2020 Subaru Outback is the most popular station wagon in America. In fact, the Outback is so popular that it sells twenty percent more units than the next most popular station wagon which is also a Subaru. Even though the new Outback looks a lot like the old Outback it’s been fully redesigned for 2020. The new model is a little bit bigger than the old Outback. All-wheel drive is standard, the base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes about 180 horsepower or you can step up to a turbo four-cylinder that makes about 260 horsepower.
If you want SUV practicality but a more car-like driving experience you may choose the Outback over SUVs like the Toyota Highlander, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Ford Explorer, or the Honda CRV. And many people do that.
Peculiarities and Features
An interesting quirk of this Outback is on the mirrors. There’s a little light which is the Subaru logo lit up. And it doesn’t have any function — it is just a decoration. It lights up when you unlock the car and when you open the door.
Subaru is a smart company, and they’re also a conservative company and that means they like to keep things the same if they are working. So, the exterior styling in this car very similar to the previous Outback. From a glance, you might not even realize that it’s changed. Subaru keeps the look pretty similar because it’s been successful.
While the exterior of the Outback looks pretty similar to the older model the biggest change is in the interior, and specifically with the infotainment screen which is now vertical. There are some benefits to doing the screen this way. For one, this is how everyone’s smartphone is oriented so we are all used to looking at screens from a vertical perspective. And the center control stack in the car is shaped vertically between the two seats and so that also helps make it make sense. And Subaru’s system takes full advantage of its vertical space. The biggest advantage of this system is that it’s really easy to see everything because the screen is large and it’s intuitive to use most of the controls.
On the home screen, all the apps and icons are there very easy to see. The same is with the radio and the map: a very large map screen is allowed by this vertical screen which can get bigger than a lot of horizontal screens can because it has more space to go down into the center console. It works really well.
But for all the benefits of Subaru’s new infotainment system, there are also a few drawbacks. One is the fact that the system can be pretty slow to respond — nowhere near as fast as a smartphone. There’s a big delay and a big lag as you move your finger around the screen.
And another drawback of Subaru’s infotainment system: they’ve moved too many climate controls into the screen. You can see the only hard buttons for climate controls are adjusting the temperature and then the front and rear defroster and defogger. That’s it. And that means if you want to change the amount of airflow you have to go into the screen. But even worse are the heated seats which are no longer buttons. In this car you have to first press the heated seat that doesn’t turn them on — it just pulls up a menu. And then you can turn them on. It is too many steps, and it is frustrating.
Another interesting quirk of the infotainment system, which is called Starlink, is that it allows you to configure the cruise control acceleration. When you have adaptive cruise control and the car in front of you takes off, you can configure how fast your car follows it. You can choose eco and then you’ll have very slow acceleration or you can choose dynamic and it will speed up very quickly to fill each gap. And you can configure that.
Another interesting feature that you could turn on is the ‘lead vehicle moving monitor’. The way it works is you pull up to a stoplight and then you start texting or eating. When a car in front of you drives away Subaru will beep and let you know that traffic is moving. And that allows you to see if traffic has pulled away and you can get going faster even if you’re distracted.
When you turn on the Outback you can see at the top of the dashboard the lights that come on — green, yellow and red. Those are the eyesight monitor lights, and if you’re about to hit something they will blink green, yellow, or red and let you know, and that’s accompanied by a sound. The strange thing here is the fact that you can turn off certain colors of those lights individually.
Talking about the gauge cluster in the new Outback, there is the screen in the middle of the gauge cluster which has a few interesting quirks. It’s always showing the image of your car from behind with a road out in front of it. And that image is showing your safety systems — whether they’re currently being used.
Another interesting item in this gauge cluster screen: if you scroll through all the information screens one of them shows you your auto start/stop statistics. That is the system that turns the car off at traffic lights to save fuel. It will show you how many minutes it’s spent off and how many gallons you’ve saved as a result. We think that if you show people exactly how much more efficient and environmentally friendly it makes them they will be more inclined to use this system.
In the front of the cabin, there is one little button to the right of the gear selector in the center console that says ‘view’. If you press that, instantly a front camera appears on the infotainment screen. It is great that it’s so easy to get a front camera to show up in case you’re pulling into a parking spot, you’re not sure where the line is or the parking curb, or the car in front of you. Unfortunately, the camera itself is not particularly high quality. The resolution is not that great. And it’s the same with the backup camera. Considering how far car camera systems have come and how devoted Subaru is to safety you’d really think they would improve those cameras.
Another interesting item in the Outback interior is the center console storage area. You can open it up just like a normal center console storage and you can put stuff in there. It’s reasonably large. You can also open up the upper part and there is a tiny storage area in there for papers. You could keep your registration in there or something simple.
And speaking of storage in the new Outback: you have a glove box like all cars but above the glove box and above the green stitching there’s a storage tray. So if you want to keep a pen there or something simple that you don’t have to open the glove box to access, it can sit in this additional storage area.
Near the rear-view mirror, there are these two things jutting out from the ceiling sort of impeding your visibility just a little. Those are the cameras for Subaru’s eyesight system that’s always monitoring cars ahead of you to make sure you don’t smash into them and adaptive cruise control.
As far as the back seat of the new Outback, it’s a little bit tighter than we would expect from a vehicle like this. It is not very tight back here, you are not squished into place, but it’s just a little smaller than you would expect. The back seat is otherwise excellent. You have two climate vents back here to blow air on the rear passengers. You also have two different USB ports so that you can charge devices back here, which is good for kids. And you can have heated rear seats.
Moving on to the cargo area in the new Outback, it is quite large. One interesting feature in the cargo area of the new Outback: you have little door handle looking things at the sides. You pull those and they will drop the rear seats: the one on the right drops the right rear seats, the one on the left obviously does the left rear seat. And that’s a really good feature. If you’re trying to load something big into your cargo area, it is very convenient.
Another interesting item in the cargo area is the fact that you have a power outlet back here. Over on the right side, there is a little cigarette lighter-style power outlet which is a nice useful feature.
Under the hood in the new Outback and you can see the engine. The Outback XT has a turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 260 horsepower at about 275-pound feet of torque. This engine is also used in the larger Subaru Ascent and so it’s pretty healthy numbers for this car. There is also a base engine in this car — it’s a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder with about 180 horsepower so you can choose which one you’d prefer. One interesting thing under the hood in this car is the fact that there’s no plastic engine cover like in most other modern vehicles.
Driving the Subaru Outback
The Outback is sort of a midsize SUV in terms of sizing and a standard all-wheel drive, and it only has 180 horsepower. The thing about this car is that ultimately it’s not particularly exciting or thrilling, and in this case, that’s a good thing. The buyers for this car prefer a durable, tried, and true and tested car and it doesn’t need to have cutting-edge stuff to make them happy. And Subaru knows that and they stick with that and this car is just another great example of it.
In terms of the driving position, it’s very nice and comfortable, the seat feels very good. You will not get the high-up driving position that you do in an SUV. And people who buy these don’t want that. They don’t want to deal with all that, they think it’s too big. But one thing is certain — it drives more car-like than an SUV. The steering feels a little more comfortable, the car feels a little bit more compact than most SUVs. When you’re driving it along and being closer to the ground, you don’t feel that body roll.
Summing Things Up
Sitting inside the car you don’t hear a lot of exterior noises. If you’ve driven prior Outback, in the new one you have better technology, a little bit more interior room, a little bit more comfort but generally speaking it’s exactly what you’re used to. It is a good durable excellent car. Nothing in it is going to wow. But it’s just a good car and that’s why 250,000 people a year buy it. The Subaru Outback is America’s favorite wagon and it’s easy to see why. You get SUV practicality but without the SUV. And although SUVs are really hot right now some people would just rather have a wagon. And in overwhelmingly large numbers those people get the Outback.