Drive: Subaru’s 2020 Outback features new tech in a familiar style
The Subaru Outback, redesigned for 2020, just keeps getting bigger, beefier and better. How much bigger? The Outback debuted in the 1995 model year as a diminutive wagon, weighing in at just 2,990 pounds, and powered by a 135-horsepower boxer engine. Our latest test car, a 2020 Outback Limited XTJ, has nearly double the horsepower of the original and weighs just short of a half-ton more. Yet luggage capacity is actually less for 2020 — 32.5 cubic feet, compared with 36.1 cubic feet in 1995.
Such comparisons reflect more on consumer preferences than automaker conceits, but it’s worth noting that our big, high-powered 2020 Outback beats the little ’95 model by 4 mpg in the fuel-economy category. It’s rated at 23 mpg city, 30 highway. Choosing the smaller, non-turbo, 182-horsepower engine bumps fuel economy to as much as 26/33.
What really sets the redesigned Outback apart from its ancestors — including those of more recent vintage — is its constantly improving refinement. The 2020 Outback rides more smoothly and quietly than any Subaru we’ve driven, with the possible exception of the larger Ascent SUV, now in its third full year in the U.S. market.
Although redesigned, the 2020 model is instantly recognizable as an Outback, with familiar styling cues and badges. One change that stands out is the giant 11.6-inch Subaru Starlink infotainment and climate-control screen. Despite its somewhat daunting size, we didn’t have any trouble finding and manipulating the various controls. It’s reminiscent of the giant screens found in Tesla models.
We get the point about the lane-keep-assist feature available on Subarus and most other vehicles, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Our objection to the Lane Keep Assist is its habit of nudging the car toward the center of its lane, rather than simply using buzzers or rumbles to inform the driver he’s off target. The nudge gives the impression the car is wandering, perhaps because of pools of water (during rainstorms), road imperfections, or even steering-system malfunctions. The driver does have the option of turning off the lane-keep-assist feature.
One of the Outback’s strengths is couched in its name. This is a vehicle that can handle rough terrain with the best of them (excepting, of course, the Jeep Wrangler). With 8.7 inches of road clearance and Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive, it’s more than ready for off-road adventuring.
There’s lots of competition in the midsize SUV sector, with automakers seemingly creating new sectors every year. Subaru itself is fully in the game, with the subcompact Crosstrek, compact Forester and the full-sized Ascent supplementing the Outback. Base prices range from $22,245 for the Crosstrek to $32,295 for the Ascent. Our loaded Outback had a sticker price of $38,755.
2020 Subaru Outback Limited XT/LTJ
Engine: 2.4-liter boxer Four, 260 horsepower, 277 lb.-ft.torque
Transmission: continuously variable with 8-speed manual mode
Ground clearance: 8.7 in.
Weight: 3,926 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Wheels: 18x7-in. aluminum alloy, black with machine finish
Tires: 225/60R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 32.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 75.7 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2020 Outback a Top Safety Pick Plus, and the car scored five stars across the board in government crash tests.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.