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2020 Subaru Outback long-term update: Into the forest, not out of its element

The Outback is meant for the great outdoors, making it a perfect camping companion.

2020 Subaru Outback long term
The Outback almost blended right in, thanks to its Autumn Green Metallic paint.
Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

I picked up our long-term 2020 Subaru Outback just in time for a planned long weekend of camping. Subaru, after all, prides itself on building flexible machines for the outdoors, so naturally, it was the perfect vehicle for the trek. Besides, with few opportunities or options to simply get away from the house these days, camping seemed like a natural fit, mosquitos be damned.

So far, our Outback has spent the vast majority of its life as a trusty production vehicle with our Detroit-based crew. But it can't be all work and no play, and it's time to pack something other than camera equipment in the back of this trusty longroof. (By the way, Nick, I found one of your lens caps in the cargo area.)

All that junk fits in the trunk.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

With ease, the Outback swallowed more than enough stuff for a three-day trip. There's 76 cubic feet of space in the back with the rear seats folded down and, despite my not-so-light packing, I still had space to close the tailgate when it was time and hit the road.

Once on the road, I got to really get a feel for how the latest-generation Outback presents itself. I wouldn't necessarily call our Onyx Edition XT's powertrain poor by any means, but it's the way power comes on at lower speeds that gave me pause. Although an on-paper pro to our Subaru's continuously variable transmission is smooth acceleration, that's not exactly what I found with our Outback. At times, coming away from a stoplight produced some jarring acceleration for a moment before the transmission finally settled in toward the lower part of the rev range. Other editors have experienced this, too, and not just with the Outback. We also found the same with our long-term Ascent.

Otherwise, the power feels fluid from the 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four, especially around 3,500 rpm, which made it a gutsy thing when passing on the highway -- and much appreciated on my largely rural and highway-based journey from about an hour west of my home to a campsite in rural Ohio. Ditto when I forgot an air mattress and had to make a very last-minute trip to the local store before it closed.

Speaking of the highway, let's talk fuel economy. The EPA says the Outback Onyx Edition XT with the turbocharged engine should return 23 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. The combined rating sits at 26 mpg. But folks, I'm averaging 21.6 mpg right now and I'm certainly not giving it a heavy foot. I'll be watching this one closely.

At first I thought I perhaps was being a tad harsh when accelerating but our staff's fuel economy logbook provides similar evidence. Over the last three months, my colleagues here have registered 21 mpg, 22 mpg and 23 mpg. I think we're going to learn at the end of our time with the Outback the much appreciated power from the optional turbo-four indeed comes at the expense of efficiency. 

On the road or on the dirt, the Outback likes it all.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Disappointing fuel economy aside, the Outback Onyx Edition XT is a swell happy-medium. The interior looks and feels very nice and I really enjoy the StarTex upholstery. It feels softer but more durable than leather. It was also very easy to clean after a weekend spent with mother nature. For under $40,000, this Outback feels like it's worth just about every penny from a fit-and-finish perspective. And boy, its big, vertical touchscreen sure impresses. If only Apple CarPlay wasn't so lousy to use with it because I found it otherwise responsive and easy to operate.

The same can't be said for some of the tech bundled in Subaru's EyeSight suite of driver-assistance and active safety features, specifically Active Drive Assist and the lane-keeping assist system. The former made some abrupt corrections on the highway that highly discouraged future use.

But after sleeping inches off the ground for two nights, I was glad to hop back in our Outback to head home. I wasn't afraid to get it dirty and crawl in the mud a little bit, and it made for a perfect camping companion. Outdoorsy as it might be, I'm looking forward to putting it through suburban life in the coming months, too.

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