- Capable as ever
- Big 11.6-inch touchscreen
- A roomy interior
- Excellent safety record
- Rides very well
- Careful styling
- Moderate acceleration from base engine
- Needs more small-item storage
features & specs
The 2021 Subaru Outback hangs on to its remarkably rugged stance as it grows more refined than ever.
Change may have swept over other crossover SUVs in the form of hybrid powertrains or cutting-edge looks, but the 2021 Subaru Outback is content to stay the same. Why not? It’s a winning formula of wagon room, flat-4 power, and an enviable reputation for safety and durability.
With almost no changes to its different versions—Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT—this year, the 2021 Subaru Outback earns a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The body’s meant to resemble a hiking boot; the cockpit’s a plusher, quieter rendition of the crossovers of the moment, and some of the recent past. It’s not that the Subaru Outback looks out of date, or overly familiar—it’s that it doesn’t need to look any different. What you see is what you get, and that stands for its tall ride height, its efficiently drawn figure, and a better-finished cockpit that looks worth the $40,000 it can command.
Outbacks tap flat-4 engines for power, and the base 182-horsepower engine’s fine for the frugal thinkers who tend to buy Subarus anyway. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive ship power to the four corners of the car for supreme traction, no matter the engine, and Subaru’s swell chassis tuning ensures a composed ride, no matter if it’s over crushed stone or old railroad ties or temporary plates that cover potholes. Yes, there’s a 260-hp turbo-4 on the order sheet, but it’s the kind of extravagance we’d save for something lower, sleeker, and less likely to wear a permanent coat of dog hair.
The Outback carries four to five adults with ease, though three big people in the second row will elbow each other for room. The bench seat folds down to flex from more than 30 cubic feet to more than 75 cubic feet of cargo space—which Subaru, of course, lets owners modify with rubber linings, pet fences and crates, and the like. It’s a brand with a built-in dog whistle.
Subaru applies automatic emergency braking to every Outback, along with adaptive cruise and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors can be fitted to most models, too. For $27,845 the base Outback comes with all-wheel drive, cloth seats, power features, and twin touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Spend a little more to get a Premium, which gains the tall 11.6-inch touchscreen, more USB ports, a power driver seat, and heated front seats, and you’ll spend only about $30,000—a great value by any metric, including the actual metric system.
2021 Subaru Outback
The 2021 Outback reaches for the familiar.
If you can tell the difference between the last Subaru Outback and this newer one, you’re keener of the eye than most drivers. Subaru didn’t change much when it restyled the Outback’s rugged body for the 2020 model year, and hasn’t changed it at all this year. It’s easy to recognize, neither dramatic nor dramatically offensive. It’s a 5.
Subaru stamps the Outback’s wagon profile with a few interesting details, such as the trim LED headlights, and gray body cladding. The sills that run down the side of the car are meant to evoke a hiking boot, and the wagon’s clean...out back.
Inside the Outback, Subaru stacks touchscreen space vertically, giving the swoopy but standard-issue cockpit a new look. Like the Legacy, the screens sit atop a shifter console that echoes the same shape, which makes the center controls more of a wall dividing front passengers than ever before. Base versions look fine, but spend extra for leather and the Outback earns back more of the nearly $40,000 price tag it wears.
2021 Subaru Outback
Base Outbacks post moderate performance, but it’s all you need.
You haven’t read this far because you’d like a Cayenne or a G-Class, so performance matters—but maybe not that much. That’s why we’ll let you in on the secret: All you need is an Outback with the base engine. It rides and handles well enough to forgive the base car’s moderate pace, and it’s a bargain. Equipped as such, we give the Outback a 6 here.
The Outback shares its standard 182-hp 2.5-liter flat-4 with the Forester. With 176 lb-ft of torque shipped to all four wheels through a CVT, it’s not breathtakingly quick. It tips in quickly from a stop, but it’ll take about nine seconds to hit 60 mph—a figure Mustang owners would have been thrilled by in the late 1990s. It does so without the rubber-band feeling CVTs get a bad rap for; Subaru’s version has simulated gear changes and the Outback has the sound deadening to damp the noise CVTs make when they keep an engine working in the middle of the powerband.
The powerful, responsive 260-hp 2.4-liter turbo-4 comes from the Ascent, and costs extra on Limited and Touring Outbacks (it’s standard on the Onyx). It’s lower on fuel economy—26 mpg combined, versus 29 mpg—but it’s more than competent at highway merging, and requires less planning to execute two-lane passes.
Subaru tunes its suspensions for vastly different kinds of roads, paved and unpaved. The Outback masters them all. With its front struts and rear multilink setup, it corners flat but doesn’t pair that with a punishing ride, even though its ground clearance checks in at a high 8.7 inches. Light steering is a little too quick on public roads, and the brake pedal feel could be tuned for more progressive response, but it’s hard to argue when the Outback can take a left turn off tarmac and keep a brisk pace on logging trails or lumpy, muddy unimproved streets. It’s an off-road superstar for the kind of off-roading most people do, and that means it has few rivals in the crossover-SUV realm.
2021 Subaru Outback
Comfort & Quality
The Outback strikes the sweet spot between comfort and utility.
The latest Outback makes yet another gradual step forward in interior refinement and in cabin comfort. It’s still more prosaic than palatial, and comes close to carrying five adults in long-distance comfort—but sticks the landing on seat comfort and on cargo space. It’s an 8 here.
Subaru fits the Outback with nicely bolstered front seats that come trimmed in cloth in base models. Leather upholstery costs more, of course, and so do heated and cooled seats and finer nappa hides. We liked the durable-looking cloth well enough, and appreciated the softer textured material applied to the upper dash. Subaru’s not known for luxury touches, but the Outback no longer has penalty-grade black plastic. Small-item storage needs small improvements; the glove box is low, and the passenger-side phone bin needs a rubber liner.
With wide rear doors and reclining seatbacks, the rear bench seat offers comfortable long-distance space for 6-footers—a pair of them, at least. Head room is better than in the slightly more sensual Legacy sedan, but the duo aren’t quite wide enough to host three adults across the back seat for long trips.
Behind them the Outback can host 32.5 cubic feet of cargo, which rises to more than 75 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down to create a low, nearly flat load floor behind the wide tailgate opening. Roof racks and tie-down points round out the Outback’s outdoorsy vibe.
2021 Subaru Outback
The Outback has an excellent safety track record.
Subaru fits the Outback with lots of standard safety technology, and preps it for excellent crash-test performance. It’s a 9 here; it misses out on a single point since over-the-shoulder outward vision isn’t great.
The IIHS calls the Outback a Top Safety Pick+, and the NHTSA gives it five stars overall. Every Outback comes with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control, as well as all-wheel drive. Blind-spot monitors are widely available where not standard, and the Outback can be fitted with a front-facing camera for better parking vision.
2021 Subaru Outback
The Outback’s most important feature is value.
Subaru sells the 2021 Outback in seven different versions—base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT—but the best deals come at the lower end of the price range. It’s so well-equipped, even in base trim, we don’t see much reason to spend more. With its value, standard gear, and touchscreens, it’s an 8 here—only because the options list is average, along with the warranty.
Base $27,845 Outback SUVs get power features, cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, and twin 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
We suggest you spend a little more for the $30,095 Premium, which adopts a tall 11.6-inch touchscreen to replace the two smaller ones. It’s clear and sharp, but it puts some vehicle functions on a low band across the screen, and squashes CarPlay and Android services into a narrow part of the screen. Premiums also get a power driver seat, heated front seats, more sound insulation, and dual-zone climate control, with options for navigation, a sunroof, blind-spot monitors, and a power tailgate.
The $40,995 Outback Touring XT tops the range with the turbo-4 engine, a front-view camera, cooled front seats, and nappa leather upholstery. It’s as close as Subaru gets to luxury; if you’re just looking for the uprated engine, choose the $36,195 Onyx XT, which also wears blacked-out body trim, and sharp, durable vinyl interior that’s not only soft but also Saturday-ready.
2021 Subaru Outback
The Outback earns strong EPA ratings.
Without any hybrid or electrified options, the Subaru Outback still scores swell EPA ratings. The agency gives the base flat-4 Outback the nod at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined. We call that a 5 for green. With the turbo-4, it’s rated lower, at 23/30/26 mpg.