Offroadsy: 2020 Subaru Outback

No brand has nailed the outdoorsy, off-roader family wagon segment quite like Subaru. Once simply a lifted Legacy wagon with some body cladding, the Outback has matured into a segment-defining model all its own. Subaru’s venerable Outback is all-new for the 2020 model year, now into its sixth generation, looking to prove that all the others are imitators. Perennially one of Subaru’s best-selling models, there was a lot to risk in the redesign of the Outback. Did Subaru risk it all with a wild departure from form, or would this be more an evolutionary Outback than revolutionary? After a week with the new Outback, the answer is clear.

Our Outback was delivered in the Limited XT trim, one trim below the top-level Touring, painted a cloudy sky shade of gray that Subaru calls “Magnetite Gray Metallic.” The Outback comes standard with the Subaru EyeSight suite of safety features, that are intended to keep the driver alert and focused on the road while driving, and to enhance the overall safety of the vehicle. We have past experience with EyeSight, and knew what to expect this time around. Instead of putting up with the persistent nannying, we elected to turn EyeSight’s features off for most of this test. If you need a computer system to tell you to keep your eyes on the road or inform you of obstacles in your path, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat, anyway.

The interior of the Outback Limited XT is dominated by the absolutely massive center touchscreen. Measuring a whopping 11.6 inches, this vertically-oriented touchscreen is your main interface for the Outback’s primary and secondary controls. Some may prefer having knobs and buttons, and Subaru makes a nod to that crowd with knobs for tuning and volume. There are also physical controls to turn the temperature up or down. Otherwise, you’ll need to interact with the touchscreen for most controls. Subaru thoughtfully provides a home button that will look suspiciously familiar to those who have an iPhone, but its a helpful feature to have with all of the different menus that you could potentially get lost in. The interior fits together well and is replete with soft-touch materials to give a near-luxury feel and presence. The seats were soft and generally comfortable, albeit not very supportive. The back seat is absolutely cavernous, with plenty of space for 2 large Great Danes, if that’s your thing. The cargo area provides plenty of room for the week’s grocery shopping, and then some. The party piece of the interior would be the 12 speaker, 576 watt Harmon-Kardon sound system, standard on the Limited and Touring trims. While not the ultimate in the automotive sound system experience, it provided reasonably clear, loud and enjoyable sound, seemingly being able to play any genre as well the next. One miss would be the low resolution, minuscule backup camera display that barely takes up half of the 11.6 inch display. Yes it’s a vertically-oriented screen, but Subaru should’ve found a way to display the image in full screen.

Driving the Outback is an exercise in restraint and solemnity. Our Limited had the turbocharged 2.4 liter boxer 4, shared with the larger Subaru Ascent. With 260hp and 277lbft of torque, this turbo-4 provides ample oomph to propel the Outback with a surprising amount of vigor. Vigor, however, is not the name of the game with the Outback. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback has been tuned to provide a smooth ride and enough ground clearance for the light off-roading that separates the Outback from a more car-like wagon. The Outback’s ride is Charmin Ultrasoft smooth, providing a very comfortable cruising experience. Rough road surfaces can upset the Outback’s ride, however, as the damping is very relaxed and doesn’t soak up large bumps or rippled roads quite as well as you might expect. The steering has a small dead spot on center, and responds slowly to inputs. It’s better that it responds slowly, though because if you approach a corner with any hint of vim or vigor, you will be met with alarming levels of understeer. The engine response is dulled substantially by the lackadaisical CVT, which doesn’t get much better in sport mode. Once the engine is on boost, however, the 260hp and 277lbft conspire to toss the softly-sprung Outback back on its springs, lifting the nose skyward aggressively and amusingly. The start-stop feature is abrupt in action, making it obvious that the engine has shut off and restarted, and does not fit with the relaxed nature of the rest of the Outback. When the driving the Outback, take it easy and it will reward you.

After a week with the new Outback, it became apparent that Subaru didn’t take any risks with the 6th generation variant. A smooth ride, cavernous interior space and surprising off-road competence are all maintained and enhanced in this generation. While the sixth generation Outback may not move the excitement meter off the charts, it will most likely prove to be a reliable, responsible choice to make if you are in the market for this type of vehicle. The Outback doesn’t excite with its operation or usage, but with what it encourages you to do: get outside, get off the beaten path and go enjoy the world. Your Outback will take you there in comfort.

-Ken Wilson

2020 Subaru Outback Limited XT$27,745
Magnetite Gray MetallicN/C
Destination Charges$1,010
As-Tested MSRP:$38,755

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