The Subaru Outback has always been a left-of-center contender in the midsize crossover-SUV space. It's more of a tall wagon than an upright sport-utility vehicle, with plenty of ground clearance and lots of space inside. We like the Outback because it thinks slightly outside the box. And the brand-new 2020 Outback that debuts at the this week offers updates that broaden the model's appeal without straying from that charming formula.
For starters, the 2020 Outback now rides on Subaru's global platform, which underpins the Ascent, Crosstrek, Forester, Impreza and redesigned , the latter of which largely forms the basis for this redesigned wagon. The new Outback isn't much larger than its predecessor, but Subaru says the structure is significantly stiffer than before.
On the powertrain front, the big news is the return of a turbocharged engine option. In its higher XT trims, the Outback uses the 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four engine from the Ascent and Legacy, tuned to produce 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a continuously variable transmission, Subaru estimates fuel economy numbers of 23 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway with this engine, plus the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Non-XT models will use Subaru's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated flat-four engine, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. This engine is slightly more efficient, with Subaru estimating fuel economy of 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. As with the turbo engine, the 2.5-liter H4 is paired with a continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive.
Subaru says the 2020 Outback has a number of improved suspension components that ought to make it more enjoyable to drive. Should you want to venture off the beaten path, the Outback offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance -- the same as before -- and all models get the company's X-Mode function with hill-descent control.
Inside, the new Outback gets a massive tech upgrade, by way of the 11.6-inch, portrait-oriented infotainment display, which is standard on all but the base trim level. This new touchscreen runs an updated version of the automaker's Starlink infotainment system, with optional TomTom-based navigation and a new app called Chimani (which kind of sounds like a granola-based snack), which gives detailed information about all 417 national parks in the US -- how appropriately Subaru.
Whether you get the big touchscreen or opt for the base model, every 2020 Outback comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth audio and over-the-air updates. All Outbacks also come with Subaru's EyeSight safety tech, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane-centering tech. LED headlights, reverse automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, a head-up display and a front-view camera are all available as options, or bundled into higher trim levels.
Otherwise, the Outback's interior isn't radically larger than before, though Subaru says it's a lot quieter, with better overall materials. The Outback has 75.7 cubic feet of space behind the front seats -- about the same as other midsize crossovers -- and can be had with a hands-free power liftgate. Instead of kicking your foot under the bumper like on many cars with this tech, the Outback's system activates when you wave a hand (or arm, if you're carrying grocery bags) in front of the Subaru logo on the hatch.
For the extra rugged among us, Subaru offers the Onyx Edition Outback, which starts with the second-from-base Premium trim, and adds water-repellant seat material, unique 18-inch wheels and the turbocharged 2.4-liter engine. The Onyx Edition also gets a hands-free power liftgate, front-view camera and a dual-mode X-Mode drive setting.
The Onyx Edition XT is one of several 2020 Outback models, including Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Limited XT and Touring XT. Pricing for all of these models will be announced when the Outback arrives in Subaru dealers this fall.
Originally published April 17, 8:30 a.m. PT.