Updated Outback covers all bases
2020 Subaru Outback Outdoor XT. RICHARD RUSSELL WHEELS
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even when parked side by side it is difficult to tell the 2020 Subaru Outback from the previous model. Despite the lack of visual change, the 2020 Outback improves on the old in almost every way. It rides on an all-new platform, boasts a raft of new technologies and the availability of a more powerful engine. The 2020 Outback is 3.6 cm longer and 1.5 cm wider, hardly significant numbers. Height, wheelbase, track, ground clearance and most interior dimensions and capacities are unchanged. More efficient packaging has brought additional head and legroom in the rear seat. Those who take their Outback offroad will appreciate slightly greater approach and departure angles. Those who tow toys or utility trailers can choose the more powerful engine, increasing the tow rating from 2,700 lbs. to 3,500 lbs. When introduced in1994, the Outback was a jacked-up Legacy wagon with plastic cladding on the lower portions. It instantly outsold the Legacy, which later returned to and remains a sedan-only offering. The popularity of the Outback is easy to understand. It offers the taller seating position and better view of a crossover. It also boasts Subaru's highly-respected allwheel-drive system. Height and all-season traction are the hallmarks of a crossover, the reasons consumers are avoiding cars like the plague. To my mind, the Outback is a tall wagon. You don't have to climb up to get in. You have a lower center of gravity and the resultant better handling, and you have all the utility and capability of a wagon or crossover. The best of both words. The exterior changes are subtle to say the least. The changes inside are, however, hard to miss. A giant 30-cm screen atop the center stack dominates. It's vertical orientation is similar to the that used by Tesla and Volvo. Although clear and quick to respond, I found it less than intuitive. I had to take my eyes off the road too long when trying to make adjustments to the HVAC and audio systems other than those afforded by small fixed buttons. After a week of dealing with it, it became easier to deal with. Lower trim levels use a pair of smaller screens. Subaru's Eyesight system, use a pair of cameras mounted high inside the windshield above/behind the rear view mirror. By continuously monitoring the road ahead, they feed information to a quartet of safety features: adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management and lane departure warning. The system is the best in the industry in my experience. Unfortunately, as is the case with all of these systems that use readouts from the front of the vehicle, salty roads and slushy weather common in the Atlantic region can blot out the view rendering the system inoperable. This occurred on two occasions during my winter week. The Outback's spacious interior is now even more so with the extra rear seat leg and headroom. A pair of very large adults can sit back there. The rear seats can be folded flat from the doors or hatch resulting in a cavernous cargo area. The test vehicle had the new turbocharged engine. The base flat four has been updated for 2020. Subaru says 90 percent of the parts are new. There are seven more horses under the hood and an additional two lb.ft. of torque for totals of 182 and 176. This engine, in this application, has never impressed for its performance. Accelerating from rest to 100 km/h takes a leisurely nine seconds. The turbocharged engine now available in XT models bringing 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque to the game. Both numbers are greater than those offered by the 3.6-lite six-cylinder engine used previously. The difference is not only noticeable, readily so, but impressive. The Outback is a large vehicle and with this engine, scoots away from the line with ease. It makes passing, climbing long grades or handling a full set of passengers a breeze. The drivetrain is refined. The continuously variable automatic transmission is one of the better units on the market with eight simulate gears compared to six in the outgoing model and the seamless all-wheel-drive system instantly and continuously ensures power goes to the right wheels. In addition to the added power, the other improvement in driving dynamics is the suspension. Subaru's are known for their exceptional suspension compliance. The ability to absorb both major and minor road blemishes results in a supremely comfortable ride regardless of road conditions. Take that and bump it up a significant notch for the 2020 Outback. The new and stiffer platform to which suspension components are secured make that fabulous ride even better. The sensation is one of refinement, of driving a luxury car. Yet this same vehicle can tackle turns and the offroad with equal aplomb. To cover all the bases, the 2020 Outback is available in seven trim levels. It boasts the same off-road and all-season chops as any crossover. It has the same interior space and utility, but much better ride and handling. Add in a hefty dose of value and top safety scores and you have a winning proposition.