The all-new sixth-generation 2020 Subaru Outback eats off-road rocks and ruts for breakfast, winding mountain roads for lunch and dinner, and interstate highways for dessert.
Simply, this is the best Outback since Subaru introduced this all-wheel-drive model in 1994. It propelled what was then a little-known and struggling import brand into a trusted nameplate that has gotten top ratings for safety, versatility, fuel economy, resale value, and customer loyalty ever since. The new exterior is more sleek and stylish, too.
Outback has sold nearly 5 million models in 18 years, with each generation outselling its predecessor; 10 consecutive years of sales records make it the midsize leader and alternative to an SUV.
Subaru has layered it with what I call creature comforts -- like a driver seat with an adjustable knee bolster and such industry-wide safety features as lane departure warnings -- onto its highly regarded AWD system. The result is a nimble and solidly planted vehicle in any driving situation, on road or off, as I experienced on a test drive in Mendocino County in Northern California, through redwood forests, and over century-old logging roads more suitable for an ATV than an SUV.
The new Outback is so competent that I did not even need to activate the hill descent control for a steep downward slope. Low gear was enough to handle speed, while I simply steered and hardly touched the brakes at all. It always makes me smile when 8 mph feels fast, and it was just as surefooted heading up steep hills.
"We want you to think of the Outback as a highly functional outdoor tool," project manager Yoichi Hori told me, adding "it's more than a car." Yes, it is.
The 2020 Outback is lower and larger than its predecessors, making it easier to get a kayak or bicycle on the roof; more cargo space means you can carry more inside, too. I especially love the new automatic tailgate control.
Forget about dancing on one foot to wave the other one under the bumper to activate some hidden electronic control when your arms are loaded with groceries, a squirming toddler, an unruly tangle of skis and poles, or a camping tent that refused to pack back into its stuff bag; just tap your elbow on the Subaru logo, and, voila, Open Sesame.
I also love the tablet-size 11.6-inch entertainment/navigation screen on all but the basic model, and that there are old-fashioned knobs for some key controls, instead of touch-screen everything.
"A lot of our customers above the snow belt wear gloves," planning manager Philip Tenn told me, so knobs allow changing climate, navigation, and other controls without freezing the fingers. It's also handy (pun intended) for older Outback drivers who may prefer a traditional touch.
The 2020 Outback is the first vehicle to offer the new Chimani app, which provides a comprehensive guide to more than 400 national parks. Subaru has a 20-year history of supporting the parks, contributing nearly $70 million for preservation and programs such as the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers effort.
Another favorite feature is Subaru's package of safety warning systems, EyeSight, standard in all Outback models. I love the double warning for lane departures, as two parallel lights blinked at me on the heads-up dashboard screen, along with an insistent buzz from somewhere in the cockpit.
The system also has a camera pointed at the driver that recognizes drowsy or distracted driving. The front-view monitor also captures images in the driver's blind spots and displays them on the console screen for safety and assistance ahead of parking.
The Outback is built atop a new global skeleton (or frame) that absorbs up to 40 percent more impact than before, also making this model safer than its predecessors. It's also quieter than its predecessors.
Two engine choices include a 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder Boxer with 182 horsepower; a 260-hp 2.4-liter Boxer -- the first turbo since 2009 -- is standard on XT models and available on the new Onyx model line, which also features water-resistant seat fabrics for easy cleaning, as well as a full-size spare tire, 18-inch alloy wheels, special badging, and a dual-mode X-mode with choices for mud and rocks or snow and ice. X-Mode turns off automatically at 25 mph.
Copyright © 2019 Motor Matters
|Base price||$26,645 (as tested: $38,695)|
|Curb weight||3,634 lbs.|
|Engine type||DOHC 4-cylinder Boxer|
|Epa mileage rating||26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway|
|Fuel capacity||18.5 gal.|
|Horsepower (net)||182 at 5800 rpm|
|Overall length||191.3 in.|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||176 at 4400 rpm|
|Transmission||CVT plus 8-speed manual mode|
|Vehicle type||5-passenger AWD midsize SUV|
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