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2020 Subaru Outback long-term wrap-up: Our do-it-all wagon lived up to the hype

From grocery-getter to road-tripper to snow-blaster to campsite friend, over 12 months of testing, there wasn't anything our Outback couldn't do -- and do well.

2020 Subaru Outback
The Outback is a wagon that's easy to love.
Seyth Miersma/Roadshow

It's often said 'round my parts that Subaru is the official carmaker of Northeast Ohio. Why? We tend to have long and snowy winters, rainy springs and hot, sometimes incredibly dry summers. Subaru prides itself on building the kinds of cars that get through all of these extremes, and the Japanese automaker built a solid reputation for offering do-it-all products. It's precisely why Roadshow wanted to see if the redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback still embodied this winning formula. After 12 months with our Onyx Edition XT tester, we can safely say, the Outback is a damn fine machine.

How we spec'd it

The Onyx Edition XT is arguably the most interesting model in the Outback lineup. It uses Subaru's new turbocharged 2.4-liter engine but comes with a pretty high level of standard equipment. Our tester came packed with the company's 11.6-inch infotainment display, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control, as well as other Onyx Edition touches like water-repellant seat surfaces, a power liftgate, keyless entry and some black exterior bits, including an attractive set of 18-inch wheels.

At $36,155 (including a $1,010 destination charge), the Onyx Edition XT is the least expensive way to get an Outback with a turbocharged engine. In addition to the punchy powertrain, you get Subaru's EyeSight suite of safety systems -- which is standard on all Outback models -- with adaptive cruise control, lane-centering tech, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning.

We opted to add a $1,875 package that got us a power moonroof and rear automatic emergency braking, in addition to a $245 wireless phone charger. All told, our Outback came out to $37,995 delivered, which is still a few thousand dollars less than the average new car transaction price at the end of 2020.

We liked the look of our Onyx Edition XT tester.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Rugged, but make it livable

Our Outback was just as capable as any other SUV. Our tester rocked 8.7 inches of ground clearance and had a Deep Snow/Mud mode for inclement weather as part of the Onyx Edition XT trim. This let the wheels spin more freely, which was actually something I wanted when traversing through packed snow. It gave me a weird sense of liberation on those days when the city didn't find my street a priority for the snow plow. Where all of my neighbors would get stuck not even a block away from home, I was well on my way in the Outback.

But there was still a dash of sportiness in this otherwise rugged formula. The 2.4-liter turbo engine makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough for a tall wagon of this size. On a road trip from Michigan to Maine, friend-of-Roadshow Seyth Miersma could sense the inherent fun-factor. "Yeah, the steering is pretty light, and the turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer doesn't punch super hard from low revs, but I still felt the underlying Subaru sportiness while driving through the hills."

Overall, our Outback was a comfy cruiser, especially on the highway. Around town, however, everyone who drove the Outback noted some clunky acceleration from a stop. We'd get a sudden burst of oomph and then immediately settle into a dead zone, which was tough to get used to. Other Subaru drivers have reported similar behavior, and it's a trait we experienced in our long-term 2019 Ascent that also had the 2.4-liter turbo engine.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Happily, digging into the turbo power didn't hurt our observed fuel economy too much. After a year of testing, we saw 25 miles per gallon, which is just 1 mpg less than the EPA estimates. Considering the Outback spent a lot of its pandemic life stuck to the confines of around-town driving, that isn't too bad.

What we really liked best about the Outback was that do-it-all versatility. I loaded the Outback with multiple bags of concrete and chain link to build a fence; I took it every week for groceries; I took it camping. From running errands to road trips, there wasn't a single time when our staff wasn't glad to have the Outback in the fleet. "It might not be the most stylish thing on four wheels, but the Outback is an undeniably versatile and capable utility vehicle," reviews editor Craig Cole wrote.

The 11.6-inch infotainment display got a lot of staffers talking.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Now, add tech

For under $40,000, our Outback was a whole lot of car. Subaru baked a massive amount of technology into the Outback, especially in our Onyx Edition XT. The 11.6-inch infotainment screen wasn't just a conversation starter, it genuinely worked well once you committed its functions to memory. I still think a couple other physical buttons would be best on super-cold days when the screen inputs lagged, but it certainly worked well the majority of the time.

One hyper-specific gripe, though: "After hours and hours of night driving, the display felt like overkill," Miersma noted. "Broken up into three configurable planes of information, I rarely needed more than one. I also found myself wishing I could turn the brightness way, way down on the giant screen as it drew the weary eye like a moth to an iPad."

Oh yeah, we definitely took it camping.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Our Outback had a ton of driver-assistance tech thanks to the aforementioned EyeSight package. We did find the lane-keeping assist a little too sensitive, and we also noticed it would beep and shut off on multiple occasions. Other stuff, like rear automatic emergency braking, were things we didn't appreciate until they quite literally saved our ass.

A lot of people will buy the Outback as a family car, but we're mostly a childless bunch here at Roadshow. That's where our buddy Seyth Miersma chimed in again with a specific bit of praise: "Subaru gets bonus points for the easily accessible LATCH child seat anchors (with a hand flap for covering back up when not in use), and for enough legroom that 6-foot-plus folks like myself can sit in back with the baby and not feel at all cramped."

The one bit of tech we didn't like? The stereo. "The ever-attentive driver aids were always an asset, though what stuck out most in my mind was the sound system," Cole wrote, genuinely wondering if something was broken. The whole staff agreed: The audio tech in the Outback was bad, and Subaru doesn't offer any sort of premium upgrade. "Come to think of it, I don't know if I've ever been in a Subaru with a decent stereo," managing editor Steven Ewing noted. "For something that gets so much use, why cheap out here?"

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The longroof that's big on value

New cars are expensive, and now more than ever, car shoppers likely kick the tires on a car that will serve them in a multitude of ways -- hence the increasing popularity of crossovers and SUVs. It's why I genuinely think the Outback Onyx Edition XT's $36,155 price feels like a great overall value. It's not a premium car, but the interior materials felt worthy of the price. Our Outback wasn't a technological masterpiece, but it ran today's digital comforts with ease on a fancy screen. And don't forget, this is a car that will deliver the same principle things we liked about ours for less than $30,000. The extras we tested were just a bonus; the Outback's character is its real meal ticket.

Really, I think a lot of the Outback's charm boils down to its character. Yes, you can shop a Forester for a couple grand less and get similar cargo space, but the Outback is just... different. A good different. It feels more like an all-weather machine and stands out from a sea of me-too crossovers. It's a unique alternative to the traditional SUV, and one we'd have no trouble recommending. We might've only spent 12 months with ours, but this is one test car we'd happily welcome back for an even longer stay.

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers