compared to last year, but passing maneuvers and freeway merges still take some planning. The main advantage here is fuel economy. Subaru expects this engine to get 33 mpg on the highway.
Want more power? The new optional turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder is where it's at. A replacement for the previous six-cylinder, this engine puts out 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It revs quickly and imbues the Outback with impressively quick acceleration.
Both engines come standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Subaru has done a nice job tuning the CVT automatic, too. The typical CVT downsides of an elastic-style power delivery and a droning engine during hard acceleration are largely absent here.
When driving around turns, this Outback is downright nimble, changing direction quickly and precisely. The steering wheel is well-weighted and feels robust in your hands. Handling capabilities are among the best you'll find in this class of vehicle.
Off-road, the Outback is just as trail-friendly as it has ever been. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel-drive system mean that gravel and dirt roads are no issue. You can even take on the tougher stuff by using the Outback's X-Mode system that operates hill descent control and selectable traction-control modes for snowy or muddy conditions.
The Outback isn't as rugged as a traditional SUV such as the 4Runner or Jeep Grand Cherokee, but there are few campsites that it can't reach.
What's the interior like?
On the inside, the Outback is nicer than ever thanks to higher-quality materials, especially in the upper trim levels, and new features. The cabin is comfortable and spacious for five adults.
The centerpiece of the dashboard is an optional 11.6-inch center touchscreen that is one of the best-looking setups in the business. Some owners will dislike having to use the finicky touchscreen controls for the climate control system, but it's unlikely to be a deal-breaker. Plus, if you don't like the buttons, you can control most functions with the Outback's voice control system. It allows you to change the climate settings, the radio station, navigation or whatever else your heart desires just by pressing a steering-wheel button and then speaking a command.
For safety features, there are all sorts of driver aids such as blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, lane centering, and adaptive cruise control. There's even a Driver Focus system that monitors your eyes to see if you're getting drowsy or not paying enough attention to the road. The same system can recognize and store settings for up to five drivers and adjust the seat and interior settings merely by scanning the driver's face. In our limited testing, we've found the Driver Focus system works very well.
How practical is it?
Although the Outback isn't as tall as some top rivals, it still has abundant headroom and legroom. Cargo space is also abundant thanks to a low load floor and a wide hatchback opening for loading big items. There is 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. When you fold them down, you get 75.7 cubes in the back.
What else should I know?
The 2020 Outback is impressive, but there are a few drawbacks worth noting. The sporty nature means that the Outback, especially in XT trim, has a bit of a bumpy ride. It's not unbearable, but there are midsize SUVs (such as the Passport and the Santa Fe) that are smoother-riding over broken surfaces. Also, inside the cabin, there is a considerable amount of road noise from underneath. At highway speeds, things just aren't peaceful — you'll need to turn on the stereo to drown out the low hum coming from the tires.
The 2020 Outback is all-new but it sticks with a winning formula. It is practical on the inside, fuel-efficient, and full of standard and optional safety features. With the two new engines, it has enough power to scoot around curvy back roads or quickly match speeds during a freeway merge. And with the optional turbo engine, it can feel downright sporty while doing it. If you're in the market for a midsize SUV, consider the all-new 2020 Subaru Outback a top contender.