Subaru Outback — New and refined

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Subaru customers are some of the most loyal on the planet. And loyalty to the iconic Outback — the vehicle that arguably lifted the Japanese brand into the mainstream nearly three decades ago — enjoys a good portion of this loyalty. Today the all-new 2020 Outback will not disappoint. It represents an impressive leap forward in virtually all categories including styling, performance, ride and handling, and technology and safety.

Subaru officials accurately predicted the future when in 1995 they created an "outdoor" option package for the Legacy station wagon with a raised suspension for more ground clearance to go along with its all-wheel drive configuration and added protective body cladding. It was renamed the Outback, and was considered a refined sports utility vehicle.

Now built on the Subaru Global Platform, which provides increased safety, dynamics and quietness as well as reduced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), the sixth-generation Outback is available in seven trim levels — Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT models.

The highlights of the new Outback include a new 2.4-liter direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine — the first turbocharged engine since 2009 — and an 11.6-inch tablet-style interface for the infotainment system. Exterior styling has been advanced and on the inside, at first glance, you might think you’re viewing a luxury crossover by mistake.

Outback’s long-running six-cylinder engine is now history, but we found the new engine energetic at all speeds and it proved very adept at passing slow-moving traffic and confidently merging into the fast lane.

The new engine produces 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at just 2,000 rpm. It can be found in the three upper trim levels and we highly recommend it to get the most out of the Outback. Performance as well as gas mileage is improved over the outgoing six-cylinder. The turbocharged engine has been measured at 6.6 seconds from 0-to-60 mated to a continuously variable transmission, and is EPA-rated at 23 mpg city, 30 highway and 26 combined. Last year's 3.6-liter six was rated at 20-27-22.

For those interested in towing weekend toys, the turbocharged engine is rated at 3,500 pounds. It also comes with an easy-loading roof rack that can handle 700 pounds. Cargo capacity is a generous 75.7 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded and 32.5 cubic feet with all seats in place.

The base engine also gets the job done for those buyers who want to save money at the outset as well as a few dollars at the gas pump. The standard naturally aspirated 2.5-liter Boxer engine with direct injection and nearly 90 percent of its parts new, delivers 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Gas mileage is rated at 26 mpg city 33 highway and 29 combined. We did not drive the smaller engine.

As noted the interior of the new Outback is impressive — relatively quiet at all speeds — roomy and comfortable. All Outbacks except the base model get the big, impressive tablet screen. Subaru uses two separate processors to keep response times quick — one controls the media functions and the other deals with climate. If you are used to an iPad or other tablet device, you should have no problem operating the Outback interface.

Thankfully, the Outback retains knobs for volume and tuning as well as physical controls for adjusting temperature. Users must go into the screen to get some climate controls, however, such as fan speed. Also, some vehicle controls such as off-road driving modes, are buried in the tablet menu.

The base model starts at $27,655 including a $1,010 destination charge. Standard equipment across all trims includes all-wheel drive, keyless entry, Bluetooth audio connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and safety features such as adaptive cruise control, front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane keep assist.

The 11.6-inch tablet is standard on the next trim up — Premium. But to get blindspot monitoring, a feature we think should be standard on all cars, you will have to move to the Limited trim. Limited also comes with power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and a Harman Kardon audio system. The Premium trim begins at $29,905 and the Limited at $33,167. To get the turbocharged engine you will have to move to the Onyx Edition XT starting at $36,970.

Our Limited XT test car with most of the good stuff in the Subaru parts bin carried a bottom line of $38,765 including destination charge. The top-of-the-line Touring XT sells for $40,705.

Base price: $27,655; as driven, $38,765
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 260 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 277 pound-feet @ 2.000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches
Length: 191.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,937 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 32.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 75.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 23 city, 30 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)

The Good
• Good performance from turbo engine
• New 11.6-inch tablet
• Comfortable, quiet cabin
• All-wheel drive standard

The Bad
• Some climate controls buried in screen

The Ugly
• Nanny-minder driver focus system