Part of the appeal of the Outback is the car-like driving dynamics.
It was twenty-five years ago, before the term “Sport Utility Vehicle” really became a thing, that Subaru gave their Legacy wagon a rugged appearance and created the Legacy Outback. The idea of offering extra utility to the standard passenger vehicle was very well received and the Outback has since become its own standalone model and one of the bestselling crossovers in the North American market. For 2020, Subaru has given the Outback a complete redesign, and added the all-new Outdoor XT trim level.
Not wanting to stray too far from proven success, Subaru has decided to keep styling changes to the Outback subtle. The all-new 2020 Subaru Outback Outdoor XT looks more like a mid-cycle refresh than a redesign, with new head and taillights, and a bit of extra plastic cladding for add some ruggedness. The Outdoor trim gets blackened treatment to its front grille and side mirrors, and a dedicated set of 18-inch gunmetal wheels. The Outback might not be the sharpest looking crossover in the market, but it has become synonymous to rugged and dependable, and the latest generation has all but reinforced that strong brand image.
The return of the XT badge on the Outback means Subaru is bringing back a turbocharged engine to the lineup, replacing the naturally aspirated six-cylinder powerplant that has been in the Outback 3.6R since 2010. The horizontally-opposed 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine produces 260 horsepower at 5,600 PM, and 277 lb-ft. of torque from 2,000 to 4,800 RPM. The punchy powerplant manages to move the Outback XT pretty well, even in stop-and-go situations, however it lacks refinement when compared to the outgoing six-cylinder. The CVT does a fine job in directing power to all four wheels, but there is distinct turbo lag if you ease into the throttle, forcing drivers to dig into the accelerator to extract the juicy torque.
Part of the appeal of the Outback is the car-like driving dynamics. When compared to other crossovers, the Outback’s lower ride height helps produce a lower centre of gravity, thus reducing body roll in the corners. While steering is not razor sharp and overall weight is on the lighter side, it feels accurate and the Outback is an enjoyable companion especially on the highway. There is noticeable noise and harshness at low speed, mainly due to the CVT, but gradually gets smoother once up to cruising speeds. The turning radius is manageable despite the longer wheelbase, and the standard Subaru symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is a confidence booster.
Those planning to take the Outback XT on wilderness adventures will enjoy the trim’s dedicated dual-function X-Mode system with Hill Descent Control that offers snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes, as well as a front-view camera, all-weather rubber mats, weatherproof seat upholstery, and a full-size spare tire.
By foregoing the six-cylinder engine for the new turbo-four, the 2020 Subaru Outback XT manages to shave 1.9L/100km on the city and 0.8L/100km on the highway for a consumption rating of 10.1L/100km and 7.9/100km, respectively. Our test week consisted of mainly city driving in wintry weather conditions, and we observed a higher than expected 11.5L/100km for the week. Good news is that the Outback XT will accept regular fuel just like last year’s 3.6R model into its 70-litre fuel tank.
Interior design follows the same “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, allowing any returning Outback owners to find instant comfort inside the new model. The biggest change is the addition of a beautiful 11.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen that takes up most of the real estate on the dashboard, consolidating the automatic dual-zone climate controls with the infotainment system.
User-friendliness of the infotainment is there, but the lack of physical keys for important functions such as seat heating and audio system commands made for additional menu digging to reach desired functions. We would have liked to see radio presets prominently displayed on the large monitor as well, rather than having to toggle from one favourite to the next using the steering wheel mounted buttons. Smartphone users will be glad to know Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is included, and our Outdoor trim gets a mid-level six-speaker sound system.
Drivers get a 10-way power-adjustable seat, but passengers will have to adjust manually in the Outdoor model. Front and rear outboard seats are heated, but unfortunately Outback XT buyers will have to opt for the higher Limited and Premier trims to get a heated steering wheel, a serious omission on this trim level in Canada. The interior is comfortable with an abundance of head and legroom for all occupants, and the large windows help create an airy cabin. All XT models receive a power rear liftgate, and cargo volume is measured at a very generous 920 litres.
An important inclusion on the 2020 Subaru Outback is Subaru’s excellent EyeSight driver-assist system across all trim levels. This includes important functions such as Pre-Collision Braking and Throttle Management, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Centering Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning, Lead Vehicle Start Alert, and Lane Keep Assist systems. Subaru has added two amber warning lights atop the dashboard to effectively warn drivers of any surrounding danger. EyeSight helped the 2020 Outback earn a Superior Front Crash Prevention rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as being an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Our tester, the 2020 Subaru Outback Outdoor XT came in at $38,695. At over $3,000 cheaper than the Limited XT model, and over $5,000 cheaper than the top trim Premier XT, the Outdoor XT is a real value for those who don’t mind giving up features for additional power and off-road capabilities. Being a raised wagon in a land of SUVs, it does not have many direct rivals, but buyers are likely to cross shop the Outback with the Honda CR-V. The CR-V in the EX-L trim, is similarly priced and features a more luxurious interior. However, the CR-V is down a significant amount of power and is more of an urban crawler than one that tackles the unbeaten trails.
The 2020 Subaru Outback XT Outdoor is an evolution of an excellent crossover, one that has become a household name for families and car buyers in colder climates. The changes for the latest generation are far more than meets the eye, and with the help of additional features such as the EyeSight technology, it represents a good value in the crossover segment and will surely continue to be a volume seller for the Subaru brand.