As my recent test drive proved, this is the best Outback since Subaru introduced this all-wheel-drive model in 1994.
Outback propelled what was then a little known and struggling import brand into a trusted nameplate that has gotten top ratings for safety, versatility, fuel economy, resale value and customer loyalty ever since.
In the last 18 years, Outback has sold nearly 5 million models, with each generation outselling its predecessor, with ten consecutive years of sales records, making it the mid-size leader and alternative to an SUV.
Outback also consistently gets top safety ratings, including from IIHS.
With a fuel economy rating of 26 city/33 highway, and a base price of $26,645, this is an all-around best buy.
Subaru has layered what I call creature comforts, like a driver seat with an adjustable knee bolster, and such industry-wide safety features as lane departure warnings, onto its highly-regarded AWD system.
The result is a nimble and solidly planted vehicle in any driving situation, on road or off, as I experienced on a test drive in Mendocino County in Northern California, through redwood forests and over century-old logging roads more suitable for an ATV than an SUV.
The new Outback is so competent that I did not even need to activate the hill descent control for a steep downward slope.
Low gear was enough to handle speed, while I simply steered and touched the brakes hardly at all. It always makes me smile when 8MPH feels fast. And it was just as surefooted heading up steep hills.
We want you to think of the Outback as a “highly functional outdoor tool,” project manager Yoichi Hori told me, adding “it’s more than a car.” Yes, it is.
And the new exterior is more sleek and stylish, too, so you look good using your highly functional outdoor tool anywhere you go.
There are six trim models, priced at $26,645 from the Base model to $39,695 for the fully-loaded Touring XT.
The 2020 Outback is lower and larger than its predecessors, making it easier to get a kayak or bicycle on the roof, and more cargo space means you can carry more inside, too.
I especially love the new automatic tailgate control.
Forget about dancing on one foot to wave the other one under the bumper to activate some hidden electronic control when your arms are loaded with groceries, a squirming toddler, an unruly tangle of skis and poles, or a camping tent that refused to pack back into its stuff bag.
Just tap your elbow on the Subaru logo, and, voila – Open Sesame.
I also love the tablet-size 11.6 inch entertainment/navigation screen on all but the basic model, and that there are old-fashioned knobs for some key controls, instead of touch-screen everything.
“A lot of our customers above the snow belt wear gloves,” planning manager Philip Tenn told me, so knobs allow changing climate, navigation and other controls without freezing the fingers.
It’s also handy (pun intended) for older Outback drivers who may prefer a traditional touch.
The 2020 Outback is the first vehicle to offer the new Chimani app, which provides a comprehensive guide to more than 400 national parks.
Subaru has a 20-year history of supporting US National Parks, contributing nearly $70 million for preservation and programs such as the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers effort.
Another favorite feature is Subaru’s package of safety warning systems, EyeSight, standard in all Outback models. I love the double warning for lane departures.
Two parallel lights blinked at me on the heads-up dashboard screen, along with an insistent buzz from somewhere in the cockpit.
The system also has a camera pointed at the driver that recognizes drowsy or distracted driving. The front view monitor also captures images in the driver’s blind spots and displays them on the console screen, for safety and assistance ahead of parking.
And as far as I am concerned, the giant, easy-to-read icons on the navigation screen are also a safety feature, since they take an instant to see, keeping your eyes on the road longer.
The Outback is build atop a new global skeleton, or frame, that absorbs up to 40% more impact than before, also making this model safer than its predecessors. It’s also more quiet than its predecessors.
Engine Choices & Other Upgrades
There are two engine choices. The 2.5 liter direct injection delivers 182 horsepower and the first turbo since 2009 delivers 260 hp.
The 2.4 Turbo is standard on XT models and available on the new Onyx model line, which also feature water-resistant seat fabrics for easy cleaning.
Onyx models also feature a full-size spare tire, 18-inch alloy wheels, special badging and a dual-mode X-mode with choices for mud and rocks or snow and ice. X-Mode turns off automatically at 25mph.