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Review update: 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT moves more than I expected

May 4, 2020

It’s hard to imagine a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle that does it all better than a Subaru Outback. If it must carry four adults and a kayak on a regular basis, the Outback makes for an easy choice.

What’s not easy? Picking out the right trim. There are seven trim levels for the 2020 Subaru Outback that range in price from less than $28,000 to more than $40,000.

In many Subaru models, the Premium trim level usually offers the best value among the lineup. You could set your watch to it.

That’s the impression I had after driving the Outback for the first time last year, where we rated it with a 6.8 TCC Rating, and again later in the year during our annual Best Car To Buy 2020 competition.

This year, Subaru offered an Outback Onyx Edition XT for us to follow Meals on Wheels for a day to deliver food to homebound seniors. That day turned into a month, thanks to...well, you know. That trim level was The Car Connection’s Senior Editor Robert Duffer’s pick among the range; it’s the least expensive way to get a more powerful engine, and it includes handsome synthetic leather upholstery that still feels durable enough to go anywhere and do anything.

At $35,905, the Onyx Edition XT costs $6,000 more than the Outback Premium. If the 20% price hike would be worth it, surely I’d find out over a month with the Onyx Edition. Here’s what I learned:

 

Hit: A better powertrain

The biggest difference under the hood of the Onyx Edition XT compared to the Premium is a 2.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 260 horsepower. Outbacks without the “XT” badge use a 2.5-liter flat-4 that make 182 hp, including the Premium version. To be fair, Outback has usually been synonymous with “slow,” and the base engine doesn’t much change that. Tasked with lugging around more than 3,700 pounds, base Outbacks are predictably leisurely, but until this year Subaru hasn’t given shoppers a compelling option otherwise. In prior years, the spend-up engine was a 3.6-liter flat-6 that returned combined mileage somewhere around “lol,” and even asked for premium fuel for many years.

This time around, the 2.4-liter turbo-4 (shared with the bigger Ascent crossover) does better in the Outback. Although its mileage can sink at speeds faster than 70 mph, the Outback Onyx XT is more confident and better to drive—especially around the city when zipping between lanes requires more pep in its first step.

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

 

Miss: The space is the same

While not really a miss, the $35,905 Onyx Edition XT includes the same space as Outbacks that cost less. The Outback is appealing because of its interior space and all-wheel-drive capability, first and second—amenities usually fall far down the list for most buyers. The top trim Outback Touring is a nice place to be and can rival some premium makes in interior quality and amenities, but it’s still just an Outback. Same goes for the Onyx.

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

 

Hit: Going gray, and loving it

The Outback Onyx Edition XT is the only Outback in the range to offer Subaru’s synthetic leather called StarTex. And while it’s not a faux leather sub—it doesn’t have graining similar to other fake leathers and it’s softer—it’s more durable and better looking than the other word I’d normally call it: vinyl. The upholstery is attractive and hard-wearing; a long day on dirt roads for us proved as much. It’s also especially cool in direct sunlight and doesn’t smell after a hot day. Here’s hoping the material makes it into more Subaru vehicles soon.

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

Miss: Too much, touchscreen

Like the Outback Limited, the Outback Onyx gets a vertically oriented tablet-style touchscreen for infotainment. For many shoppers, it’ll be the reason they consider stepping up to a 2020 Outback. Although it’s relatively fast and easy to use, the touchscreen doesn’t replace buttons for ease-of-use and the vertical orientation makes smartphone software like Android Auto or Apple CarPlay an eyesore. What’s more, some items such as the car’s wi-fi hotspot are buried in menus and hard to find.

It may be on-trend, but Subaru’s big touchscreen overcomplicates too many tasks.

 

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

As I waved goodbye to our good deed machine on the banks of the South Platte River outside of Denver, there’s hardly a vehicle that could’ve been a better fit for the time or task.

One in 8 buyers opts for an Onyx XT and it’s easy to see why: it’s a better engine with a better interior at an affordable price. It’d be my pick, too.

Just don’t tell Duffer.

_______________________________________

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

Base price: $36,905, including destination

Price as tested: $36,905, including destination

Drivetrain: 260-hp, 2.4-liter turbo-4; continuously variable automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 23/30/26 mpg

The hits: Great capability, good space, dressy interior

The misses: Confusing touchscreen, 20% upcharge for the same space

2020
The Car Connection
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2020
The Car Connection
 
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