Car Reviews First Tests

2020 Subaru Outback Limited 2.5-Liter First Test Review: More Safety, Same Value

Testing the new Outback in naturally aspirated guise

Testing the new Outback in naturally aspirated guise

The popular Subaru Outback has been a longtime favorite among MotorTrend staffers. The wagon comes with standard off-road chops, a spacious interior, and a great ride. It’s also a tremendous value and earns top safety scores. And the 2020 Subaru Outback improves in every way. An all-new platform makes the ride better, it comes with new technology, and it’s longer and wider than the previous generation. The new Outback also comes with an optional turbo engine, but given that most owners will buy the 2.5-liter engine, we’ll focus on this popular model.

Although the 2.5-liter engine carries over from the previous generation, Subaru says the engine is 90 percent new. The four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine comes with direct injection to deliver 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, which is only a 7-hp and 2-lb-ft increase over the previous model. Those familiar with this engine will know that speed isn’t one of its fortes, and our own testing showed that its performance numbers continue to be pretty much the same. The 2020 Subaru Outback went from 0 to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 16.6 seconds at 86.1 mph (138.6 km/h). The CVT also received updates to make the simulated shifts a bit smoother.

There’s no denying this engine is underpowered, but most Subaru owners don’t care about that and will find it suitable. Despite the slow speeds, the powertrain is very refined, and the CVT works well with the engine. Senior production editor Zach Gale welcomed the revisions to the powertrain; he thought the refined CVT works better in this new generation. Staffers were most impressed by the suspension tuning. The changes to the suspension and the increased platform stiffness make the ride much better than the previous generation. Even after driving luxury SUVs on the same surfaces, the Outback’s refined ride stood out.

There isn’t much difference in the new Outback’s performance, but the changes inside the cabin are hard to miss. A new 11.6-inch touchscreen dominates the center console, and its vertical orientation reminds us of the new Volvo screens. Although the screen looks upscale, we found a few flaws once we started using it. We appreciated the fixed buttons for the A/C controls at the bottom of the screen, but some of the icons are quite small, and we often touched the incorrect button. The on/off button, for example, is very close to the lower fan speed button, and I often turned the system off when I wanted to lower the fan speed. Because of the screen’s vertical orientation, Apple CarPlay looks quite small. CarPlay can only be used in a horizontal layout, so the icons and fonts are too small to read. Other than that, we applaud Subaru for keeping a volume knob and radio tune knob.

Just like its predecessor, the 2020 Outback is spacious, and the Limited model comes with soft leather that feels nice. Even 6-foot-4 Gale, who is one of our tallest editors, found the back seat to be roomy, with plenty of legroom and headroom despite the high seating position. The seats can be folded flat from either the hatch or the back row, and back-seat passengers get air vents, two USB ports, and heated seats.

Subaru’s EyeSight safety technology suite is standard on all Outbacks and includes lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and pre-collision throttle management. The system works well on highways and city streets, and it was pretty useful during stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. With the shortest following distance set in adaptive cruise control, the Subaru will closely follow the car in front, making it hard for other vehicles to cut you off.

We weren’t as pleased with the recent driver monitoring system, which keeps an eye on the driver at all times. Although we appreciate the effort in keeping the driver alert, we didn’t like how the system kept telling us to keep our eyes on the road even when we were looking straight ahead. The constant beeps the system makes bothered us quite a bit, and the fact that the monitoring doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to—and that you have to dig through the menus in the infotainment system to shut it off—was frustrating.

But when you look at the Outback as a whole, it’s quite a compelling package. With an as-tested price of $36,500 USD, the 2020 Subaru Outback is great on value. Customers will be satisfied with what they get, and with standard AWD and new safety technologies, the Outback continues to be one of our favorite wagons.

2020 Subaru Outback (Limited)
BASE PRICE $34,455
PRICE AS TESTED $36,500
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.5L/182-hp/176-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,752 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 108.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 191.3 x 73.0 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 8.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.6 sec @ 86.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 130 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.4 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 26/33/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 130/102 kW-hr/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.67 lb/mile