2020 Subaru Outback - Initial Ownership Review

I declare that it is new Subaru day here at Oppositelock.

I’ve had my 2020 Subaru Outback Limited XT in crimson red for less than a week, driven it about 450 miles, and here are my initial impressions:

Overall it is a great driver, especially compared to the other SUVs that I was considering. It acquitted itself well when we headed to the mountains and forest service roads within 24 hours of purchase, hauling all of the gear and soaking up the bumps, rocky areas and loose, deep gravel well. It will do what I intended it to do, while returning good fuel economy and providing abundant power (since this has the turbo 2.4L boxer 4). I have gripes, which I will detail, but overall it is a great package for the price with the criteria that I had.

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In the woods near Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest within 24 hours of purchase
Photo: LimitedTimeOnly

Performance

This car can take off like a rocket. It is no supercar, but it is faster to 60 mph than my GTI, and smoother about it, too, due to the CVT just making things . . . well, mostly linear. My GTI spools up a little bit then KICKS you in the pants and everything happens quickly. The Outback gets going, then is going faster, and then faster, although with interesting, presumably artificial, minor “shift” points. I still prefer my GTI for excitement, and certainly cornering, but this turbo Outback speed helped to seal the deal over the competitors that I looked at.

The automatic stop/start of the engine is so-so. The engine has enough power that when it comes back on at a stoplight (say, to run the air conditioning), the car surges against the brakes, which is unsettling. It is disappointing that Subaru makes this stop/start a default, so even if a user turns it off (by going down a couple of layers on the touchscreen), it will be back on the next time the car starts. The dash indicated that in the first tank the stop/start feature saved me something like 0.03 gallons, if I remember correctly. Not terribly worth it, but I’m only a bit into the second tank, with primarily city driving, and it is already showing something like 8 minutes of stoppage time and 0.1 gallons saved, so maybe worth it. I don’t really have much choice if I don’t want to turn it off each time I get into the car.

Package

The car looks like it has the dimensions and proportions of a compact car, but when parked next to a regular compact car it is obvious that it is HUGE. A lot of the space goes into rear seat legroom, but, still. I guess I’m not used to modern “mid-size” cars. We still needed to buy the cargo carrier from the dealer to carry all of our car camping stuff and firewood even with that space. I should have enough room to lie down in the back with the rear seats down based on measurements, although I haven’t tried it yet. Hard to believe I’ve ended up here after previously being happy fitting everything I needed for days into a backpack.

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Parked next to my GTI on the night we bought it, photo taken because I was still surprised by the size, even though that is why I bought it.
Photo: LimitedTimeOnly

I haven’t yet found the right, comfortable position of the driver’s seat, but this was true with my GTI for a while, too. This is why I get seats with many electric adjustments at this point in my life. And a big reason to get the Limited XT over the Onyx XT for me was the addition of the driver’s seat memory. This way, once I find that EXTRA SPECIAL seat position, I can save it, and my very much shorter wife can mess with the seat to her heart’s content, and I will be able to get back to sitting in comfort in the future. Please let me sit in comfort in the car. (My weekend trip wasn’t a problem, I may have overdone a workout since then, so it is likely fixable, just haven’t gotten there yet.)

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I definitely like the maroon (crimson red) paint job. Since buying it I have noticed many, many vehicles of various makes in maroon, and very few in green, and have some buyer’s remorse for not getting green. But at least I got a color, and the red is a little brighter than typical maroon. [Rant about there not being enough cars with interesting colors in the world REDACTED.]

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Fit and finish seem very good, nothing has caught my attention yet as a problem, although I’m also not looking for anything carefully. Given my tendency to fixate on details, ignorance is bliss in this area for me.

The rear seats can be dropped using mechanical releases positioned on the sides of the trunk area, which is nice. There is a hook on each side of the trunk for plastic grocery bags (or re-usable ones, if you care about the planet on occasion), and although they are cool in that they close back up, I’m surprised by only two. There is a 12V outlet in the trunk, along with cargo tie-downs and a nifty set-up for the optional cargo net. And the retractable cargo cover can be set at two different elevations, which may be a common thing but is a first for me.

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I got a package with the all-weather mats, including the cargo area, and immediately dirtied them up hauling firewood and hiking around our mountain campsite the day after getting the car. Not quite as deep as Weathertech mats, but close enough that I don’t expect to replace them. I also got rear seatback protectors, which basically velcro heavy-duty black plastic covers to the seatbacks, which meant that I didn’t worry about shoving bundles of wood into the back of the trunk area. Also got a plastic bumper cover, which may help avoid unsightly scratches in the future.

Parked next to a sweet adventure van just before starting a hike. Note that we are still loaded with plenty of firewood in the car on day two.
Photo: LimitedTimeOnly
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Subaru failed to plan ahead well for trailer hitches, and no cars could be purchased yet with a factory hitch. This has left dealers doing the install, sometimes with a painful learning curve. My dealer had installed a couple already, but I put them on notice that they had to do a great job for me, and they came through.

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Plus, since they were available and I hope to test the limits of the car, I added on a (dealer installed) factory rear differential guard and upgraded the engine under guard from plastic to aluminum (or, if you are reading this in a British-english voice, “aluminium”). The engine guard is on back-order until December.

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Optional (black) guard protecting the (shiny silver) rear differential
Photo: LimitedTimeOnly

The Technology

Something that I noticed during the test drive was that the car doesn’t make an audible noise when someone is in the blind spot and I turn on the signal . . . instead the blind spot light goes from solid to flashing. That light is bright at night, too. There appears to be no setting to allow for audible blind spot warnings.

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The car does make an audible noise regularly when the lane keeping function loses sight of the lane markings. Or when I change lanes without signaling (fortunately this is quite rare). Or when it is cold enough to form ice. Or when I’ve driven for 2 hours.

That lane-keep function works well. It’s not able to follow anything but a gentle curve on its own, but I’m okay with that. The automatic cruise control (radar cruise control) works quite well. I resisted it at first, since I had never used one before, but it is great on long trips, including braking when traffic is slowing, and combined with the lane-keep should make other long trips much less tiring in the future. This is definitely the road trip car now.

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The driver attention warning on the Limited is aggressively effective with warnings if the car is moving and one isn’t paying attention. That’s good, although annoying.

There is a “DriverSense” feature on the Limited and Touring trim that is supposed to recognize the driver and put all of the settings to that person’s profile. For some reason it has yet to successfully remember my face, despite repeated attempts. Oh, well.

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Functionality

The headlights are terrific. And on the Limited they are active headlights, like on my GTI, bending as I am cornering.

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All of the windows are auto down and up, and go completely down in the rear. This is important to provide his royal furry highness easy access to stick his head out when traveling at what my wife likes to call “sniff speed.”

The default for the touch lock is that it only unlocks the driver’s door. In my GTI, two swipes with my hand unlocks all doors. There is a setting change, but the only other option is to unlocking all doors at the first touch. I wish it had the two swipe option like on the GTI.

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That start/stop setting that I mentioned above being deep in the menus is annoying, but at least I am able to create a shortcut to something like that which will sit on the main screen.

However, the seat heaters are a bit different. If it’s cold, I want to punch those up as soon as I get in the car, but they require waiting for the infotainment to wake up, then I must touch once to get to the individual temperature control screen, then touch to turn heat on. This requires a delay as well as good aim, both of which are annoying when one is cold. Subaru definitely messed up by making HVAC controls (besides the main temperature up/down buttons) all touch screen. It will be fine, but it was a big negative when considering the purchase, and I still don’t particularly accept it.

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Summary

There are many small settings related to the technology interface that Subaru did not get right as far as I am concerned, and I am still hopeful that I’ll find the right position of the driver’s seat to work with my demanding back, but the overall package is terrific. I just should have gotten the car in green.

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Doggo for your time:

Enzo likes that the rear windows go fully down, but does not like that the car can go fast over bumpy roads
Photo: LimitedTimeOnly
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