2020 Subaru Outback: The perfect intersection of SUV and car

2020 Subaru Outback: The perfect intersection of SUV and car
2020 Subaru Outback (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The all-new 2020 Subaru Outback is — and always has been — based on the Legacy platform. Even so, I find it odd the Outback is technically classified as a wagon. It has standard all-wheel drive, a higher ride height and excellent cargo capacity. 

Plus, it just looks more like a sport utility vehicle than a car.

However, I suppose Outback’s car origins combined with a tight turning radius are what make it such an excellent urban vehicle.

The Hits

There’s a lot to love about the Subaru Outback. It has clean bold exterior lines with a rugged outward appearance. It has a higher ride height — but not so high that it’s difficult to get into or out of. It can handle some mild off-roading or — in Chicago terms — pothole obstacle courses fairly easily.

The interior is plush and comfy with cushy seats and soft textures throughout the vehicle. Any trim off the base comes with an 11.3-inch vertical infotainment screen, and the overall interior design is attractive and well designed.

The best thing about the Outback, however, has to be the overall ride comfort and interior quietness. The test vehicle was a top-tier Touring XT trim, and I’m not entirely sure if that made a difference with its plethora of leather-covered surfaces, but the Outback is quiet. Very little engine or ambient noise creeps into the cabin, which is nice for conversations, quiet contemplation or the desire to enjoy your music without distraction.

Because of the XT designation, that means the test vehicle was equipped with the up-level turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer engine. It delivers 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is smooth and seamless with this powertrain, and in my mostly highway driving experience, I didn’t notice any turbo lag.

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

There is a base 2.5-liter direct injection as well. Having driven this at the preview, I remember thinking this is also a really nice powertrain. 

I’m also a huge fan of the standard safety tech on the Outback, which Subaru’s EyeSite with features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Cool available tech features include automatic reverse braking and Driver Focus — which uses facial recognition to load a specific driver’s presets as well as make sure the driver is paying attention.

The Misses

With so much to love about the Outback, there aren’t too many misses, but there are a few. 

Let me start with the auto stop/start engine kill switch. It’s there, but rather than having an easily accessed hard button near the gear shift or ignition start, it’s hidden under layers of the info screen. I understand automakers really want you to keep this feature engaged for the minuscule fuel savings it offers, but a lot of people don’t like it and want it off. Since it can’t be disabled permanently in the Outback, make it more accessible. Please. 

Also while I like the large info screen on the center stack, a few of my followers on social media pointed out that the digital design is very busy and somewhat distracting. I like the big buttons so they’re easy to see while driving, but the more I look at it, the more I see and acknowledge the visual clutter.

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The last miss is something most people won’t notice. I only saw it because I’m a short driver and climbed behind my driving position to check out rear legroom. The problem: Unfinished bits underneath the seats. There were wires and bits of cotton fluff popping out — bad form for an otherwise stellar design.

The Trims

All-wheel drive is standard across the board, and and the XT trims denote the up-level 2.4-liter engine.

  • Outback ($27,655): Equipped with EyeSight, Apple Carplay/Android Auto, raised roof rails, rear-view camera.
  • Premium ($29,905): Adds Subaru Starlink, 11-6-inch touchscreen, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, all-weather package with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED foglight.
  • Limited ($34,455): Adds leather upholstery, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon premium audio, LED steering-responsive headlights, passive entry, push-button start, hands-free power lift gate.
  • Touring ($38,355): Adds Nappa-trimmed leather seats, navigation, power moonroof, heated steering wheel, DriverFocus, ventilated front seats.
  • Onyx Edition XT ($35,905): In addition to the 2.4-liter engine, it has StarTex water-repellant upholstery, 18-inch black-finish alloy wheels, passive entry, push-button start, hands-free power liftgate, dual-function X-Mode with hill descent control.
  • Limited XT ($38,755): In addition to the 2.4-liter engine, it mimics the regular Limited trim.
  • Touring XT ($40,705): In addition to the 2.4-liter engine and regular Touring content, it adds power folding mirrors and 180-degree front-view monitor.

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The Chicago Factor

The Subaru Outback is one of those near-perfect urban vehicles — especially if you have a family or regularly haul stuff in the cargo area. 

It acts like an SUV but drives like a car, which makes it functional and comfortable to drive. Plus, with the standard and available safety technology, you’re less likely to bump into low-lying objects like parking posts. 

Because of its car origins, it’s easy to maneuver in tight urban spaces. Whether you’re in an alley or city parking garage, you have excellent visibility and turning capability. 

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The Specs
Engine: 2.5L, 4-cyl; 2.4L, 4-cyl turbo
Horsepower: 182 hp (2.5L); 260 hp (2.5L)
Torque: 176 lb-ft (2.5L); 277 lb-ft (2.4L)
Fuel economy (city/hwy): 33/26 (2.5L); 20/23 (2.4L)
Drivetrain: AWD
Height: 66.1 inches
Width: 73 inches
Length: 191.3 inches
Wheelbase: 108.1 inches
Seating capacity: 5
Cargo capacity (behind rear seats): 32.5 cu ft
Base price: $27,655
Price as tested: $40,705

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  • ...and also has a Lafayette, Indiana factor.

    My neighbors have an Outback, and had an Impreza as a loaner, but while they looked similar, the Impreza was much smaller (and thus might be the better city car). Of course, they also have a Volvo XC90.

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