I recently had the chance to check out the new 2020 Subaru Outback, which is the latest version of America’s favorite station wagon. This is not a matter of opinion: The Outback is by far the most popular wagon in the United States — 20 percent more popular than the second-most popular wagon, which is also a Subaru.
The Outback has been around for well over 20 years now, and it’s been popular basically since day one, when it debuted as an alternative to SUVs that was comparable to a car, in line with the Subaru Legacy. These days, the Outback vastly outsells the Legacy, and it’s far more desirable for most consumers.
On paper, it’s easy to see why. The Outback is essentially a midsize SUV without the SUV. It offers similar interior room, similar storage space and standard all-wheel drive, but it doesn’t have the height of an SUV. It’s basically an SUV for people who want to drive a car.
And it does a great job at exactly that. The Outback I drove was equipped with the optional turbocharged 4-cylinder with 260 horsepower, which is a big upgrade over the standard engine with about 180 hp. It feels nimble compared to a midsize SUV, and it certainly feels more car-like and maneuverable — though you do lose the SUV’s more commanding driving position. It’s also worth noting that the Outback certainly isn’t as nimble and maneuverable as it once was, as it’s grown over the years, but I suspect most drivers would accept the larger interior as a trade-off for the slightly decreased maneuverability.
The other thing about the Outback that’s always been a strong point is that it’s a very durable, simple car. The new Outback has a new infotainment system, which is higher tech than anything that’s ever been in an Outback before, but otherwise it retains a lot of its roots. It doesn’t have many frills, and it doesn’t attempt to introduce any crazy new tech — Subaru leaves that for the Europeans.
Instead, it’s just a stable, durable car, and that’s a main reason why people love it so much. With that in mind, releasing a new infotainment system is a big deal, as Subaru shoppers don’t always have the desire for the latest tech. And my view on the infotainment system is that it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
There are some obvious positives to the system: the large, vertical screen has a layout like a smart phone, which we’re already used to, so it’s pretty intuitive. On most screens, it responds quickly to touch, which is also helpful. I am surprised to see a few glaring drawbacks, like the integration of too many climate controls into the screen. You have to press two buttons just to turn on the heated seats. I also don’t love how slow the navigation system is. It’s the only slow point of the infotainment system, but it’s a big demerit compared to rivals.
Still, the new Outback just takes the formula that’s worked so many times in the past (take a Subaru wagon and jack it up a bit) and improves upon it. The safety tech is great, the infotainment system is generally good and the vehicle still hasn’t lost the simple, durable character it’s known for. The Outback is a great family car, and I highly recommend it. The new version will surely remain America’s favorite wagon. Find a Subaru Outback for sale