Subaru Outback Review: Lessons From a 2,000-Mile Road Trip
After 2,000 miles in a car, you really start to figure out what your ride does well—and what needs improving. It’s no different with our 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx long-term test car, which senior copy editor Jesse Bishop drove from Los Angeles to Colorado and back.
From long highway stretches to stop-and-go traffic and slow off-road trails, our turbocharged Subaru was tested in exactly the types of conditions you might experience in a 2020 or 2021 Outback. Keep reading for five of Bishop’s impressions from the Outback Onyx’s extended road trip.
A Testament to the Outback’s Ride Quality
The Outback was immensely comfortable. On the way out, our initial plan was to drive until we got to Utah and camp overnight. But we got a late start out of L.A., and it was already dark by the time we got there. It was also still 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit outside despite being 9 p.m. Rather than drive an hour out of our way to search for an open campsite (which may or may not exist), set up a tent in the dark, and sleep on the ground in the oppressive heat, we decided to just keep going.
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We ended up driving all the way to our final destination in more or less a straight shot, stopping only briefly a few times for gas. The total time from departure to arrival was about 17 hours. Normally, I have to give up after about half that. That’s how comfortable the Outback is. Maybe months of working from home—barely moving out of my chair for hours on end, then barely moving from my couch for several more—prepared me for this?
The 2020 Outback is the latest in a long line of Subarus to offer a comfortable ride. It’s become a Subaru brand value—the Outback sometimes makes an annoying pothole feel more like a minor road imperfection. The price you pay for that comfort is a bit of floatiness. In a car with no pretensions of sportiness, though, it seems like a worthy tradeoff to me.—Zach Gale
Adaptive Cruise Control: Is It Any Good?
The Outback’s adaptive cruise control proved amazing once I learned to trust it. It works all the way to a stop (though if traffic stops for more than a few seconds, I needed to reactivate it to get the car moving again). On the way out, we hit a portion of I-15 where construction squeezed all traffic into a single lane (out of four or five lanes normally). Seems we traveled a mile in about an hour. This was before I’d learned to trust the system in stop-and-go traffic. It was awful. On the way home, we hit a similar traffic snag, but I was confident at this point that the tech could handle it. The difference in comfort was notable. I cannot overstate how nice it is to not have to constantly mess with the brakes in that kind of situation. I didn’t even mind the near-constant beeps as the system detected cars in front of me.
I completely agree. The best adaptive cruise control systems can make a tough commute almost relaxing, and I’ve even used one system for the endless stop and go of approaching a Disneyland parking lot on a busy day. What might make the Outback’s system even more helpful is a set of settings I plan to test out: different levels of accelerative aggressiveness. I’m hopeful that by setting up a desired following distance as well as aggressiveness level, the Outback may meet my admittedly high standards for adaptive cruise control systems.—ZG
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EyeSight and Tech Bugs
Although I appreciated adaptive cruise control, there was a portion of our trip a day earlier when EyeSight kept shutting off and throwing an error code to the tune of “No EyeSight camera detected,” or something along those lines. Thankfully, traffic was relatively light at the time, but it was annoying. I’d drive normally for a bit, turn it back on, the system would function, and then it would shut off a few minutes later. I don’t know what caused it, but the problem occurred only as the sun was setting and we were driving directly toward it. As soon as we turned south on I-15 to head home, the problem stopped. Maybe a problem with sun glare affecting sensors?
Finally, Apple CarPlay stopped working when we hit the outskirts of the L.A. area. If I were driving solo, this could’ve been a problem. I was relying on that map to navigate unfamiliar freeways in intense traffic to get me home. We tried unplugging/replugging multiple phones and multiple cables, which didn’t fix it. It stayed off until we stopped for dinner and turned the car off.
Strange. I haven’t yet experienced the issue with CarPlay, but it’s possible a future infotainment update will address it. As for the EyeSight camera, I’ve seen the same issue—though only a couple times in thousands of miles. It’s something I’ll watch for.—ZG
How Did the Outback Perform Off-Road?
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The area we go to in Colorado has some pretty harsh trails. Because the Outback is not my long-termer and I knew I’d be handing the keys back to someone else, I didn’t want to risk it on anything tough. But I did pay attention to the terrain when we were in my in-laws’ Jeep Grand Cherokee. They initially doubted the Outback could handle much of it, but the eventual conclusion was that, except for the most severe stuff, the Subaru probably would’ve been fine going up those trails.
Hard-core off-roaders will, of course, be better served by a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco. But the Outback’s standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance should provide most drivers with the confidence needed to venture off the beaten path. When we tested an Outback Onyx 2.4T and a less powerful 2.5 model at the 2020 SUV of the Year competition, both Subarus handled themselves quite well off-road, although the Onyx’s turbocharged powerplant did make sliding on the sand more fun. All Outbacks have X-Mode, which along with hill-descent control, works with the AWD system to help those within the car feel more secure. Exclusive to the Onyx trim is a second X-Mode setting for mud and snow (available under 25 mph) that turns off the traction control and retunes the ECM to more readily deliver torque when you need it.—ZG
Please, Keep QUIET
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Bishop also noted—”on different days and on different trails”—that the Outback seemed a bit noisy off-road, even compared to the 17-year-old Grand Cherokee. Even if it’s unclear whether that reflection was a fluke, I can comment about the Subaru’s noise levels on the highway. There’s just a tad more road noise than I’d like from a midsize SUV competitor, but it’s nothing egregious. Even so, I often find myself wishing more trim levels got the sound-insulated front door glass currently only on the top two turbocharged XT trims. Maybe for 2022, that feature will trickle down one or two more trims.—ZG
More on Our Long-Term 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT:
- Arrival: Specs, Features, and First Impressions
- Update 1: Quirk Takes Some Getting Used To
- Update 2: Can the 2020 Outback Compete With SUV Functionality?
- Update 3: Social Distancing and On-Car Camping With Our 2020 Subaru Outback
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