2020 Subaru Outback

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2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
November 26, 2019

Buying tip

The Outback Premium offers the best value with creature comforts and outstanding ability off-road.

The 2020 Subaru Outback is more refined than ever and features the same, remarkable off-road capability.

The more things stay the same, the more things change.

This year’s 2020 Subaru Outback does its best to convince shoppers that it’s the same crossover utility again on looks alone. Don’t be fooled. 

This year’s Outback is new with updated powertrains and infotainment, and more usable cargo room. The little changes made a big difference.

Review continues below

What didn’t change? The Outback is still immensely capable and a remarkable value. We don’t mind either. 

Our 6.7 overall rating here lacks safety scores factored in, which Subaru has excelled at in the past. We expect our score to rise. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Style and performance

The 2020 Outback lightly revised the ingredients but didn’t change the recipe for the Subaru wagon’s success. It’s still a tall wagon with tough cladding underneath. Designers aimed for a hiking boot look with the new Outback by adding subtle flourishes and chunky side panels. Mission accomplished? 

The inside is dominated by a big 11.6-inch touchscreen in most models, with a comfortable and wash-and-ready interior that’s ready for adventure. 

Under the hoods of most Outbacks will be a 2.5-liter flat-4 that makes 182 horsepower, borrowed from the Forester. It’s paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive as standard equipment. It’s just enough power—but not any more. 

An uprated 2.4-liter turbo-4 lifted from the Ascent is optional on top trims and is less thirsty than the flat-6 it replaces. Its 260 hp is not only more powerful for mountain passes, it’s also more approachable with a better throttle tune than the base car. 

Regardless of what’s underhood, the Outback’s gift is incredible off-road capability and composure. The Subaru wagon has 8.7 inches of ground clearance and we used every inch of it in California’s “Lost Coast.” We scrambled up rocks that would make Jeep owners flinch, barrelled down two tracks without worry, and waded through water more than a foot deep. Yeah, it can. 

Comfort, safety and features

The Outback holds up to five adults with relative ease, with more than 30 cubic feet of cargo storage space behind them. 

The front seats get good bolsters with ample thigh support, the rear seats recline slightly for long-distance comfort. Shoulder room could be an issue for some, lumberjacks should call “shotgun” quickly. 

Fold the second row down and the Outback opens up more than 70 cubic feet of cargo room, enough for all the bags, dogs, trail gear, and tents we could find. Standard roof racks are where the canoes and bicycles will live. 

Every Outback is equipped with life-saving emergency tech including automatic emergency braking and airbags. Active lane control and adaptive cruise control are standard, too, and both are improved over prior iterations. Blind-spot monitors and forward-facing cameras are spend-up extras. 

Base Outbacks cost less than $28,000 and include twin 7.0-inch touchscreens for infotainment and vehicle functions, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, power features, Bluetooth connectivity, all-wheel drive, cloth upholstery, two USB charge ports, 17-inch wheels, a split-folding rear seat, and LED headlights. One step up to an Outback Premium nets an 11.6-inch touchscreen, 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—it’s a value at less than $30,000.

5

2020 Subaru Outback

Styling

Same goes for the 2020 Subaru Outback.

Subaru’s designers didn’t strike out in a new direction for the new 2020 Outback. Few people may notice the differences between this version and last year’s. 

But few cars are as instantly recognizable on the road as an Outback. If it ain’t broke...and so on. The Outback is a 5 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The new Outback wears stacked LED fog lights on most models, and its gray body cladding rises a little higher on the nose. Along the sides, the Outback saves most of its flair for the bottom of the car, which was deliberately designed to look like the tread on a hiking boot. The Outback skips swoopy rooflines, or boxy SUV tones for more of the same. 

Ditto on the inside where, aside from the 11.6-inch touchscreen, the Outback is largely the same as the outgoing version. The center stack doesn’t have its low-positioned “key garage” anymore—it’s been replaced by two USB charge ports and a thin bin. 

The cowl is lower than the outgoing version, and Subaru’s small vehicle display is now integrated to the touchscreen. It’s a boon to outward vision and a cleaner look.

Review continues below
6

2020 Subaru Outback

Performance

The base 2020 Outback doesn’t have scads of power, but it doesn’t really need it.

This year’s exceptional Outback powertrain doesn’t play well with our rules. 

A new turbo-4 replaces last year’s thirsty flat-6 and it should bode well for high-altitude buyers. However, our rating applies to the base 2.5-liter flat-4, which makes 182 horsepower, shifted through a CVT power all four wheels. The power is adequate. The capability? Outstanding. It’s a 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Although earlier versions of the Outback used a similarly sized engine, the 2020 Outback’s version is new. It’s borrowed from this year’s Forester and makes 176 lb-ft of torque. 

The engine feels perkier than it is: Subaru’s throttle tip-in is quick, the pedal jumps from zero to 30 percent in a heartbeat, launching the Outback confidently off the line. 

Physics and weight follow closely behind and bring the Outback’s 0-60 mph time back to reality quickly, it still takes about 9 seconds to accelerate up to highway speeds. 

The Outback’s CVT isn’t to blame either. The transmission skips the rubber-band feeling for smooth, confident simulated shifts when the driver’s foot is really in it, and settles nicely when the Outback is on a long lope. Among CVTs from other automakers, Subaru has the most confident and responsive. 

An optional 260-hp 2.4-liter turbo-4 that’s borrowed from the Ascent is new in the Outback XT, and it costs $2,350 on Outback Limited and Touring models. (It’s the only engine available for Onyx Edition Outbacks.)

The turbo-4 replaces the 3.6-liter flat-6 from last year, which was very thirsty. Subaru estimates that 1 in 4 buyers will opt for the uprated engine, we suggest 4 out of 4 buyers above 6,000 feet opt for the engine. The XT mortgages a few mpg in the name of better performance—the XT rates 23 mpg combined versus the 2.5-liter’s 29 mpg combined. 

The XT’s throttle isn’t as nervous compared to the regular engine, which we welcomed. In our limited drives of the XT, it pulled off more competent passes at highway speeds and required less attention than the base engine on the pavement. 

Take a hard right off the beaten path and every version of the Outback becomes an off-road superstar. The Outback has few rivals among crossovers for off-road performance, and it’s as capable as nearly all butch SUVs, too. 

Front struts and rear double wishbones are complemented by superlative suspension tuning and chassis stiffness that transcends any perceived weakness in the powertrain. Put simply: The Subaru Outback can nearly go anywhere, comfortably. 

We have our niggles, too: The steering is too light and too quick, and the Outback’s brake pedal isn’t very progressive. 

There’s very little nosedive in hard braking, however. And the Outback is mostly flat around corners, despite its 8.7 inches of ground clearance and tall wagon stance. That’s all supporting evidence for how effective engineers were in tuning the Outback’s chassis. 

Review continues below
8

2020 Subaru Outback

Comfort & Quality

Hauling people and cargo is where the 2020 Outback shines.

Older Outbacks were less comfortable than the canoes riding on top. Not anymore. 

The new 2020 Outback is another step for Subaru toward modern, comfortable interiors in their cars; an upgrade over the prior generations, take our word. 

Starting from an average score, it gets points above average for comfortable front and rear seats and a spacious cargo area. Other cars do comfort better, but those other cars are called luxury cars and they cost more than $30,000 to start. The Outback’s an 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Most Outbacks will be shod in convincingly durable cloth interiors that are handsome and hardy. The front seats have adequate bolsters for a range of body types and ample thigh support for long hauls to the trailhead. The soft upper dash is a step up for Subaru, textured plastics of years past are mostly gone now. If we have a gripe, it’s in interior storage. The glove box opens a little too low for adults to reach in without splaying their legs, the passenger-side phone holder is harder plastic that rattles if the phone vibrates in it, and an optional CD player in the center console eats into the available room. Door pockets and cupholders? On point, though. 

The rear seats gently recline and wide door cutouts should make loading children in and out a breeze (but we haven’t yet fitted a car seat into one, stay tuned). There’s enough leg room for 6-footers to sit behind other 6-footers, and head room will only be an issue for the longest torsos. We wouldn’t fuss in the back seat of the Subaru for long—it’s bright and airy and comfortable for two. Three adults with swimmer builds may ask for more shoulder room, so don’t invite the 400-meter medley relay on a cross-country road trip without a dry fit first. 

With the rear seats up, the Outback swallows 32.5 cubic feet of cargo, which is down from prior years despite a bigger Outback this year. Why? Subaru says it’s due to changes in official testing for more accurate real-world figures. 

Grab the door handle-like grips in the cargo area and pull to fold the second row and that space opens up to more than 75 cubic feet. The load floor is low, wide, and flat, and the hatch cutout is very wide, which is a boon to loading and unloading gear. 

Like prior Outbacks, the new model adds roof racks with tie-down points ready for kayaks. 

Review continues below
8

2020 Subaru Outback

Safety

The 2020 Outback with standard active safety features is one of the safest vehicles on the roads.

The 2020 Outback is equipped with standard active safety features and is rated as a Top Safety Pick from IIHS for crashworthiness. It earns an 8 for safety, and we expect it to earn a five-star rating from the NHSTA (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Outback is equipped with eight airbags, including side-curtain airbags for rear passengers. The Outback’s frame is new, too. Subaru’s added more high-strength steel and reinforcements for small-overlap crash protection, which simulates hitting a smaller object such as a light pole, and for a newly developed federal test that offsets a moving object that crashes into the front of the car. It earned top "Good" ratings in all six crash tests performed by the IIHS, as well as "Superior" rating in crash avoidance systems, which resulted in a Top Safety Pick award. 

Every Outback is equipped with active safety features that include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. The latter uses new software and sensors and better tracks into the center of the lane, without much pinballing. It’s improved over the first iterations of Subaru’s active lane control, and among the best at its price.

Review continues below
8

2020 Subaru Outback

Features

The 11.6-inch touchscreen may draw stares, but the Outback’s value should draw smiles.

Closet cheapskates, fire up your calculators. 

The 2020 Outback begs scrutiny by deal-finders, penny-pinchers, frugal-enthusiasts, affordable-aficionados, and their ilk. 

Subaru offers the Outback in base, Premium, Limited, and Touring specifications that hardly skimp on features. Every Outback gets active safety features, a generous touchscreen for infotainment, power features, Bluetooth connectivity, all-wheel drive, and cloth upholstery for about $27,500 to start. We give it points for good base features, another for the touchscreen (more in a minute), and one more for its value relative to competitors. It’s an 8. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base Outback isn’t bad but it doesn’t offer many options. It’s equipped with twin 7.0-inch touchscreens for infotainment and vehicle functions, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. In addition to power features and cloth upholstery, the base Outback is equipped with two USB charge ports, 17-inch wheels, a split-folding rear seat, and LED headlights. 

We’d be happy with an Outback Premium, which costs less than $30,000 to start, 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. Keyless ignition, navigation, blind-spot monitors, a power liftgate, and moonroof are on the options list. 

The top Outback Touring gets a driver attention monitor, a front-view camera, nappa leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, and cooled front seats. With the base engine, the Outback Touring costs about $38,400. The uprated engine, which is available on Outback Limited and Touring wagons adds $2,350 to the bottom line. An Onyx edition adds blacked-out trim, the uprated engine, and is equipped similarly to the Outback Premium, costs less than $36,000. 

Outback infotainment

One of the biggest changes for the 2020 Outback is its 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment, which is standard on every Outback except base models. 

The tablet-style touchscreen is clear and sharp and doesn’t fade in the sunlight. It’s equipped with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, but we have mixed feelings. The presentation for both smartphone systems is small and takes up less than half of the touchscreen. The information presented below the smartphone systems is mostly redundant, and we say the best way to use your phone is via Bluetooth connection. 

The home screen is filled with easy-to-read icons and simple buttons for climate control along the bottom (although it’s not immediately clear in Outback Touring models how to activate the cooled seats). Vehicle information, weather, and other display functions are along a swipeable strip at the top. 

Sometimes long, deliberate presses are needed to launch apps, zoom in, or flip through radio stations. When equipped, the TomTom navigation system reminds us that there’s no substitute for a distraction-free, front-seat passenger with a smartphone and cell reception. 

For Subaru diehards who’ve used the automaker’s 7.0- and 8.0-inch touchscreens before, the 11.6-inch touchscreen won’t be a radical departure. If you haven’t been in a Subaru for a while, welcome to the future. 

But we caution against expecting an iPad experience in your new Outback—it’s not as responsive. 

Review continues below
5

2020 Subaru Outback

Fuel Economy

Most versions of the Outback will manage close to 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

The 2020 Subaru Outback doesn’t need hybrid batteries for good fuel economy.

The EPA rates the 2020 Outback when equipped with a 2.5-liter flat-4 at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined. That’s good enough for a 5 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The optional 2.4-liter turbo-4 doesn’t ask for much more fuel for its extra power. It rates 23/30/26 mpg. 

Our initial drive of the Outback equipped with a base engine netted an average of 28.7 mpg combined, although much of the drive was low-speed, off-road detail where fuel consumption rises. 

All Outbacks are equipped with all-wheel drive. 

Whether you consider the Outback to be a wagon or crossover, it’s fuel-efficient without a hybrid powertrain. The EPA ratest the Buick Regal TourX at 24 mpg combined, or the Volvo V60 at 27 mpg combined—both wagons there. The Hyundai Santa Fe crossover rates 25 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and the base engine, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee rates 21 mpg combined in its most efficient form on sale. 

Review continues below
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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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6.7
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 5
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
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2020 Subaru Outback Pricing Insights

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