2020 Subaru Outback Outdoor XT: A Brilliant Alternative to SUVs

Strong points
  • Comfort-tuned suspension
  • Versatility and convenience
  • Reasonable fuel economy
  • New turbo engine is a good match
Weak points
  • Unexciting drive
  • Conservative looks
  • Intrusive driver assistance systems
  • Fancy interface is not very intuitive
Full report

The Subaru Outback is one of the company’s most important and popular products with over 1.8 million units sold in North America since the original came out in 1995.

For 2020, we have a brand new, sixth-generation Outback built on the Subaru Global Platform, which also underpins the latest Impreza, Crosstrek, Forester and Ascent.

Conservative Looks

While the midsize wagon/crossover benefits from a major technical update including a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine shared with the Ascent, Subaru designers did not work really hard to distinguish the new model from the old one.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Subaru could definitely use a world-renowned styling expert to add some creativity and excitement to the lineup. How can such fundamentally sound vehicles be so damn uninspiring to look at?

The 2020 Outback has evolved conservatively to say the least. Sure, the front fascia looks a bit more aggressive now and the redesigned headlights and taillights are quite sharp, but there’s really nothing else to write about and that’s a shame.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

iPad-style Interface

Save for the base Convenience trim, which features dual seven-inch touchscreens, all Outback models receive a vertically mounted, tablet-style, 11.6-inch touchscreen that incorporates many vehicle functions. It looks a lot like an iPad—or some of the displays found in Teslas and Volvos.

The problem is that this new interface is not very intuitive and user-friendly, especially while driving. Thank God Subaru has retained physical knobs for audio volume and radio tuning, along with a few buttons for climate control.

Activating and adjusting the intensity of the heated front seats can only be done digitally, however. Making it worse is that this specific function appears on half the screen instead of the full 11.6 inches.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

Seating and Cargo

Our Outback Outdoor XT tester had a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat that definitely helped find a good driving position. However, the front passenger seat only had four-way manual adjustment and the seat cushion was pretty high.

There’s a decent amount of legroom in the rear and a versatile cargo area for those with a busy lifestyle. Practicality is enhanced by the standard roof rails with built-in crossbars—a simple yet clever solution.

Turbo Engine

Two four-cylinder engines are available with the 2020 Subaru Outback, starting with a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre unit that produces 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. XT models get the aforementioned turbo, a 2.4-litre mill rated at 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet. In all cases, a continuously variable transmission and permanent all-wheel drive system handle power delivery.

Alas, even with the turbo engine, performance is underwhelming due to the slow-reacting CVT. Forget about sporty driving; the main focus here is fuel economy. On our watch, the Outback Outdoor XT achieved a combined 10.7 L/100 km, which is reasonable.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

Pleasant Ride

The suspension on this Subaru is particularly well suited to Canadian roads with a fair amount of travel and comfort-tuned dampers. In fact, the ride is almost as impressive as that of a luxury car. The tradeoff, as mentioned above, is sub-par handling and sportiness. Clearly, the Outback is not one to make the adrenaline flow in the driver’s veins.

People who buy this wagon will find it safe, predictable and competent in most conditions. Subaru’s time-tested AWD system is a blessing in winter, especially with the X-Mode (when engaged, the latter optimizes the engine, transmission, AWD and brakes for optimum traction on slippery surfaces and steep inclines). Who needs a fuel-thirsty SUV?

Sensible Purchase

Priced from $40,495, the mid-level Outback Outdoor XT is generously equipped and offers tremendous value.

Overall, the 2020 Subaru Outback proves to be an extremely sensible purchase for active Canadian families. It might not be perfect—no vehicle is—but it’s a brilliant alternative to SUVs… provided you don’t mind a conservative exterior and unexciting drive.

Share on Facebook

More on the subject

First Drives2020 Subaru Outback: For a Real Active Lifestyle
WHITEHORSE, Yukon – We’ve been to countless media drives over the years, and with the SUV craze came the notion that every one of them was designed and engineered for consumers who enjoy an active lifestyle. That means folks who spend their weekends outdoors. They go camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking …
News2020 Subaru Legacy and Outback Pricing is Announced
Subaru Canada has now announced pricing for the completely redesigned 2020 Legacy and Outback, which will go on sale across the country this fall. The sedan was initially unveiled last winter in Chicago, while the crossover-style wagon made its debut in New York in April. 2020 Subaru Legacy The seventh-generation …
New YorkBehold the New 2020 Subaru Outback
After the launch of the 2020 Subaru Legacy earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before the next-generation Outback made its debut. Much to the delight of wagon lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the world premiere took place on Wednesday at the New York Auto Show. The Turbo …
Test Drives2020 Subaru Outback: A Trusted Friend 365 Days a Year
As you know there’s a brand new Subaru Outback for 2020. We attended the media launch late last summer and came away quite pleased. A recent test drive in colder, snowy conditions reinforced our impression that this midsize wagon is a trusted friend 365 days a year. Pretty Decent Base …
NewsThe Car Guide's Best Buys for 2021: Subaru Outback
Every year, The Car Guide unveils a list of Best Buys covering all the different vehicle categories in the industry. For 2021, we’ve split midsize SUVs into two categories: those with two rows of seats and others with three rows. When it comes to two-row SUVs with seating for five, …
NewsSubaru Mulling Wilder Variants of Popular Models
Vehicles designed for off-road driving and adventure are a hot trend in the auto industry right now. Consumer demand is getting stronger by the day. Think Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport , or the Land Rover Defender . Subaru , which is one of the first names that usually come …
First Drives2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: The Best Outback Ever
Many outdoor enthusiasts turn to Subaru and we know why: the Japanese automaker has one of the best all-wheel drive systems on the planet, which seems to please adventure-minded drivers and their families. Yet, for some reason, Subaru long hesitated to come to market with a dedicated off-roader and a …