2020 Subaru Outback: Not Cool, But Very Useful

Is the 2020 Subaru Outback cool? Not really. Is it fast? No. But is it good looking? Nah, it’s actually sort of nerdy looking. Would I buy one? Yes, because of what it can do. And the public feels that way, too. It was the best-selling midsize crossover in 2016 and 2017, and 2018 and 2019. Whatever the formula is, it’s a winner. And for 2020, it’s new, again.

The base Subaru Outback starts at $27,655; the Onyx is about $36K; and the top touring XT model will set you back $40,705. That Onyx trim is new for 2020, as is a hands-free liftgate, 11.6-inch touchscreen, standard EyeSight driver safety features and the optional DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System.

The 2.4-liter turbo-boxer in the Outback four is THE perfect engine for this car. It’s quick enough off the line and from a rolling start with 260 hp, and it plays well with the continuously variable transmission. Unlike some CVT cars that “upshift” (or move to a lower ratio) when you give it just a little gas, the Outback seems to understand what the driver is trying to do (note that the base engine in the Outback is a 182-hp, 2.5-liter boxer-four). Also, the Outback has great brakes for a regular, nonenthusiast vehicle. I was pulling out of the parking lot and gave a small pump; the car was stopped within a few inches of pedal travel. They aren’t rock hard or too sensitive, just the right amount for the effort you give.

The big infotainment screen in the Subaru Outback looks cool and colorful, and it didn’t take me long to learn the quick buttons for different functions. It has two knobs for tuning and volume, always welcome, but buttons for the climate. That’s better than just having it in the screen menus, but not as good as a big, chunky knob like the Toyotas and Lexuses of the world.

My child seats went in easy, and there’s enough space so junior and junior-junior can’t kick the seats in front. And the cargo area will fit anything south of a new refrigerator without folding the seats down. If you did need to transport a fridge, I think it would still fit in the Outback’s max cargo setting.

This Outback is the only wagon-like vehicle in its class, which includes the Honda Pilot ($31,650 base price), the Ford Edge ($31,100), the Hyundai Santa Fe ($26,125) and others. It’s not the “coolest” in the class—the new Santa Fe looks great—but it’s probably the most useful, and it’s rock solid in inclement weather. And come on, nerdy isn’t what it was in the Saved by the Bell days. It’s cool to be nerdy now. It just means that you’re a huge fan. I’m a car nerd. I’m a video game nerd. Or maybe I’m just a huge nerd.


On Sale: Now

Base Price: $26,645 (base); $34,895 (Onyx Edition)

Drivetrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged H4, CVT, AWD

Output: 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,884 lb

Pros: Space for all and not boring to drive

Cons: You won’t win any show ‘n shines or get parked up front at the valet

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