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2020 Subaru Outback First Drive Review By Larry Nutson

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2020 Subaru Outback
An outdoor tool

By Larry Nutson
Executive Producer and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

California’s North Coast is also referred to as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast because getting there is an adventure since there are no major highways into the area. It was in California’s Mendocino County just north of the town of Fort Bragg along Highway 1 that I would have my own adventure driving the 2020 Subaru Outback.

With paved roads sitting just 85 ft above the Pacific’s crashing waves and off-road trails climbing a couple thousand feet into the surrounding hills through forests of redwoods, the versatile capability of the new Outback would be put to the test.

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The all-wheel drive Outback is designed for off-road use. The 2020 Subaru Outback is even more impressive with its trail capability. The body structure has been stiffened, the suspension beefed up, there’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and the X-Mode off-road setting with active torque vectoring puts the power to the wheels with grip.

I spent the good part of a day, sharing the duties with a driving partner, driving two versions of the new Outback with two different engines.

An on-road driving stint in a base engine Outback with Premium trim powered by a 2.5-L 4-cylinder Boxer engine with 182-horsepower took us to the dusty trials into the mountains. We spent about two hours first driving between and around a number of grazing cattle along a dusty one-track trail then climbing steep ascents, down some descents, around switch-backs, crossing a few mountain streams, and squeezing along the forested hillside. The Outback is quite capable with all of its off-road “tools” in handling the task with confidence.

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On the road with this 182-HP Outback acceleration and overall performance is very good. I really liked the calibration of the CVT automatic which also has an 8-speed manual mode controlled with shift paddles. There’s low engine noise, unlike many other CVT-equipped vehicles.

After coming down the mountain we switched into a Touring XT trim powered by the new 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-L Boxer engine which also uses the Lineartronic CVT automatic. Heading north on Highway 1 the added power immediately brought a smile to my face.

This road winds through the hillsides along the coast with many an uphill, downhill and sharp turn. The Outback not only has good off-road manners but it also can handle the twist-windy roads quite well. Overall suspension tuning is very comfortable and predictive. It’s not to stiff but stiff enough to do the on-road job well.

The cabin of the new Outback has gotten a somewhat revolutionary change with a new nicely centered and easily reachable 11.6 inch tablet info screen. Seating is supportive and comfortable providing an excellent driving position. There’s good outward visibility with clear sight lines plus there’s plenty of cargo room in the back for all your outdoor gear, or perhaps suitcases or groceries.

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Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist technology is standard across the entire lineup and includes Adaptive Cruise Control and a new Lane Centering function. LED headlights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, auto high beams and rearview camera are also standard.

A new Front View Monitor captures images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle and displays a 180-degree view on the 11.6-inch display for checking road conditions ahead (like off-road) or parking.

The Outback is available in Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT models. The XT denotes the 260 horsepower models.

Prices start at $26,645 for the Base model and climb to the Touring XT at $39,695, plus a $1,010 destination charge.

The Onyx Edition XT is new for 2020 and is priced at $34,895. Features include black-finish exterior trim, 18-inch alloy wheels and badging, a full-size spare and an exclusive gray two-tone interior. The seats are wrapped in a new water-repellant durable StarTex material, so don’t worry about that wet bathing suit.

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XT models can tow up to 3,500 lbs. EPA test-cycle ratings for the 2.4-L turbo are 23 city mpg and 30 highway mpg. The 2.5-L engine is rated 3 mpg better in both the city and highway.

Depending on trim you can get a moonroof, navigation, power-fold outside mirrors, leather seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, Harman Kardon premium audio, 18-inch wheels, and hands-free liftgate. Roof rack cross bars are of a swing in place design so they are always with you when needed. They swing to the side when not needed to reduce drag and wind noise. Go to to check out all the choices.

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Subaru has been enjoying tremendous sales success with year over year increases, in spite of market downturns. I remember when Subaru was only popular in mountainous and snowy New England and the Rockies. Now up and down both coasts, in many university towns, as well as near medical complexes you see lots of Subarus.

This report comes from an invitation-only Subaru launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Subaru provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.

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© 2019 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy