The more things change at Subaru, the more they stay the same.
Yes, it’s an old cliche, but it’s worthy. It pertains in spades to the all-new 2020 Subaru Outback.
The sixth-generation wagon ($26,645) moves to a stronger, more modern platform this year and gets a new up-level engine, a turbocharged four that makes 264 horsepower.
The new cabin features improved materials, abundant soft-touch surfaces and the latest iteration of Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system, with an available 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen.
Larger and roomier
In the makeover, the Outback grows 1.4 inches longer, which translates to a gain of 1.4 inches of rear-seat legroom. Even tall passengers will find ample headroom and legroom. The back seats are well shaped and supportive and, in upper trims, can be heated.
It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position and visibility is excellent.
Casual cabin storage is limited to a cell-phone-sized slot ahead of the shift lever and a two-tier bin of modest proportions beneath the padded center armrest.
A host of fresh tech includes the DriverFocus system, which uses an infrared camera and facial recognition technology to identify signs of driver fatigue or distraction. Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology now includes advanced adaptive cruise control and lane-departure mitigation.
In addition to its standard rearview camera, the Outback has a 180-degree front-view monitor that at low speeds allows the driver to scan the path immediately ahead.
A safer Outback
The Subaru Global Platform on which the Outback rides can absorb more than 40 percent more energy in front/side crashes than its predecessor. It also sharpens vehicle dynamics and reduces noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
A lightweight new suspension is tuned for compliance, not performance. It smooths out most road-surface blemishes but also allows considerable body lean in the corners. Unless it’s being pushed hard, though, the newest Subie feels solid and secure at speed.
Cabin noise at freeway speeds has been reduced by 3 dB.
For most makers, a generational makeover as deep as this would call for dramatic new styling. Instead, Subaru produced four prototypes during development and asked prospective buyers to choose a favorite.
Naturally, they picked the one that looked most like the last one, right down to the lower-body cladding that contributes to the Outback’s homey, hiking-boot appeal.
The fenders are wider this year and flank a hexagonal grille. Front cladding surrounds LED foglamps, which are standard on all but the base trim.
A powered, height-adjustable hands-free liftgate is newly available. It’s triggered by placing one’s hand near the Subaru emblem when the key fob is in proximity.
Jumbo touchscreen dominates
Inside, the large, colorful touchscreen dominates a forward cabin that is largely finished in soft-touch materials. Accent stitching is available. High-quality Nappa leather upholstery is available.
The Starlink infotainment system has a confusing menu structure that buries some key functions beneath too many screens. It’s bordered by a heavy rim of silvered plastic trim.
The Outback is available in Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT models.
The XT models are powered by the new, 264-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter four that replaces last year’s six-cylinder option.
The base engine, a 2.5-liter four that carries over from last year, is heavily revised and now makes 182 horsepower.
Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with eight simulated gear ratios. As expected, hard acceleration prompts the familiar CVT drone.
Our Touring trim tester — it had the base engine — performed well in everyday conditions, providing enough oomph for trouble-free freeway merging and passing on two-lane roads. However, if the Outback happened to be laden with gear, the turbocharged engine likely would be a better pick.
The turbo powers the Outback to a 0-60 sprint in the low-7-second range; the base engine needs another 2 seconds.
With the base engine, the Outback is rated to tow up to 2,700 lb.; the turbocharged engine is good to 3,500 lb.
XTs are thirstier, to the tune of 26 mpg in combined driving versus the base engine’s 29 mpg.
When it debuted in 1994, the Outback kick-started the crossover revolution. Much has changed in the interim, but owners still find themselves drawn to the old-school charms of the original.
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2020 Subaru Outback Touring
Vehicle base price: $26,645s
Trim level base price: $37,345
As tested: $38,355
Options: Our fully equipped Touring trim tester came without options
Tow ratings: 2,700/3,500 pounds
EPA rating: 29 combined/26 city/33 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified