Subaru just pulled back the covers on the new Outback for 2020. In terms of station wagons, the Subaru Outback is a seriously hot seller because it ranks #20 for all passenger vehicles to date this year. If you don't find that impressive, just know that the rest of the wagon crowd doesn't really sell much in terms of volume. Only Subie's own Forester (#21) and Crosstrek (#36) rank kind of high, but those are more crossover and hatchback, respectively, than they are wagons.
So, did the brand make major changes to the Outback? Well, yes and no. The exterior changes are subtle with more aggressive styling to the front and rear fascias but just by a smidge. The headlight shape isn't as weird, and the taillights are leaner and wraparound the rear quarter panel. On some trims, there's black cladding around the wheel wells for a more rugged look. The crease along the body is now more prominent, as well. The brand doesn't want to drastically alter what has worked for their best-selling model.
Why do Folks Flock to the Outback?
Let's just get this straight. The Outback isn't much fun to drive. It's soft, slow, and mushy when it comes to handling. But it's proven itself as truly desirable for families thanks to its easy looks, huge interior space, good gas mileage, high safety marks, and that famous standard Symmetrical all-wheel drive. And now the new one will soon hit showrooms, and it's supposed to be better than ever but also not all that different from the formula that's worked for so long. In fact, most folks will be hard-pressed to notice any difference upon first glance. That's what Subie wants... to keep its loyal following while remaining recognizable.
The new Outback looks pretty much the same, but now it rides on the Subaru Global Platform that results in 70 percent more torsional and front-suspension rigidity, as well as a 100 percent increase in stiffness in the front lateral flex and rear subframe rigidity. The new platform also results in a 40 percent increase in front and side impact absorption. And the 2019 model was already an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. The Outback's excellent safety ratings are a big reason why it sells so well.
Why Buy the New One?
Even if you opt for the base or mid-tier Outbacks, there's plenty to love. The base engine is a revised 2.5-liter flat-four that makes 182 horsepower and has 90% new parts compared to the last one. The 3.6-liter V6 engine is now gone, but the great news is that there are now two XT trims that have a 260-horsepower, 277 lb-ft 2.4-liter turbocharged four, which is actually more powerful than the V6 it replaces (by 4 horses and 30 lb-ft of torque). It also gets better gas mileage than the V6 (23/30 vs. 20/27).
Suspension has also been improved. The system is lighter and more responsive, which should result in a better driving experience that feels more engaging. The good news is that the crossover-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance remains for those who actually take their Outbacks off-road, something it's actually quite good at as long as you don't get overly ambitious on the trail.
What's Changed Inside?
The Outback's interior for 2019 was damned good. Though it's not particularly sophisticated, it had great materials and a very utilitarian design that's very much Subaru. The 2020 model improves on things inside but retains the same look and feel. New for 2019 is the huge 11.6-inch touchscreen that looks great in the photos. The fact that it's standard on all but the base trim is good news for buyers. The interior gets improved styling and noise reduction thanks to the thicker glass and improved insulation.
On every trim level, the Outback benefits from standard EyeSight Driver Assist Technology with adaptive cruise control and lane-centering. Additional safety tech such as DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation, reverse automatic braking, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and front view monitor are optional equipment. The Outback will also get a unique feature known as the Chimani app, which provides detailed information on every national park in America, assuming their owners will get out into nature with their vehicles. Kitschy but interesting.
The new Onyx Edition XT is a unique trim level that changes up the typically family-friendly colors by going dark. The exterior is black all over (even the grille), and the interior gets a two-tone grey coloring on the water-repellent StarTex seats. There's also a hands-free power tailgate and a front-view monitor. It makes the Outback actually look pretty sinister but not actually faster. We're not sure if we think it's cool or pushing things beyond the Outback's capabilities.
The 2020 Outback will be available in seven trim levels: Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT trims. It's good to see the brand doing well, and the fact that they've seemingly made the new Outback a bit better to drive is very good news (we'll have to test it for ourselves), and the new turbocharged engine should change things up even more.
The Outback really is the most significant wagon on the market today since it does so much so well, and it gives the segment some semblance of hope. The Volvo V60 and Audi A4 allroad both look and drive better, but they don't have the space or utility of the Outback. The Buick Regal TourX isn't particularly good at anything, and we can't imagine it will last very long. The Outback will soldier on way past the point when other wagons have died a painful death. It's the one that matters the most in a thinning segment.