As a raised all-wheel-drive station wagon with some dirt-road capabilities, the Subaru Outback is part family hauler, part crossover SUV. And because it was an all-new vehicle for 2020, the popular Subaru Outback has only minor changes for 2021. Subaru, understandably, doesn’t need mess with a formula that has created such a devoted following over the years.
What’s New for 2021?
Even though this Subaru wagon was completely redesigned for the 2020 model year, this 6th-generation Outback looks much like the vehicle it has replaced. But under the skin, it’s based on the new Subaru Global Platform, which is significantly stiffer than its predecessor.
Changes to the Outback for 2021 are minor. The Outback gains active LED headlights that are linked to the steering, so they point into corners. It also now has a rear-seat warning that reminds people to check the back seat for infants or other precious cargo after the Outback’s engine has been switched off. Last, the 2021 Outback now has a seatbelt warning light and chime for the front and rear seats. See the 2021 Subaru Outback models for sale near you
What We Like
- Standard all-wheel drive
- Strong off-road capability
- 8.7 inches of ground clearances
- Potent turbocharged engine
- Standard EyeSight driver-assistance tech
What We Don’t
- Doesn’t look much different from the 2019 model
- Automatic restarts aren’t smooth enough
The 2021 Subaru Outback is available with a 2.5-liter flat-4 engine that sends 182 horsepower to all four wheels via a CVT transmission with 8 paddle-shift steps that simulate the gear changes of a conventional automatic. With the 2.5-liter, which also produces 176 lb-ft of torque, the 2021 Outback returns 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.
If you order an XT model, your Outback comes with a turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-4 with 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque and the same CVT. The 2021 Subaru Outback XT returns 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
Standard Features & Options
The 2021 Outback is available in seven trims, with all XT models powered by the turbo engine.
The base Outback ($27,845) includes the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine, X-Mode AWD, hill descent control, active torque vectoring, a dual 7-in-screen Starlink infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 4-speaker audio, and EyeSight driver-assist technology, which includes automatic emergency braking, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering. The base Outback also has active LED headlights, roof rails, cloth upholstery, steering wheel controls for audio, Bluetooth, cruise control, two USB ports, and automatic climate control.
Upgrading to the Outback Premium ($30,095) brings you the 11.6-in Starlink infotainment system, 6-speaker audio, Starlink Safety and Security connected services, which include automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, and much more. Other niceties include dual-zone automatic climate control, LED fog lights, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual back seat USB ports, and a retractable and removable cargo cover.
The luxurious Outback Limited ($34,645) adds leather-trimmed upholstery, a hands-free power rear liftgate, machine-finished black 18-in alloy wheels, power front seats, 2-position driver’s seat memory, heated back seats, pushbutton start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Harman Kardon premium audio, blind-spot detection (with lane change assist) and rear cross-traffic alert (with reverse automatic braking).
Next up, the Outback Touring ($38,545). This is the nicest Outback you can get with the base engine. Its standard equipment includes Nappa leather upholstery, a power moonroof, chrome exterior trim, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, and the DriverFocus distraction mitigation system.
In the Onyx Edition Outback XT ($36,195), you get the turbo 2.4-liter, gray water-repellent interior fabric, black 18-in alloy wheels, and dual-mode X-Mode AWD that has two extra settings: Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud.
The Outback Limited XT ($39,045) is equipped similarly to the naturally aspirated Limited model but adds navigation, a power moonroof, DriverFocus, a heated steering wheel, and the more powerful turbocharged engine.
At the top of the lineup is the Outback Touring XT ($40,995). It’s a luxuriously equipped Touring model with the turbo engine, plus dual exhausts and a high-torque CVT.
A 2020 Subaru Outback, which has the same chassis as the 2021 model, received a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHHS) crash testing, the Outback earned a Top Safety Pick + designation.
Recall that every 2021 Outback comes standard with EyeSight safety tech including automatic emergency braking, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering. Available safety tech you can add in the higher trims includes the DriverFocus distraction mitigation system, reverse automatic braking, and blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
Behind the Wheel
The 2021 Subaru Outback is an enjoyable vehicle on pavement or dirt, a significant improvement over the previous-generation model from 2019. The 2021 Outback is smooth and comfortable on the highway, but with X-Mode AWD and 8.7 inches of ground clearance, this Subaru will have no trouble with the dirt road leading to your favorite trailhead.
While it’s not as ruggedly tuned as the Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner, the Outback might surprise you with how well this midsize wagon tackles rough roads. And in nasty conditions like mud, snow, or rain, the Outback shines.
The base engine is adequate for most drivers, but the driving enthusiast will really appreciate the turbocharged powerplant and its excellent low-end torque. This is a wagon that’s totally at home on trails or the highway, and while we like the impressive fuel economy numbers of the base engine, the turbo is a worthwhile upgrade for anyone who loves driving. Or lives in Colorado, where Subarus magically proliferate.
The rich interior makes the Outback even more of a pleasure to drive. The seats are comfortable for long distances, and the EyeSight driver-assistance tech lessens strain on the highway. Back-seat passengers will appreciate not just the generous legroom and headroom, but also the dual USB ports found in the back of most new Outbacks. For folks with one or two kids, the Outback makes for a great family car that has much more character than your average crossover SUV.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Buick Regal TourX — The Buick Regal TourX is a lifted wagon with standard AWD and decent off-roading capabilities. Priced very similarly to the Outback, and it comes standard with a turbocharged engine.
2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country — If you like the idea of a lifted AWD wagon and have a bit more room in your budget, you might be interested in the Volvo V60 Cross Country. It’s little more than a lifted version of the V60 wagon with standard AWD. Not a bad thing considering the V60 is a great luxury wagon.
2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain — If you like the idea of a lifted AWD wagon and have quite a bit more room in your budget, you might be interested in the new E450 All-Terrain. All new E-Class wagons, apart from the hot E63 model, get the rugged “Outback” treatment for 2021.
Used Volkswagen Golf Alltrack — VW stopped making this lifted AWD wagon in 2019. It’s a bit smaller and more agile than the Subaru, but the idea behind it is the same.
Used Subaru Outback — Is the 2021 Outback too pricey for you? Consider a used one. It will give you almost identical capabilities but without the turbo engine, new infotainment system, or EyeSight safety tech. The previous generation Outback ran from 2015-2019 and can be found on Autotrader for less than $20,000.
Questions You May Ask
What’s the warranty on the 2020 Subaru Outback?
Bumper-to-bumper protection, at 3 years or 36,000 miles, is unremarkable. The powertrain coverage for the 2021 Subaru Outback, at 5 years or 60,000 miles, is much better.
What fuel economy can I expect with the 2021 Subaru Outback?
Powered by the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 2021 Subaru Outback is rated by the EPA at 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. The Outback XT with the turbocharged 2.4-liter engine is rated by the EPA at 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined.
Is the Subaru Outback larger than the Subaru Forester?
It is. The Outback is a 193.1-inch vehicle with a 108.1-inch wheelbase and 32.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats (or 75.7 cubic feet of space with rear seat folded). The Forester, for comparison, is a 182.1-in vehicle with a 105.1-in wheelbase. You’ll find 31.1 cubic feet of storage behind its rear bench (or 76.1 cubic feet when that seat is folded).
How much weight can the 2021 Subaru Outback tow?
With the 2.5-liter engine, the trailer-towing capacity of the 2021 Subaru Outback is 2,700 pounds. With the turbo 2.4-liter in the XT models, that increases to 3,500 pounds.
Where is the Subaru Outback built?
The Subaru Outback comes to us from Lafayette, Indiana, from the same plant that builds the Legacy sedan.
With the 2021 Outback, Subaru has made a few minor improvements on a handy multipurpose vehicle with a roomy interior, a user-friendly infotainment system, and a generous standard safety suite.
The Outback you choose may depend on where you live. If you’re a flatlander, the base 2.5-liter engine works just fine. But if you live in the mountains (or go up there a lot), we’d opt for the turbo 2.4. And of those, we’d opt for the Onyx model, with its water-repellent interior fabric, its cool black wheels, and its dual-mode X-Mode AWD with two extra off-road settings. Find a Subaru Outback for sale