The Subaru Outback might not not look heroic, but it is.
Introduced in 1994, with marketing featuring “Crocodile Dundee” star Paul Hogan, it marked a change in direction for the brand, which had been intent on chasing Toyota and was failing. Instead, the Outback saved Subaru, as the car’s success led the brand to refocus on selling all-wheel drive as a unique selling point in its cars. In 1994, that was unique. Twenty-five years later, it still is, at least in cars.
The Outback’s popularity can be seen in the lack of change in appearance. Looking at the redesigned 2020 Outback, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that it’s new. Even though it rides on Subaru’s new global platform, you have to look closely to notice any difference. It looks a bit sleeker and a bit bigger, and it wears a larger emblem on the grille. But climb inside and you’ll find the Outback has changed significantly.
The larger interior sports a newfound refinement that’s quite fetching, anchored by an 11.5-inch vertical tablet-style screen on most models. (A 7.5-inch screen is standard on base models.) The user interface features large, easy to activate buttons and an intuitive software setup. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and up to four USB ports and a wireless phone-charging slot are available on upper trim levels.
Two engines are offered. Most buyers will choose the 2.5-liter flat four rated at 182 horsepower, although a turbocharged 2.4-liter powerplant rated at 260 horsepower is also offered. Both mate to a continuously variable automatic transmission, although the turbo’s transmission is designed to handle its extra torque and is more rewarding when pushed hard. That said, most drivers will choose the turbo for its extra towing capacity: 3,500 pounds versus the base car’s 2,700 pounds.
Regardless of which trim level you buy — Base, Premium, Sport, Limited with the base motor, or Limited XT, Onyx Edition XT, Touring XT with the turbo motor — the Outback makes for an ideal family hauler. While opting for the turbocharged engine does make for a significantly more powerful automobile, it doesn’t make it more fun to drive.
The cargo hold is immense. In fact, it’s longer and wider than the far more expensive but not necessarily better Chevrolet Blazer.
The Outback also boasts a radically improved technology package. A new front view camera captures images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle. Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control now integrates with Lane Centering, while its new drowsy driver alert system uses a dedicated infrared camera and facial recognition technology to identify driver fatigue and alert the driver and passengers.
The same system recognizes drivers when they enter the car and appropriately adjusts the seats, side mirrors and radio station presets. Other options include driver-assist technologies include LED Steering Responsive Headlights; Reverse Automatic Braking; Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert; and EyeSight Assist Monitor with head-up display. There’s even an optional 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with Clari-Fi, and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.
Prices start at $27,655 for the base Outback, and topping out at $40,705 for the Outback Touring XT.
2020 Subaru Outback Limited
Base price: $34,455
Price as tested: $40,705
Engine: DOHC 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy estimates: 26 mpg city, 33 highway
Fuel required: Regular
Towing capacity: 2,700 pounds
Bottom line: Unique then, better now