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2021 Subaru Outback - Review By Larry Nutson

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Go where you want to go

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

In late July 2019, Subaru of America introduced the all-new 2020 Outback, the sixth generation of this utility vehicle (UV). Back then, on the invite of Subaru, I spent some time behind the wheel of the new Outback driving both on the road and off-road trails in California’s North Coast. I drove 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.

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Recently I again had a driving experience with the Outback, this time around the environs of my Chicago home and also on the interstate that connects Chicago to Southeast Michigan.

For 2021 the Outback has a few new standard safety features including Steering Responsive LED headlights; Passenger Seat Belt Reminder as well as a Rear Seat Reminder.

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Although having a station wagon-like appearance, the all-wheel drive Outback is very utilitarian. It’s also designed for off-road use and has impressive trail capability. This current sixth-gen model has a stiffened body structure, beefed up suspension, and there’s a very-real 8.7 inches of ground clearance. I’ve often given thought to some other vehicles on the market being called an SUV but having less than 7 inches of ground clearance.

The Outback is available in Base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims. All are powered by a 2.5-L 4-cylinder Boxer engine with 182-horsepower mated to a CVT automatic which also has an 8-speed manual mode controlled with shift paddles. Also available are Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT trims powered by a 260- horsepower turbocharged 2.4-L Boxer engine which also uses the Lineartronic CVT automatic. This engine was new for 2020.

All Outbacks have X-Mode off-road setting with active torque vectoring that puts the power to the wheels with grip.

For my recent drive experience I drove the Onyx Edition XT. Although it was a 2020 model, the 2021 model changes are minimal thus making this still a good representation of the latest Outback.

The Onyx Edition XT trim was a new addition to the line-up for 2020 and features 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.

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 too stiff but stiff enough to do the on-road job well. This new drive experience around Chicago’s sometimes rough city streets and on my highway drive across Michigan proved that again.

The 260hp Outback delivers good acceleration and overall performance. I really liked the calibration of the CVT automatic. There’s low engine noise, unlike many other CVT- equipped vehicles. The engine is equipped with an idle stop/start system for both reduced fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions. It has an override feature, but you need to page through the infotainment screen to find it.

EPA test-cycle ratings for the 260hp Outback are 26 combined mpg, with 23 city mpg and 30 highway mpg. On my interstate road trip across Michigan together with my wife and a not-too-heavy load of Christmas gifts the Outback got 26 mpg. I thought fuel consumption would have been closer to the EPA 30 mpg, but the highway was lightly traveled so my average speed was a bit high.

Outback trims with the 182hp engine are EPA rated 3 mpg higher at 26 city mpg and 33 highway mpg,

The multi-hour drive across Michigan was quite comfortable. I was pleasantly surprised at the low cabin noise, which is hard to manage in a utility vehicle’s large open interior space. Tire noise was also a non-issue—actually quite good considering the slightly aggressive tread pattern.

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The Outback has a 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 rear behind the seats.

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Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist technology is standard across the entire lineup and includes Adaptive Cruise Control and a Lane Centering function. I used the system on the interstate and the lane centering worked very nicely keeping the Outback in the lane, without any weaving back and forth between the lane markings. LED headlights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, auto high beams and rearview camera are all standard.

Prices for the 2021 Outback start at $26,795, which is only a $150 increase from the previous model year. The Onyx Edition XT I drove has a base price of $34,895. A $1,845 option package added navigation, power moonroof and reverse automatic braking. Together with $245 for wireless charging and the $1,010 destination charge the total hit $37,995.   

Go to to check out all the choices and complete pricing. Of note, the Outback is assembled in Subaru’s Lafayette, Indiana facility.

A 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 and for those concrete parking blocks.

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Subarus are no longer popular only 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 Subaru vehicles. Subaru has been enjoying tremendous sales success with year over year increases. For 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic has resulted in a downturn for the entire auto industry. But, things are trending up.

© 2021 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy