2019 Honda CR-V vs. 2020 Subaru Outback: Compare Crossovers

July 31, 2019
2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

We have love for crossovers. 

We especially love crossovers that can do it all: haul people and gear to the four corners of the planet, comfortably, while charging our phones. Oh, and it better look good too. 

The 2019 Honda CR-V and 2020 Subaru Outback nearly do it all. Both crossovers are mega-sellers for their respective brands; the CR-V is Honda’s best-selling model and the Outback is Subaru’s No. 1 on dealer lots. 

Our scale favors both. The CR-V rates at 6.0 overall, thanks to its comfort and efficiency. The Outback is a 6.4 for now—safety isn’t yet figured into that average, and that score is likely to rise. 

On paper, the Outback wins but it’s closer than the numbers would indicate on the surface.

MORE: Read our 2019 Honda CR-V and 2020 Subaru Outback full reviews

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Style and performance

With the CR-V, Honda has a compact crossover that hits all the compulsory notes, even if we’ve heard them before. The crossover doesn’t strike out in any new, bold directions—there’s a few tones on the front grille that we could do without—but the styling is hardly obtrusive. 

Inside, the CR-V is more cohesive with a straightforward interior that’s spacious and clean. The wing-like dash draws attention to a center-mounted touchscreen and high-mounted shifter. More expensive versions of the CR-V get better materials that look convincingly upmarket. 

The Outback outpoints the CR-V, but not by much. With the 2020 Outback, Subaru has the same shape that has adorned the crossover since it was new in the 1990s. The high-riding wagon is the un-crossover crossover, it’s a wagon on stilts. The exterior has been updated slightly to look like a hiking boot, something Subaru owners know well. 

Inside, the Subaru is conservative like the CR-V. The Outback has sturdy materials that get better with more money, but the interior is dominated by an 11.6-inch touchscreen on most models that will draw plenty of eyeballs and fingers. 

Both Outback and CR-V draw power from 4-cylinder engines with varying output. The base Outback engine is a 2.5-liter flat-4 that makes 182 horsepower, shifted through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that drives all four wheels. It’s eager, although not very powerful, and it shuttles the Outback around town easily. On highways, it can feel breathless, but it's rated to return fuel economy in the low-30s, which extends its range per tank to about 600 miles.

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

The optional turbo-4 in the Outback is a 2.4-liter engine that makes 260 hp and drives the Outback more confidently. It's not significantly thirstier, although the optional turbo-4 is only available on top models for about $4,400 more, including other optional goodies. 

The base engine in the Honda is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 184 hp, shifted through CVT that drives the front or all four wheels when optionally equipped. Its power is adequate, and so is its fuel economy at more than 30 mpg on the highway, but it’s a far cry from the optional 1.5-liter turbo-4 that Honda makes available on most CR-V models. 

That turbo-4 makes 190 hp and returns better fuel economy than the base engine with a combined rating of 30 mpg. It’s more refined than the base engine and settles into long trots easily. 

Both crossovers ride comfortably, but the Outback’s off-road credentials are unparalleled. The Outback easily scrambles up hillsides and two-tracks like a bulky SUV with ease. 

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2019 Honda CR-V

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Comfort, safety, and features

The race between the Outback and CR-V tightens considerably in comfort. 

Both crossovers have seats for up to five grown adults, with more than 30 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. 

The front seats in both offer good views of the road ahead, in part, thanks to lower dashboards. The CR-V’s seats are comfortable for a wide range of body types, with good small-item storage. The Outback’s seats are similarly comfortable, with good thigh support, although there are fewer cubbies and bins nearby. 

In back, three adults will fit across in both versions, although two would be more comfortable for long hauls. 

The rear seats in the CR-V are easily accessible, thanks to wide door cutouts. Once aboard, the CR-V’s seats are supportive and comfortable, with more than 40 inches of leg room for passengers. 

Ditto for the Outback, which has a hair less than 40 inches of leg room, but reclining seats for long-haul comfort. 

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Behind the second row, the Outback offers 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space, down to the CR-Vs 39.5 cubes. With the seats folded, both open up to more than 70 cubes. 

We’ll have to wait for the Outback’s safety scores to declare a winner, but the CR-V sets a high bar. The IIHS rated the CR-V mostly “Good” in all its tests, except for headlights. The Honda received five stars from federal testers. 

The Outback is equipped with standard automatic emergency braking on all models, while Honda offers the life-saving tech on all but base cars. 

Base Outbacks start at about $27,500 and include twin 7.0-inch touchscreens for infotainment and vehicle functions, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, power features and cloth upholstery, two USB charge ports, 17-inch wheels, a split-folding rear seat, and LED headlights. There’s better value in Outback Premium versions, which cost less than $30,000 and adds an 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen for infotainment, two more USB charge ports for rear-seat riders, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and sound-insulating front windows for a quieter cabin.

Base CR-V models cost more than $25,500 and include power windows and locks, alloy wheels, and Bluetooth, but lack a touchscreen for infotainment. 

We see better value in CR-V EX versions that add the stronger turbo engine, a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple and Android compatibility, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, a power moonroof, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Those cost about $28,500 for front-wheel-drive versions, or about $30,000 for all-wheel-drive models. 

In the end, shoppers may do well to consider whether all-wheel drive is necessary. If so, the Outback provides a better value. 

Both crossovers pack a lot into their frames, and that’s something we love too. 

Summary

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Honda CR-V rewards owners with fantastic utility and great safety scores.
6.4
Expert Rating
The 2020 Subaru Outback is more refined than ever and features the same, remarkable off-road capability.

Styling

4.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Honda CR-V prioritizes utility over styling.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
Same goes for the 2020 Subaru Outback.
Read More

Performance

5.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Honda CR-V pairs competent acceleration and handling with a luxury-grade ride.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The base 2020 Outback doesn’t have scads of power, but it doesn’t really need it.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
Great passenger space and a roomy, accessible cargo hold make the 2019 Honda CR-V an excellent crossover SUV choice.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
Hauling people and cargo is where the 2020 Outback shines.
Read More

Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Honda CR-V has received accolades from crash-testers and most models have lots of safety gear.
Read More
No crash-test data yet exists for the 2020 Outback.
Read More

Features

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2019 Honda CR-V offers a lot of crossover for the money, as long as you skip the stingy base model.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The 11.6-inch touchscreen may draw stares, but the Outback’s value should draw smiles.
Read More

Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
With its thrifty 4-cylinder engines, the 2019 Honda CR-V is a miserly compact crossover SUV.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
Most versions of the Outback will manage close to 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA.
Read More

MSRP

from $24,350
from N/A

Invoice

from $22,869
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

28

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.4 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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