Built for Adventure: 2020 Subaru Outback Limited Test Drive

2020 Subaru Outback

Built for Adventure: 2020 Subaru Outback Limited Test Drive

Other wagons have come and gone, but the Outback is still going strong after 25 years -- by Derek Shiekhi

It must be hard to be a wagon enthusiast — at least in the United States. Since they're not as popular here as they are in other parts of the world, many automakers either offer a limited selection of long-roof cars or none at all. And a lot of the ones they once sold here didn't make it to a second generation. Remember the Lexus IS300 SportCross? Or the Cadillac CTS wagon? Does the Acura TSX Sport Wagon ring a bell?

But while other wagons have come and gone, the Subaru Outback has been in continuous production for nearly 25 years. It started out as a trim level for the Legacy wagon, but by the 1996 model year, the Outback became a separate model (you may remember the commercials for it starring Paul Hogan, aka Crocodile Dundee). With its increased ground clearance and two-tone bodywork, it stood out from its corporate siblings.

Subaru launched the sixth generation 2020 Outback earlier this year. Its fundamentals are similar to those of its ancestor (a high-riding wagon with a Boxer engine and all-wheel drive), but it benefits from all of the advancements in technology Subaru has made over the past quarter of a century. The all-new Outback rides on the stiff Subaru Global Platform and sports fresh exterior styling. For the first time in ten years, it's available with a turbocharged engine, as well as a naturally aspirated power plant.

Both put their power to the road (or trail) through a lighter and more responsive suspension. The interior is quieter than before and features updated technology, including an available 11.6-inch center touchscreen. Seven trim levels — base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT — make it easy for you to get the Outback that has just the right price and features for you. I spent a week getting familiar with the Limited model.


Subaru, Outback, Profile

2020 Subaru Outback Limited Exterior

Technically, the Outback is a wagon, but it's about more than just carrying people and groceries. It's built for adventure and comes dressed to get dirty. Black plastic cladding went all the way from my test vehicle's lower front fascia, over and between its two-tone 18-inch wheels, and back to its rear end. According to Subaru, the protective trim is supposed to resemble a hiking boot (look at the angled protrusions under the doors and you should be able to see what they mean). Nearly nine inches of ground clearance help the Outback get over rough terrain. Up on top, roof rails with tie-down points and retractable cross bars provide additional storage space for outdoor gear and equipment that can't fit inside the Outback.

Subaru, Outback, Interior

2020 Subaru Outback Limited Interior

Getting to the Outback's rear cargo hold is as easy as waving in front of the rear liftgate's Subaru badge. Doing that raises the power rear liftgate and exposes the 32.5-cubic-foot storage space behind the rear seats. When those are folded down, that space increases to 75.7 cubic-feet — an increase of 2.4 compared to the last Outback.

My press loaner also had plenty of room for people. The more vehicles I test, the more I learn the seating position that feels right to me. I always try to adjust my seat until the steering wheel and pedals (even the dead pedal) are a certain comfortable distance away from me, but I can't always dial it in the way I'd like. I had no problem doing that with the Outback's ten-way power driver's seat and manually tilting and telescoping steering wheel. The adjustable thigh bolster made the driver's seat even more of a treat to be in. The Outback arrived at my house just as the fall weather started kicking in down here in Central Texas. That was the perfect excuse for me and my girlfriend to use the Outback's three-stage heated seats. My tester was also equipped with an optional heated steering wheel, which was a nice bonus, although only its sides were heated.

Subaru, Outback, Infotainment

The Outback Limited's standard 11.6-inch high-resolution touchscreen was literally an impressive display with a large usable area, modern graphics, and quick responses to my inputs. With a few taps on the screen, I could connect my iPhone XR to Apple CarPlay (Android Auto and STARLINK SmartDeviceLink compatibility is also standard), use the built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and adjust the settings for the 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Volume and tuning knobs and buttons for the dual-zone climate control and front, rear, and mirror defrosters flanked the generously sized center screen. As cool as it was, I found myself wishing Subaru had made it a little smaller to make room for three-dimensional fan speed and seat heater controls.

Legroom in the second row was enough to fit all 5'10" of me with ease. Subaru made sure it was a comfortable and convenient place to be by giving it a pair of HVAC vents, heated seats, and a pair of 2.1A USB ports.

Subaru, Outback, Engine Bay

2020 Subaru Outback Limited Performance

There are two tiers of Outback power. Non-XT models, such as the Limited I drove, have a thoroughly revised naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine that produces 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. Outbacks with the XT badge get a turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer four; output is 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft. Both engines join forces with a Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with paddle shifters that enable you to "shift" through its eight simulated gears as if you're using a regular automatic gearbox. Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is standard across the entire Outback lineup.

For obvious reasons, the more potent engine delivers the highest towing capacity of 3,500 pounds — the most in the history of Outback models. Outbacks with the naturally aspirated power plant can pull 2,700 pounds. That's more than enough to carry an ATV to your favorite outdoor playground.

It was a shame I couldn't find any long trails near me because they would've given me the chance to activate the Outback's X-Mode. No, that doesn't give it superpowers, but it does enhance the all-wheel drive system's traction on slippery surfaces and activate Hill Descent Control so that you can go down steep grades at a calm, controlled speed.

Subaru, Outback, Backup Camera

2020 Subaru Outback Limited Safety

Subaru didn't just make the 2020 Outback's body look different than the 2019 model's exterior. They made it safer, too. The Outback's new shell can absorb over 40 percent more energy in front and side crashes than its predecessor.

There's a wide array of safety technologies inside the walls of that protective barrier. The Outback has a total of eight airbags, including one for the driver's knees. All trim levels come standard with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. That includes Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering, which provides corrective steering torque when the Outback strays outside of its lane, and automatic Pre-Collision Braking. According to Subaru, the EyeSight suite of features reduces rear-end crashes with injuries by as much as 85 percent. It also helped the 2020 Outback get the best score of "Superior" in vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Limited models have LED headlights that turn with the steering wheel and LED foglights as no-cost features. Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist is also stock on the Outback Limited.

My media loaner had an interesting safety option that Subaru calls DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System. It's a long name that translates to an infrared camera and facial recognition technology that can tell if a driver is drowsy or distracted and, if necessary, issue audio and visual warnings to alert the driver and their passengers.

2020 Subaru Outback Limited Overall

These days, you're more likely to see a crossover or three-row SUV out on the road than a wagon. But you can always find long-roof vehicles in your closest AutoNation Subaru dealership. The adventure-ready and safety-focused 2020 Outback is there now. Prices start at $26,645.** If you find one equipped just like the Limited model in this review, it'll have a sticker price of $36,500.

*Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.
**MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
Categories: Test Drive Reviews
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