My family bought a new 2017 Subaru Outback about three years ago. It just made sense. It’s a roomy mid-size vehicle that drives like a car – because it is a car, sharing architecture with the Legacy sedan. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance deals with snow and light trails without issue, but the long wagon body remains low enough to loft bicycles, kayaks and other gear up to the built-in luggage rack. A power hatch allows access to a roomy cargo compartment – especially with the split/fold rear seats deployed.
We’d just like a little more power, improved infotainment, and sportier look. The Outback XT Onyx delivers that and more.
Dark Sinister Style
You have to park our 2017 Outback next to the completely redesigned 2020 edition to notice differences, though the car rides on a completely new platform and shares virtually nothing with its predecessor. LED headlights, LED fog lights, and a slightly longer body with accentuated rear windows introduce a new generation. The roof rack includes additional tie-downs, but the retractable cross bars remain. Onyx editions come with blacked out grille, badging, and 18-inch wheels. It gives this nerd-wagon a little street cred.
Moving inside, I suspect passengers will first notice and most appreciate the 11.6-inch tablet style touchscreen. Tom Tom navigation, heated seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control come too. Environmentally-sensitive Outback enthusiasts requested a non-cloth interior that’s not animal-based. They want to wipe out crud without killing cows. So, seats are upholstered in “StarTex” water repellant seats that feels equal parts vinyl and neoprene – very cool, especially with lime green stitching.
There’s much more to like. Passengers can recharge devices wirelessly and connect via Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G Wi-Fi. A power sunroof, push button starting, and wiper de-icer are also nice, but safety is paramount. Subaru’s EyeSight system employs twin cameras above the rearview mirror for auto collision mitigation, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering. Safety is further fortified with blind spot warning, rear auto braking, and a front camera to aid when exiting alleys or topping trails. The Outback earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick ranking.
Quick Turbo Power
Power has also been rearranged. Gone is the previous-generation’s optional six-cylinder engine, replaced by a new 2.4 liter turbocharged horizontally-opposed four-cylinder that delivers 260 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. It connects to the standard torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system through a continuously variable transmission. I don’t love CVTs and their revvy buzziness, but this one has 8 pre-set “gears” in paddle mode. Fuel economy is rated 23/30-MPG city/highway.
I always thought my family’s Outback rode and handled well, but the new one’s stiffer body structure and refined suspension is better. Where my car’s suspension can clunk a bit over rough impacts, this one just soaks it up like an Audi. The torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive is impressive in the way it slightly over-rotates the rear to tighten corners. Steering feels more direct for an enhanced driving experience.
When off-roading, press the X-Mode button that configures the traction control, powertrain, and hill descent control to shift torque between wheels on tough trails and creep it down steep hills automatically. As proven off-road in the Redwood Forest last summer, the Outback is a pretty capable off-roader.
My family liked the 2020 Outback XT Onyx very much. The touchscreen is nice, and so are the seats, but I appreciated the turbo engine and refined suspension from behind the wheel. It’s priced right too. Stickers begin at $26,645, but rose to $37,995 for all this car offers. Competitors range from the Volvo XC60 Cross Country to the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Jeep Cherokee, and Hyundai Santa Fe.
2020 Subaru Outback XT Onyx
- Five-passenger, AWD Crossover
- Powertrain: 2.4-liter T4, CVT auto trans
- Output: 260hp/277 lb.-ft. torque
- Towing: 3,500 lbs.
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, Capability
- Fuel economy: 23/30 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Lafayette, IN
- Base/As-tested price: $26,645/$37,995