Camp Vehicle Search, Part the Second

I went test driving today with the wife for a replacement to her car. The goal is to have more room and better capability in a vehicle to take to campsites. Today we drove the 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT, the 2019 Honda Passport EX-L AWD, and the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium.

I did spend the morning considering adding the 2019/2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk to the mix. I’m still not ruling it out completely, but reliability concerns, resale value, and cargo space concerns mean that I’m not focusing on it, plus my wife has reached the end of her patience with car shopping. I am approved to continue to consider cars without her, but it does lessen the likelihood that I will.

Illustration for article titled Camp Vehicle Search, Part the Second

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT

We drove the Outback Onyx, which is the more off-road focused trim. It drove well, and I had no complaints about the CVT, although there was a notable amount of wind and engine noise. It has all of the features we would like, including good fuel economy, but won’t be a rock-crawler (not that we need that, it’s just a dream, but the CVT transmission is supposed to be a bit fragile when put into heavy-duty trail use).


While my wife liked the automatic tailgate being able to be set for different opening heights, she was concerned with overall cargo space, as the top of the opening is only 29 inches above the floor. However, it has generous length, with a minimum of 72 inches for me to stretch out in for the rare occasion where I need to sleep in the car at a trailhead. So, there is decent cargo space. The standard roof rack comes with integrated crossbars, and I pointed out that we could put a cargo box on top if necessary.

One of the features of this trim is the “active lifestyle” upholstery. It is a urethane material like a wetsuit. Sounds great in theory. I had read a couple of owners who felt that it made them sweaty. Sure enough, on an 88 degree Fahrenheit day, with the climate control doing a good job keeping it at 73 inside, my back was unable to cool down and was sweaty.


I may need to give it another chance, but I am now considering going up a trim to the Limited XT, which gets us the driver’s seat memory (yay!) and leather, while losing the extra setting for the traction-management, the hill-descent control, and the full-size spare of the Onyx that I appreciated.

One oddity is that the blind spot warning did not sound an alert, but only flashed a light . . . perhaps a setting was amiss, but the salesperson thought that this was standard.


2019 Honda Passport EX-L AWD Touring AWD

In order to be able to drive all the vehicles on the same route with a few good curves as well as highway, we went to the neighboring Honda dealer. This was despite knowing in advance that they lacked the EX-L AWD that we were interested in. As a result, we poked around an EX-L FWD, then drove the Touring AWD, since it has a whole 0.5 inches in ride height difference. Overall, going into the testing I thought that the Passport was the way to go, since the EX-L had the features that we wanted (including driver’s seat memory), it was nice and big, and the all wheel drive programming and mechanicals appear to be great.


So, we did confirm that the EX-L is very nicely equipped, and would suit our needs very nicely, although I still would want to immediately replace the wheels and tires for 17- or 18-inch wheels instead of the 20-inchers that come standard. Unfortunately, the test drive of the Touring unveiled two problems for us.

First, the brakes feel weak. Neither of us felt confident in the stopping ability of the vehicle, although I imagine that more aggressive brake pads might help.


Second, and the fatal flaw, was that the front passenger seat lacked lumbar support completely. We each independently felt that the seat would cause discomfort on long trips, and we would want to be able to take this car as our road trip car.

Both of these could be corrected, I suppose, with brake pads and a small pillow, so we may need to reconsider, but it just seems like the car is a bit off the mark, that I would need to do those things and the wheel swap to get to a good starting point, which seems wrong for a brand-new vehicle.


The Passport was so close to being the choice, but now it is pretty much out of contention.

2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium

So, we finished the afternoon by going back to the dealer that we visited last night and driving the 4Runner ORP that was newly arrived. Although this lacked the KDSS suspension option that I would like, I found that it drove very similarly to the Limited (with X-REAS suspension) that we drove yesterday. It handled the corners only a bit worse than the Passport, which was impressive. As you would expect, the Outback handled the corners notably better than either. The acceleration is slower, but fine.


My wife definitely needs a step added to get in and out comfortably. While the ORP has all of the rock-crawling options possible, there are minor design issues that show it’s age, and it lacked the tech options like rear cross-traffic alert, memory driver’s seat, and auto climate control. It get poor fuel economy and is slow. But, my wife really likes the rugged look, commanding seating position and the tall cargo space. I like the potential to go rock-crawling (even if it is low probability).

Current status

Even though the 4Runner would cost significantly more (while holding a ridiculous resale value), it was the way my wife was leaning. Then we talked through it more. She is a hard “no” on the Passport due to the passenger seat and braking. As she realized just how well equipped the Subaru (Limited XT) is, she started to lean that way. And then she tapped out and said, “Whichever is fine, you choose, leave me out of it at this point.”


I’m going to sleep on it (at least). I’m leaning Subaru, but I’m still concerned about quality issues and durability. And part of me is saying that even if the Toyota is just a looks thing, I’m awfully rational and responsible in many, many parts of my life, and I may just need to throw that into the wind for once.

We also spoke about seeing what the redesign of the 4Runner looked like in the future (supposedly 2022) and trading in the Subie on that in the future. And, finally, the dealer had three 2019 4Runner TRD Pros sitting there . . . the wife might be okay with giving up keyless entry and push button start to get Voodoo Blue.


Lots to consider.

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