Folks, I have to say the following: This is not a crossover.
It may appear to be one, if you apply the classic definition of one onto the Subaru Outback. Breaking it down, the Outback is co-developed with the Legacy sedan – a wagon version, if you must be technical about it. Yet, Subaru adds more to the mix to make it more crossover-ish towards being a lower height SUV.
The 8.7-inch ground clearance, ruggedized cladding all around the lower part of the body, and roof rails give the Outback away as to its intent and purpose. However, it is a wagon – a rare commodity in a world gone SUV mad.
Subaru’s original formula has spawned several "competitors." The Audi allroad lineup, for one. Volvo's Cross Country wagons are another. The short-lived Buick Regal TourX could have been a contender, if it weren’t for General Motors’ sale of Opel/Vauxhall to Groupe PSA. Now, Mercedes-Benz is adding a new ruggedized version of the E-Class Wagon known as All-Terrain.
When it came to a rival with a price closer to the Outback’s, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack tried to fill the bill. It would be the only challenge among “mainstream” brands to compete against a vehicle that remains the primary choice for year-round active lifestyles.
It has been a few years since I last drove a Subaru Outback. This latest version is based on the company’s new Global Platform, underpinning almost every new Subaru for the past few years. In all, the design seemed evolutionary from the last generation model. However, you can tell some of the differences overall – such as the grille and lighting signatures front and back.
It is good thing that Subaru did not go with an all-new design, since Outback customers crave familiarity with an emphasis on capability.
My tester was the Onyx Edition XT. This was an additional trim level to introduce Subaru’s turbocharged 2.4-liter Boxer (horizontally-opposed) four-cylinder engine to the Outback lineup. This engine replaces the 3.6-liter Boxer six-cylinder that had been the model’s top of the line choice. The power numbers are up on the XT engine compared to the 3.6R of the previous generation, with the promise of improved fuel economy.
Aside from the engine, the Onyx Edition adds a lot of blacked-out trim pieces from the grille to the badging on the liftgate. Eighteen-inch black gloss finished alloy wheels round out the Onyx Edition’s look, giving it something you do not normally expect from an Outback – an ice cold finish.
This brings up a subject that has probably crossed your mind – vehicle stereotyping. For years, the Outback belonged to two stereotypical owners: Outdoorsy types and folks in the LGBT community.
(Oh, by the way, Happy LGBT History Month!)
The Subaru Outback is really the best combination of everything you want in a vehicle, if you let the imagination run wild. It has a proven all-wheel-drive system, a better balance than most vehicles of its type, and it is very practical. If you can just leave it right here, there is no need to stereotype and profile an Outback owner. It is hard to do, I know. But, I know you can do it.
Back to what the Onyx Edition adds to the Subaru Outback…typically, an Outback would be equipped with brushed alloy wheels and a bit of chrome. You can still get one with these finishes. The Onyx Edition brings out a sportier side in an Outback. It does look intimidating when you take it off the tarmac with those black finishes all around.
Subaru continues the Onyx Edition’s theme with a two-tone leatherette upholstery and lime green stitching all around the cabin. The upholstery is soft and the both rows of seats were comfortable. I found plenty of support up front behind the wheel. Rear seat room is very good, as I had the right amount of leg and headroom.
With the Legacy sedan I reviewed less than a year ago, the new cabin format is much nicer than before. The overall finish is on point, especially the instrument binnacle and its information screen in-between the dials. The switches, controls, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel were great to the touch and easy to use.
Dominating the dashboard is Subaru’s new 11.6-inch STARLINK infotainment screen. The screen looks good and is quite responsive and quick. However, I found that some functionality was a bit short on expectation. The smartphone display – in my case, Apple CarPlay – looked very awkward and simply odd. I also found the rearview camera display a big skewed when it showed up on the larger screen.
Audio quality is pretty good. Six speakers helped balance out the sound and create an enjoyable atmosphere inside. You will also like the wireless charging, too!
As for cargo management, you do start out with 35.7 cubic feet of wagon-shaped shape. My tester had a tonneau cover for extra security from prying eyes. Fold the rear seat down, and that space expands to 75.7 cubic feet.
With 260 horsepower on tap, the more efficient 2.4-liter Boxer turbo feels more flexible. There is an uptick in low end performance that helps in passing and on-ramp maneuvers. At higher revs, you can hear the engine – and it’s a bit coarse. Just some nitpicking here.
This engine is funneled through Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission onto its Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. The driveline is smooth. As for fuel economy, I averaged 25.2 MPG.
One thing I enjoyed about the Outback is its driving manners. The smooth ride and competent handling offers stress-free driving, even if I wish to get off the highway. Overall, I found the Outback to be quite responsive when avoiding trouble on the road.
Braking is pretty solid, with good pedal feel and response to the calipers. I found the stops to be good in both normal and panic situations. Steering is also pretty good, though it did feel vague sometimes. The turning radius was quite good, but I found the on-center feel to be a bit soft.
One huge note to make is about the EyeSight driver assistance system on the Outback. It is one of the better systems in terms of situational detection and interaction with the vehicle.
I alluded earlier how the Subaru Outback is now the only "mainstream" ruggedized station wagon available today. Pricing for the 2020 Outback starts at $26,645. My Onyx Edition XT tester came with a sticker price of $37,995. The 2021 models are arriving at Subaru dealers coming in with a small price increase of about $150 per model. The Onyx Edition XT is offered again for 2021, one of three turbocharged models in the Outback lineup.
The one thing the Subaru Outback does is it ticks a huge box for enthusiasts of several stripes. It is a wagon, not an SUV. Therefore, the center of gravity of lower and you can have a bit more control in several driving scenarios. Going through the snow is no problem. Neither is getting off the highway to get somewhere “out there.”
Plus, the Outback caters to many lifestyles. If you got all of your outdoor gear from REI, this is your vehicle. If you have an active dog – a several – that can jump in and out of the rear cargo hold without injuring themselves, this is your vehicle. If you have small kids and want to take them on fall trips, this is your vehicle.
Whether you fit these demographics or not, the Subaru Outback delivers on quality, safety, and everything that will make your ownership experience a wonderful one. In other words, it’s really good, folks.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Subaru of America, Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern