Review: 2020 Subaru Outback is all-new – and now has a turbo
A full redesign of the Subaru Outback takes this robust wagon-styled crossover into its next generation. The 2020 model now has an available turbocharged engine, a bigger emphasis on technology, and retains the Outback’s reputation for off-road get-there capability.
At a Glance
- All-new, this next-generation Outback upgrades nearly everything about the vehicle.
- Versatility and capability remain in the new Outback, augmented by some updates to the drivetrain.
- New turbocharged engine is an excellent fit for the Outback, but cost is difficult to assess.
- Interior of the 2020 Outback is well done, but we take issue with some storage problems and the infotainment system.
Unlike most crossovers on the market, the Outback has been a popular standout because of its station wagon-like styling. While not quite a wagon, the Outback also isn’t quite a crossover-SUV. It fits somewhere in the middle, and gets both its unique looks and versatility because of that. Unlike a conventional station wagon, for example, the Outback has lots of headroom and good ground clearance. Unlike a crossover-SUV, it has a readily accessible roof rack and an easier fit in the garage. Like both, the Outback has a spacious interior and large cargo area as well.
For the 2020 model year, Subaru revamped the Outback on its new Subaru Global Platform (SGP). That platform debuted with the Impreza a couple of years ago and has now made it to the new Legacy and this new Outback. It is becoming the basis for all Subaru vehicles going forward.
On that platform, the 2020 Subaru Outback retains its 8.7 inches (22 cm) of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. SGP adds improvements to the vehicle stability and AWD systems, though, that are best illustrated by the new X-Mode system Outback’s drive modes. This selectable traction control option combines driver-selectable drive modes for terrain and weather management with differential locks and hill descent control to simplify and improve capability on non-optimal driving surfaces.
The new Outback keeps its standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine for most of the model lineup. This base engine has been with the vehicle for some time, offering 182 horsepower (136 kW) and 175 pound-feet (237 Nm) of torque. New for this generation, though, is another boxer-style opposed piston engine in a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder format. This engine outputs 260 hp and 277 lb-ft (194 kW, 376 Nm). As a sportier choice for the Outback, it appears in the XT models of the crossover. The 2020 Outback has six trim levels, with three of those including the XT option.
We spent a week in the new Outback in its Onyx Edition XT package, which includes not just the new turbo engine, but also an upgraded X-Mode setup and a pretty good mix of equipment for the price. The Outback Onyx Edition sits right about where the second-tier Premium trim level does in terms of accoutrements, and is priced at about the same level as the non-turbo Touring trim level. Our test model was priced at US$34,895 before an optional moonroof, navigation, and reverse automatic braking upgrades, and before delivery charges. Full price for our test model was $37,750 in all.
The turbocharged 2.4L engine offers a much more robust and confident feel than does the standard engine for the Outback. In the previous generation of the vehicle, we much preferred the six-cylinder engine option to the base four because the four-cylinder often felt like it struggled. It is loud on the highway, not terribly responsive off the road, and, while adequate for most daily driving needs, just didn’t inspire confidence when pressed.
The new engine has none of those complaints and feels somehow speedier than the boxer-six it replaces. This isn’t because it’s more powerful, it’s because the turbo means that it engages with the foot press quicker and doesn’t feel shy about pushing some power to the wheels. There is some lag, of course, as with all turbochargers, and the smaller four-cylinder doesn’t have the longer-lasting power plateau inherent to a six, but the 2.4 offers better efficiency and faster power delivery. Both good things for the Outback.
The question of whether the turbo engine upgrade is worth it, value-wise, is difficult to answer. There is no way to equate its actual cost to the consumer. For comparison, the Onyx Edition XT does not have a non-XT (non-turbo) package equivalent and Subaru does not give a directly-listed cost for the turbocharged engine upgrade on the 2020 Outback, as it’s not available as a stand-alone option. Since it comes in packages, the comparison between packages isn’t as straightforward as that, with some slight changes in add-ons coming between the standard and the XT version of the packages. So the best we can do is give package cost differences instead.
The 2020 Outback Limited model starts at $33,445 while the Limited XT model starts at $37,745. Not all of that $3,300 price difference is just for the new engine, of course. The larger 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment is an option on the Limited and standard on the Limited XT, for example. Fuel economy does show a big difference, however, but those differences are similar to the four-cylinder and six-cylinder of the previous-gen Outback. The non-turbo 2.5L is rated at 26 mpg (9 l/100km) in the city and 33 mpg (7.1 l/100km) on the highway. The 2.4L turbo is rated at 23 mpg (10.2 l/100km) in the city and 30 mpg (7.8 l/100km) on the highway.
Fans of the previous generations of the Outback will like the 2020 model’s drive presence and controls. Even with all of the new technology added, such as EyeSight safety systems as standard, the Outback retains its personality as a "get out and do stuff car." It is a bit loud on the highway, though, but only with the low drum of road noise and not with engine or transmission intrusion. Off the pavement, the 2020 Outback is as capable as ever, with added confidence thanks to the improved AWD system.
The new interior for the 2020 Subaru Outback is well done and comfortable. The added legroom and headroom of the previous-gen Outback remains in place, with plenty of access and space for everyone. Cargo is also good and largely unchanged as well. Small things, though, like the lack of a good phone spot thanks to the size of the new infotainment are annoyances. The new digital interface for the climate controls is especially vexing given its lack of any improvement over physical controls and its occasional frustration-inducement via ignored commands.
Speaking to the infotainment in the new 2020 Outback, it’s the same system found in the 2020 Legacy. All of the issues we had with the large screen and user interface in the Legacy are also found in the Outback. So are all of the benefits. The only real difference between the two that we could see is that the Outback’s body styling generally means less glare on the larger screen during certain times of day or lighting conditions. We like how well it works in general.
The overall conclusion we have for the 2020 Subaru Outback is positive. The Outback was already a well-done, perfect-fitting vehicle for a large niche of buyers who are less interested in bulky crossovers than they are in a sedan-turned-wagon. These "in between" buyers can find the Outback fits nicely and has the versatility and attitude they want in a vehicle. The improvements are excellent and the new turbocharged engine option is a worthy upgrade.
Product Page: 2020 Subaru Outback