Car Reviews SUV of the Year

2020 Subaru Outback Pros and Cons Review: This is What Subaru Could Improve

This former SUV of the Year winner is a 2020 finalist

This former SUV of the Year winner is a 2020 finalist

Pros:

  • Modern interior
  • Luxury-like suspension
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Exterior appears unchanged
  • Unrefined turbo engine
  • Poor infotainment UX

From the outside, most folks won’t know the 2020 Subaru Outback has been redesigned. But beauty is on the inside of this rugged lifted wagon.

The Outback is a favorite for those who enjoy the outdoors. Although it has never been distinguished as a powerful model, those who want more power can get an optional turbo-four engine for the first time. The Outback played well against our SUVOTY criteria, showing good cards for value, safety, efficiency, and (perhaps most important) performance of intended function.

Read about Car, SUV, and Truck of the Year contenders HERE.

The new chassis and suspension refinement stood out for almost every judge. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that I literally didn’t feel the bumps on broken pavement,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. Naturally, the Outback also showed excellent skills in deep sand and scrabbly dirt. With high ground clearance and standard AWD, the Outback didn’t have any trouble on the articulation tests or climbing up and over a steep dirt hill.

With its 2.4-liter turbo engine, the new Onyx edition felt more powerful and fun sliding on the sand. But the Outback’s base 2.5-liter non-turbo engine is, simply put, gutless. Is it a deal breaker? Not really.

Subaru knows its customers, and the changes to the new Outback play well with their shopping criteria. The roof rack carries over from the previous generation but this time has holes in the front and back to tie down the straps; the crossbars can fold away inside the rack itself, and with rubber bottoms, they won’t scratch the paint on the roof.

The Onyx edition gets water-repellent seats made from vegan recycled materials. With a blacked-out grille and black rims, the Onyx carries a more rugged look and further serves those who want something different.

As a brand that focuses on value, the Subaru does not disappoint here. Whether you’re opting for the naturally aspirated engine or the turbo, the Outback is nicely equipped and delivers good bang for your buck. “This is a fantastic deal at $37,750 USD; nothing here comes close,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said. Features editor Scott Evans called it “the bargain of the century.”

On the safety front, the Subaru is well positioned. With its EyeSight safety technologies suite, the Outback remained centered on its lane and maintained a close distance to the vehicle in front to prevent those annoying folks from cutting you off. The system was also pretty easy to use and clearly displays what it’s seeing on the infotainment screen.

But some of us were bothered by the driver attention technologies—particularly the frantic alerts for seemingly random occurrences of driver inattention, lane keeping, smart cruise, or emergency braking warning systems. A couple times, the smart cruise control system simply checked out, not warning of stopped traffic ahead. Although the 2020 Outback hasn’t been tested by the IIHS at the time of this writing, the previous generation won the agency’s top award, setting a clear path for the new model.

One big drawback is the lack of any sort of advancement in design, guest judge Tom Gale noted. Park a 2019 Outback next to a 2020 model, and you’ll need to look closely to spot the differences.

Another complaint: Despite an 11.0-inch infotainment screen that rivals the size of Tesla’s, its user interface is complicated and unintuitive. The window for Apple CarPlay appears too small given the screen’s orientation, and some of the soft buttons for the HVAC controls are miniature—some judges pressed the AC on/off button when they were trying to increase the fan speed.

We’re sure Outback customers will enjoy this new generation, but we’re hoping the midcycle freshening in a couple years will address some of its flaws.

2020 Subaru Outback (2.5) 2020 Subaru Outback XT
Base Price/As Tested $27,655/$36,500 $35,905/$37,750
Power (SAE net) 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm 270 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 8.7 sec 6.1 sec
Quarter Mile 16.6 sec @ 86.1 mph 14.8 sec @ 95.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 130 ft 132 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.77 g (avg) 0.75 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.4 sec @ 0.62 g (avg) 27.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 26/33/29 mpg 23/30/26 mpg