By Shari Prymak
Although the state of traditional family station wagons is pretty bleak, the Subaru Outback stands proud as the glaring outlier and a major sales achievement. The Outback managed to find success where others floundered largely due to the fact that it is a wagon in crossover disguise. It embraces the qualities for which crossovers are so loved, including the high ground clearance, rugged-looking exterior design, and a go-anywhere adventurous persona. For 2020, Subaru has given the Outback a careful makeover packed with updates while maintaining the same basic formula that has made it a success.
Outback fans will not find much to complain about on the latest version. Although the underpinnings are now based on Subaru’s latest global platform, the design is largely a carryover with a few updated details. All of the traditional Outback hallmarks, including the generous ground clearance, chunky body cladding, and the outdoorsy appearance, remain intact. Unlike some crossovers which are all show and no go, the Outback puts its design to good use with some genuine off-road ability. The high ground clearance works with the standard symmetrical all-wheel drive and X-Mode to help clear obstacles, scale rugged terrain, and drive through deep snow. While no Jeep Wrangler, the Outback should handle just about anything the average owner can throw at it.
More impressive than its capability is its practicality. The massive cargo area offers loads of space with handy hooks, tie-downs, and even pull handles to retract the back seats. Two tall adults will have no problem getting comfortable in the back seats and three can fit in a pinch. Anyone used to traditional Subarus will likely be hugely impressed by the vastly improved interior of the Outback. The fit and finish of the materials are excellent and the look of the top-end Premier model is bordering on proper luxury. The only gripe really is with the 11.6 inch touchscreen infotainment system which is used to control all the main features. Despite being fairly responsive and feature rich, basic functions require just too much menu digging making the whole thing bit too finicky and distracting to use on the move.
The standard drivetrain consists of a 2.5L 4-cylinder boxer engine matched to a continuously variable transmission. With only 182 horsepower, 176 lb-ft of torque, and a significant amount of weight to haul around, the 2.5 feels quite laboured with barely an adequate amount of power when called upon in demanding situations. It also has an unrefined engine start-stop system which rattles the vehicle at every stop. Annoyingly, it requires digging through the menu screen to disable on every drive if desired. Normally I would recommend forgoing the optional drivetrain, but the far more powerful 2.4L turbocharged engine available on the XT models is better suited to this application while achieving a similar fuel economy rating of 10.1L/100km city and 7.9L/100km highway.
Pricing for the Outback starts at $30,695 for the Convenience trim and tops out at $43,795 for the Premier XT. The pricing represents roughly a $4,000 premium over the equivalent Legacy model which shares just about everything with the Outback other than the crossover appearance. The sweet spot in the range appears to be the Outdoor XT, which, for $38,695, includes the 2.4L turbo engine and a generous features list with all-weather rubber floor mats, all-weather soft touch upholstery, and unique exterior styling details with blacked-out trim. Unfortunately, the one glaring omission is a heated steering wheel which Subaru oddly restricts to the Limited and Premier models. Thankfully, at least all models include Eyesight driver assist safety technology.
Even within a market flooded with crossovers of all types and flavours, the Outback remains something of a standout. It offers an attractive blend of practicality, capability, safety, ruggedness that’s simply hard to top. Its durability should also carry well into long-term ownership thanks to Subaru’s reputation for strong reliability. The pricing is a tad steep relative to other crossovers and there are some issues with the infotainment system and base engine. Overall though, the Outback remains a solid choice and an easy recommendation within the crossover segment.