If it ain’t broke, don’t restyle it
At first glance this is one of those don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it redesigns, but the Subaru PR department insists this new Outback is 100 percent spanking new. They swear it migrates, like all other newbie Subies, to the Subaru Global Platform that underpins the recent Impreza, Forester, Ascent, and is now coming to the Legacy and Outback. We’ll help draw your eyes to the Where’s Waldo exterior styling updates later, but first let’s open the hood and front doors and discuss the most obvious improvements.
Back by popular demand after an 11-model-year absence: a turbo! Yes, order up an Outback XT, and you get the Ascent’s 260-horse, 277-lb-ft 2.4-liter boxer engine teamed with a similar Lineartronic CVT capable of making the same eight (time wasting) paddle-shifted simulated gear shifts as in the Ascent. Relative to the outgoing 3.6-liter flat-six, the turbo-four delivers 4 more hp, 30 more lb-ft of torque, and 3 more mpg on both the city and highway cycles, now 23/30 mpg (10.2/7.8 L/100 km). That’s also at least a 3-mpg (78.4 L/100 km) improvement over the larger Ascent’s fuel economy with the same turbo engine, but in the smaller Outback the turbo is only rated to tow 3,500 pounds—1,500 pounds (1,587 kg—680 kg) less than the Ascent.
More patient drivers not springing for the top models get a heavily revised (90 percent new parts) 2.5-liter naturally aspirated and direct-injected flat-four good for 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque (up 7 hp and 3 lb-ft from the 2019 2.5-liter). Those strong of bladder can reportedly stretch a tank of fuel in the base model to 600 miles (966km), thanks to a 1-mpg (235.2-L/100 km) bump in EPA fuel economy to 26/33 mpg (9/7.1 L/100 km) city/highway.
Suspension-wise, the front struts get new internal rebound springs to cushion the feeling of “topping out” when cresting a hump, new lower L-shaped control arms are made of aluminum, and the hollow anti-roll bar is now 23mm, down from 24 or 26 depending on model. In back, the solid anti-roll bar grows from 16 to 19mm.
The new platform all these powertrain and suspension bits bolt to is reportedly 70 percent stiffer in both overall torsion and front-suspension mount stiffness, and it’s twice as resistant to front lateral flex. Impressive, given that the old one doesn’t exactly stick in our minds as a wet lasagna noodle. Perhaps more important, the new structure supposedly absorbs 40 percent more frontal and side-impact crash energy than the old (IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rated) one did.
Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system, including adaptive cruise control with lane centering, will be standard on all models. We’re a bit alarmed to note that the roster of onboard cameras includes one pointed at the driver to “mitigate distraction.” We’ll report back on the blessing/curse ratio of that one ASAP. Optional driver assist systems include a head-up display, LED headlights that “steer” into turns, reverse automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection with lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Open the door, and there’s no missing the Tesla-esque/Volvo-like vertical tablet screen, which measures 11.6 inches diagonal. Standard on all but the most ascetic base model, it offers direct touch controls for multimedia, climate controls, X-Mode all-wheel drive and vehicle settings, and includes near-field communication to ease pairing of Android devices. Naturally the system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Subaru’s own Starlink SmartDeviceLink for other smartphone platforms. Up to four USB and two 12-volt sockets keep everything charged and/or connected. Top-line models get built-in voice-activated navigation by TomTom, an LTE-powered Wi-Fi hot spot, and an available 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. One cool new addition to the infotainment system is Chimani, an app that provides a comprehensive guide to each of America’s national parks, including history and highlights written by local travel experts, plus hundreds of other points of interest.
Those who can avert their attention from the screen may also appreciate the quieter interior environment afforded by improved sealing and thicker, acoustic laminated glass (forward of the B-pillar). Fancy Limited and Touring models get 10-way power seats with driver thigh-support adjustment and three-level seat heaters that now warm the shoulders as well as the lower back. Nappa leather lines the Touring grade interior.
Full dimensions have not yet been published, but the max cargo room increases from 73.3 to 75.7 cubic feet. The rear hatch is said to be wider and now offers hands-free opening. This feature and a new cargo cover that lifts with a single touch are both new to Subaru and will be standard on most Outback trim levels. The standard roof rails feature crossbars that retract into the side rails when not in use.
Now for our spotter’s guide to distinguishing the new Outback. Foglamps switch from round to a vertical stack, and the gray cladding they’re set into extends unbroken across the nose. Side cladding once again extends up and over the wheel arches in narrow bands and features a rock rail–like feature extending up the front of the front door and dropping down toward the back of the rear door. The beltline also rises for a bit more wedge, pinching the rear quarter windows a bit. That’s about it. That’s as much as Subaru dared tinker with the design of its top seller.