The redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback comes with a new Onyx Edition XT trim level to give shoppers even more confusion—I mean options. With seven trims now, and a host of standard safety equipment ranging from all-wheel drive to automatic emergency braking, the erstwhile wagon has grown into a mid-size SUV satisfying needs ranging from safe, comfy family hauling to genuine off-road capability.
The Onyx trim bridges luxury-leaning conveniences with off-road assertiveness. It splits the middle of the lineup, building off the Premium trim that we recommended for overall value in awarding the 2020 Subaru Outback a strong TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10. It was a finalist for our Best Car to Buy 2020 award for good reason.
After a week running domestic errands more than running any trails in the Outback Onyx, my appreciation for it endured. When a flat tire threatened to sideline the loan, I appreciated it even more.
Hit: Full-size spare tire
With 18-inch black alloy wheels, a 180-degree front camera, and a dual X-Mode function with snow, dirt and mud settings, the Onyx XT is meant for longer, deeper jaunts off-road. That’s why it’s the only Outback with a full-size spare tire.
It’s the kind of thing you don’t appreciate until you need it, and even though I didn’t go deep into the woods, I picked up enough flack in my suburban streets to need it. After a half-hour inconvenience changing the spare, and dislodging a metal shard the size of a thumbnail, I was going down the road not feeling bad. A donut spare or inflator kit would’ve sidelined the Outback to a service center or tire shop.
Hit: Aggressive in the streets, refined in the seats
In addition to bigger black wheels, the Onyx lives up to its name with black mirrors, black badging, and all the black cladding that helps define the Outback.
The interior is the only Outback with water-repellent fabric Subaru calls StarTex; it’s a cross between synthetic leather and vinyl. Dirt doesn’t cling to it, and coming in from the rain or the beach doesn’t make you regret it. The gray on black contrast with lime green stitching looks and feels good, too. Other amenities include power-adjustable heated front and rear outboard seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, the EyeSight suite of driver-assist features including blind-spot monitors, and the centerpiece of the interior, an 11.6-inch touchscreen.
Miss: Busy touchscreen
The vertical orientation of the touchscreen mimics a tablet, and it’s more streamlined than Subaru’s old two-screen setup with one screen embedded deep in the dash. Volume and tuning knobs, as well as climate control buttons flank the screen, and it’s a relief because the screen is too busy. There are essentially three stacked quadrants with little deviation to set them apart.
The best feature is a huge map display that can occupy most of the space. Pressing on the lower quadrant expands the climate controls, and the top quadrant is a status bar. There are some cool features hidden deep in the main screen, such as driver profiles, a display showing the activated safety features, and apps like Waze integrated from a smartphone. The busyness of the levels makes it distracting for the driver, however, so it’s best left for the passenger.
Miss: Apple CarPlay integration
Based on the stacked vertical layout, the display for Apple CarPlay is limited to the middle part of the screen, at maybe seven inches wide. It looks tiny, and the buttons on the left bar barely fit a pinky fingertip. The upside is you can still use the main menu bar at the top and the climate controls at the bottom.
The tester came with the $1,845 Option Package 22 with navigation, sunroof, and reverse automatic braking. If you’re familiar with Waze and are indifferent to sunroofs, I’d skip it.
Hit: Uprated engine
All XT models come with a 260-horsepower 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4 instead of the 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-4 best described as sleepy in other Outbacks. Also used on the Ascent three-row SUV, the turbo-4 provides a punchy alternative to get around and out of town and get to the trail quicker. The old flat-6 sucked up more gas than Subaru’s eco-friendly image could swallow, so the new turbo-4 is an efficient but potent addition.
The Onyx XT starts on the higher end of the Outback lineup at about $36,000; the Premium model for $30,000 still gets the nod for the best value, but for a stronger engine, more off-road capability, and a full-size spare tire that lets you keep on trucking, the Onyx is a winner.
2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT
Base price: $35,905, including $1,010 destination
Price as tested: $37,995
Drivetrain: 260-hp 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-4; continuously variable automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 23/30/26 mpg
The hits: Full-size spare tire, capable engine, rugged looks
The misses: Muddled touchscreen, skip the Option Package 22