2020 Subaru Outback Premium: A new take on love?
Price: $32,900 as tested. A package adding moonroof, premium navigation, blind-spot detection, and hands-free rear gate cost $2,995.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes: "Competent off-road, spacious rear seat, leading-edge tech features.” Dislikes: “Ho-hum powertrains, slow design evolution, occasionally sluggish CVT.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Go where love takes you."
Reality: Subaru has often made its cars about love and freedom, which nicely deflects us away from the fact that cars are mostly about bills and aggravation (traffic, insurance, repairs, long commutes …). But this Outback is kind of lovable.
What’s new: The Outback grows a little, gets a new engine option, and a larger touchscreen option.
Up to speed: The 182-horsepower 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder will run the Outback to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
The XT models get a 2.4-liter turbo boxer that creates a whopping (for Subaru) 260 horses. It shaves the 0-to-60 time to 6.3 seconds.
Shiftless: Any power sapping could be traced to the CVT, at least from the low end — 0 to 30 felt like forever.
Even with paddle shifters providing gearish choices, speed is sacrificed to the gods of smoothness.
On the road: The Outback has the old familiar steady-as-she-goes Subaru handling. Though not sporty, the Outback is enjoyable racing along country lanes and gliding smoothly down highways.
In the weather, though, the Outback did lose its grip on rainy surfaces fairly quickly. I know I wasn’t asking too much of the Outback. I may roar on the dry pavement, but I drive much more gingerly in the rain. It just felt as if the tires weren’t up to the task.
Driver’s Seat: Subaru doesn’t make the cheap seats feel cheap. The cloth seats in the test vehicle provided plenty of comfort and support, with enough grip to keep one in place. Gets my vote.
Friends and stuff: The rear seat is not a bad place to be at all. It sits up higher than the front and offers plenty of comfort in the seat itself. Legroom and foot room are generous; only headroom is a bit compromised by the tall seat bottom. Center passengers will suffer a large hump courtesy of the beauty of all-wheel drive.
Cargo space is 35.7 cubic feet with the seats up — that’s almost as much as a Buick Encore with the seats down — and a whopping 75.7 with the seats down.
Play some tunes: The Subaru Outback gets a whole new (for the whole company) infotainment system that has more than a passing resemblance to Volvo’s attractive touchscreen. The optional 11.6-inch vertical layout touchscreen looks big and inviting.
Operation is a mixed bag. Knobs control volume and tuning, but almost everything else requires a visit to Touchscreenland. Many of the buttons there are big and easy to find, but operating the equalizer and using CarPlay mean waiting until the next red light — too small and dangerous to other drivers. (If only the truly dangerous drivers would learn to follow these simple steps. ...)
Sound quality is an A-. It’s clear and crisp, but it rides way too far up the scale, making bass sound like guitar and guitar sound like mandolin or ukulele. It’s like a music box for your Subaru, and it all seems to emanate from the console itself, like a 1973 Ford LTD single-speaker AM-only radio.
In any case, the buzzing of the horizontally opposed four is pleasant enough to listen to as well.
Keeping warm and cool: The only control function offered outside the touchscreen is temperature control. This poses a problem in two ways: 1. Upon startup, the blower offers the latest settings until the screen fully activates, which takes longer when the car is too hot — and presumably when it’s too cold. 2. The fan controls are smaller than my pinkie and also should wait until I stop the vehicle. Grrr. And sometimes brrrr.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 28 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat circuit around Southeastern Pennsylvania. Feed the Outback whatever.
Where it’s built: Lafayette, Ind.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Outback a predicted reliability of 4 out of 5, where it’s mostly been, except for a blip of 2 out 5 in 2018.
In the end: The Outback remains an affable companion, easy to live with and nice to drive, with plenty of room, and that fuel economy is a real bonus. I’ve since tried the other engine in a Legacy, and it drove fuel economy pretty far south.