What we've learned from testing both 2020 Outback engine options
If you’re considering a 2020 Subaru Outback, you’ve probably wondered if the 2.4 XT engine is any good. Now that the Outback’s engine upgrade model has seriously improved its fuel economy, the XT could become a viable candidate for an increasing number of buyers. If you’re comparing the 2.5 against the 2.4 (XT) engine or just want to know what the base Outback is like to drive, keep reading.
2020 Outback Fuel Economy: Class-Competitive Numbers
For a midsize wagon with SUV pretenses, the 2020 Outback’s fuel economy is pretty good. As you compare the Subaru to other SUVs, keep in mind that every Outback has standard AWD. If you stick with the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder base engine, that 182-hp powerplant delivers 26/33 mpg (9/7.1 L/100 km) city/highway, 1 mpg (235.2 L/100 km) better than the last-gen model in both city and highway numbers and competitive in its loosely defined segment. If you match the Outback against the best compact SUV around—the Honda CR-V—it’s basically a tie. The 2020 CR-V 1.5T delivers 27/32 mpg (8.7/7.3 L/100 km) in AWD form, or an even higher 28/34 mpg (8.4/6.9 L/100 km) if you don’t mind sticking with FWD. Against the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe, the Subaru scores a clear win. The Outback’s 26/33 mpg (9/7.1 L/100 km) rates well against a Santa Fe 2.4 AWD’s 21/27 mpg (11.2/8.7 L/100 km) (or 22/29 (10.7/8.1) with FWD). No matter which engine you choose, all 2020 Outbacks run on regular gas.
The real news with the 2020 Outback’s engine options is the new-to-Outback 2.4-liter turbo-four. Producing 260 hp, the engine helps the Outback earn 23/30 mpg (10.2/7.8L/100 km), way better than the 3.6R six-cylinder of the last-gen model, which was only good for 20/27. Although there are reasons to like Subaru’s downsizing move, as you’ll see below, the way the engine interacts with the car’s standard CVT could still use some refining.
2020 Outback Driving Range: The Real Advantage
Fuel economy isn’t much different between the 2020 Outback 2.5 and the 2020 CR-V 1.5T, but driving range sure is. Thanks to the Outback’s gigantic 18.5-gallon gas tank, the Subaru trounces the competition. Go with the EPA’s driving breakdown of 55 percent city driving and 45 percent highway, and the 2020 Outback 2.5 will go 536 miles (863 km) before needing a fill-up—that’s a more than 100-mile (160-km) advantage over the 2020 CR-V. The 2020 Santa Fe is closer, with a 451-mile (726-km) range with an AWD model, but that’s only with the more efficient 2.4-liter base engine.
The 2020 Outback’s move from the six-cylinder 3.6R model to the turbo-four XT model pays dividends not just with mpgs, but with additional miles between gas station visits. Again, using the 55 percent city/45 percent highway split from the EPA, the 2020 Outback XT will go 74 miles (119 km) farther on a tank of gas than the 2019 Outback six-cylinder model (for a total of 481 miles (774 km)).
Where the CR-V may soon beat both Outback engine options is a sub-segment the Toyota RAV4 already dominates: hybrids. There’s no Subaru Outback hybrid, but the Toyota RAV4 hybrid is good for 41/38 mpg (5.7/6.2 L/100 km) and a driving range of nearly 600 miles (966 km). Expect similar numbers for the upcoming CR-V hybrid.
2020 Outback Acceleration: Improved, But Is It Enough?
Outback drivers don’t generally race from stoplight to stoplight, but even SUVs and wagons will eventually need to crest a hill with a full load of people, or pass a big truck on a two-lane road. And that’s where the 2020 Outback 2.5 falters. The CVT’s fake gear shifts with heavy acceleration can’t disguise a 0–60 mph time of 8.7 seconds. Remember that the CR-V matched the Outback’s mpgs? It does so with a 7.6-second performance to 60. As for the Outback 2.5, we called it “gutless” at 2020 SUV of the Year testing. Still, for day-to-day driving, the 2020 Outback 2.5 gets the job done. Drivers who can accept that passing other vehicles will take longer should be happy with the 2.5’s lower price and higher fuel economy.
Those who want to see what the 260-hp XT engine has to offer will need to stick with the Onyx XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT trims. Although we found the Onyx fun to slide around off-road, the 2.4 powertrain proved underwhelming on the road. To 60 mph, the engine impresses, with a 6.1-second time that easily improves on the 2018 Outback 3.6R’s 6.9 seconds. That’s not the full story, though. On the road, we called the engine “unrefined,” and the power delivery proved uneven. For a few MotorTrend editors, the engine-transmission interaction is rough enough that we’d select the 2.5-liter engine to avoid it.
2020 Outback Handling, Ride, and Transmission
No matter which of the two engine options you pick, the Outback won’t handle like a sports car. In the big wagon-SUV’s case, spirited driving will be met by a healthy dose of body roll. The Subaru’s chief advantage is its superb suspension tuning. Multiple staffers have complimented the comfortable way the Outback rolls down the road, even one with imperfections or railroad tracks. It’s a dynamic advantage you won’t find on some competitors at any price.
The CVT is another story. Although most of us found it responsive, the transmission’s fake upshifts and downshifts aren’t for everyone. As we’ve mentioned, the real disappointment comes with the 2.4 XT/CVT combination. We hope the 2021 Outback XT models sport a recalibrated transmission that’s better equipped to responsively handle that powerful turbo-four.
Which 2020 Outback Engine Option Is Best?
There’s no unanimous victor here, at least on the MotorTrend staff. Having said that, most of us would probably pick the base 2.5-liter engine. Outback 2.5 models are slow, but it’s not a deal-breaking disadvantage. So if you didn’t have your heart set on the 2.4 XT-only Onyx model, consider the 2.5-liter models to save a little cash, mpgs, and headache during those times when you need a quick response from a car’s engine and transmission.
More on the 2020 Outback:
- 2020 Subaru Outback 2.5 Limited First Test here
- 2020 Subaru Outback Pros and Cons Review here
- Off-Roading the 2020 Subaru Outback: 10 Things to Know