Strong competition from a wagon-turned crossover in an unforgiving segment

The Subaru Outback started like as a full-fledged station wagon that was based on the Legacy back in 1994. In those 16 years, the Outback slowly evolved from your everyday wagon to what is, essentially, a crossover by today’s standards. As such, the competition is fierce, and with the sixth-gen Outback hitting the market for the 2020 model year, we thought it would be a great idea to see just what it has th

at sets it apart from the many models on the market. Fortunately for us (and you, of course), Subaru was kind enough to let us get behind the wheel of an Outback Onyx Edition XT for an entire week. This is what we’ve learned.

Subaru Outback Driving Impressions

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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We'll come right out and say that the 2020 Subaru Outback is an absolute blast to drive.

The front seats are comfortable and spacious and, thanks to riding on Subaru’s Global Platform, Subaru was able to improve things even more by refining the goods under the metal. Thanks to revised dampers and updated suspension, the Outback feels sturdy even on uneven surfaces, making it even more suitable off-roading that ever before. The solid and stiff feeling from the body evokes a sense of confidence that you don’t get from a lot of models in this price range and segment.

The big thing we noticed is how quiet the cabin is. We weren’t sure if that was really the case or if we were just not hearing things, but as it turns out, Subaru doubled down on the sound insulation. The front of the vehicle also has new acoustic glass, which helps to cut down on parasitic noise from creeping inside the cabin. The only time we really heard any troubling noise was after taking a wrong turn and driving down what we’d only describe as a road that was once a mortar testing ground. You could hear some thuds from under the vehicle, but nowhere near as bad as what we actually expected.

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Drivetrain
- image 894945

Our tester had the new 2.4-liter turbo-four that replaced the 3.6-liter six-cylinder from the last-gen model. This engine offers up comparable horsepower but brings improved torque output from previous years. Our fuel economy with this engine averaged around 32 mpg, which was downright impressive, considering we did at least as much city driving as we did highway driving. Acceleration was pretty impressive and, while we weren’t exactly thrilled about the CVT, but Subaru clearly but a lot of effort into refining it and the simulated 8-speed manual mode worked impressively well based on our previous experience CVT transmissions.

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
- image 895030

The start\stop system worked flawlessly the entire time we had the Outback, and there was never a time where we had to really wait for the engine to kick in when we wanted to go. Steering was impressively quick and well-weighted, so we noticed decent turn-in response, and we were particularly impressed by front visibility while rear visibility was okay with the exception of the somewhat larger blind spot on each side.

Overall, the outback felt confident on the road and off, was overly spacious for a family of five, and remained comfortable throughout our time with it. Subaru has a winning formula here, and after spending a week behind the wheel, you’ll quickly understand why the Outback is Subbie’s best-selling model.

Subaru Outback Exterior Design

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 895050

We like to classify the Subaru Outback as a crossover, but it’s really a blend between a crossover and a wagon. As you can see, it has the length of a wagon, much like your traditional crossover, but it also features a roof that’s just a little bit higher than most traditional wagons.

And, like everyday crossovers and SUVs, it sits quite a bit higher off the ground, thus making it a little better for duties that a typical wagon just can't handle.

This design style, however, plays a pivotal role in how attractive the Outback really is while it does feature some last-decade design styling, like the larger headlights and function air intakes, the shape of Subaru’s grille and the mildly aggressive hood help to make it stand out while not being too gaudy like something from BMW Audi, for example.

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 895049

The rear end features more of a crossover-like appearance. If the Outback didn’t have that elevated suspension, it would simply look like a really tall wagon. There’s still plenty of load room thanks to the large rear hatch. The bulky taillights are actually more stylish than those on a lot of the competition and feature a rather prominent 3D appearance that’s usually reserved for more expensive models in the segment. Since our tester was the Onyx Edition, there is black trim that surrounds the base of the vehicle (including most of the front and rear fascias) to go with black wheels, black winglets on the rear hatch, and black roof rails. Overall, it’s attractive when you have the white body color, but the package wouldn’t make a lot of sense in most colors.

How Big is the Subaru Outback?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 895044
The Subaru Outback, which is now generally considered a crossover, sits in the midsize segment and measures 191.3 inches long, 73 inches wide, and 66.4 inches high with a 108.1-inch wheelbase.

In terms of garaging, you may need to check the measurements of your garage if you’re someone with a basic, single-car garage. A larger 1.5-car garage would suffice just fine while a two-car garage will provide you with more than enough space to house the Outback. At 191-inches long, however, it’s a bit longer than a lot of midsize crossovers on the market, so the depth of your garage is of paramount importance.

Subaru Outback Exterior Dimensions Vs. The Competition
Subaru Outback Onyx  Volvo V60 Buick Envision Premium
Length 191.3 Inches 187.4 Inches 183.7 Inches
Width 73.0 Inches 72.8 Inches 72.4 Inches
Height 66.4 Inches 56.2 Inches 66.8 Inches
Wheelbase 108.1 Inches 113.1 Inches 108.3 Inches
Front Track 61.8 Inches 63.38 Inches 62.0 Inches
Rear Track 62.8 Inches 63.38 Inches 62.0 Inches

For the sake of comparison, we’re looking at models like the Volvo V60 and the Buick Envision. In terms of length and width, the Outback is larger, and it sits a lot higher than the V60 thanks to its elevated suspension. This extra length, however, plays a major role in terms of usability, and it’s why you can thank the outback for its ability to haul impressively more cargo than the competition.

How Much Does the Subaru Outback Weigh?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 894949

Given the Outback’s position in the midsize segment, it is a little surprising that it tips that scales at just 3,884 pounds – at least 100 pounds lighter than the competition and something that enables the Outback to remain competitive in terms of fuel economy. In comparison, the Volvo V60 weighs 3,955 pounds while the Buick Envision comes in at 4,083 pounds.

Subaru Outback Interior Design

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
- image 895027
The inside of the Subaru Outback is an impressive and comfortable place to spend time.

You’ll find a lot of soft-touch surfaces spread throughout the cabin, and the front seats are very comfortable for a vehicle at this price point. While impressive overall, it does take a little while to get used to the cabin. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the Outback is one of the few models that make use of mostly digital controls. The heating and cooling and most infotainment controls are of the touch variety while most physical buttons, sans the window controls, are on the steering wheel. Despite the large infotainment display, Subaru has yet to upgrade its instrument cluster to the all-digital variety, so you’ll still have to deal with two analog gauges with a smaller somewhat-outdated TFT displace sitting In the middle.

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
- image 895016
There's nothing really special about the rear passenger area of the Outback, but it is quite comfortable, even for larger adults.

We didn’t find the rear seats as support of comfortable as the front, but that’s par for the course. A fold-down armrest in the middle provides a pair of cup holders while the long nature of the Outback provides legroom that easily trumps the competition (39.5 inches vs. 37.5 in the Envision or 35.2 in the V60.) We should point out that the rear seatbacks have what feels to be the perfect incline.

Is the Subaru Outback Spacious?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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Thanks to the Outbacks transformation from full-on wagon to everyday crossover (for the most part, anyway,) it offers a competitive amount of cabin space while still offering impressive cargo room as well. You’ll find that front and rear passengers have plenty of room for a car in this class, and the Outback, believe it or not, offers more room than the Volvo V60 and Buick Envision in every category. Check out how they all compare in the table below.

Subaru Outback Interior Space Comparison
Subaru Outback Onyx  Volvo V60 Buick Envision Premium
1st Row Headroom 40.1 Inches 37.4 Inches 40.0 Inches
1st Row Leg Room 42.8 Inches 42.3 Inches 40.9 Inches
1st Row Shoulder Room 58.1 Inches 56.1 Inches 57.0 Inches
1st Row Hip Room 55.5 Inches 55.3 Inches 54.4 Inches
2nd Row Headroom 39.1 Inches 38.1 Inches 38.5 Inches
2nd Row Leg Room 39.5 Inches 35.2 Inches 37.5 Inches
2nd Row Shoulder Room 57.4 Inches 54.5 Inches 55.8 Inches
2nd Row Hip Room 54.8 Inches 53.4 Inches 53.1 Inches

How Much Cargo Room Does the Subaru Outback Have?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
- image 895040
The Subaru Outback can carry 32.5 cubic-feet in its standard configuration, and, with the second row laid flat, you'll be able to carry 75.7 cubic-feet worth of goods.

The nice thing about the outback, however, is that it’s a little more rugged than the competition and you’ll find that the washable tray in the cargo area is a godsend and it’s designed in a way that it doesn’t impede the cargo area when you lay the seats down. In comparison to the competition, the Outback wins hands down. The Volvo V60 is good for 23.2 cubic-feet or a maximum of 50.9 cubic feet while the Buick Envision boasts 26.9 cubic-feet in a standard configuration 57.3 cubic-feet with the second row folded down.

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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Subaru Outback Cargo Room Comparison
Subaru Outback Onyx  Volvo V60 Buick Envision Premium
Minimum Cargo 32.5 CU-FT 23.2 CU-FT 26.9 CU-FT
Maximum Cargo 75.7 CU-FT 50.9 CU-FT 57.3 CU-FT

Subaru Outback Infotainment System

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Interior
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When Subaru updated the Outback, it also introduced a new infotainment system – one that’s going to be found in the legacy and included as standard equipment in all trim levels except the base models. This new system combines the two screens found in older Subarus and integrates the HVAC controls into one place as well. There are still some physical buttons that allow you to control the dual-zone temperature controls and defrost, but the bottom 20-percent of the screen is dedicated to other HVAC features like fan controls, A/C controls, heated seat controls, etc. As far as radio and other infotainment features, that’s controlled in the center section of this nearly 12-inch screen.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard and work quite nicely. Phone pairing was simple. The built-in navigation system works as good as you’d expect, but what really impressed us was how simple the system is to use in general. The main display is similar to that of a phone with easy-to-understand icons, while more in-depth menus are intuitive, easy to access, and easy to understand. Overall the system works quickly, and, to be honest, it’s definitely worth moving up from the entry-level trim, just to get your hands on the new infotainment system.

Subaru Outback Drivetrain, Performance, and Capabilities

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Drivetrain
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The Subaru Outback is powered by a 2.4-liter Four-Cylinder that is good for 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. While other competitors offer 8- or 9-speed automatic transmissions, the Outback is only offered with a CVT that is better than most on the market but, let’s be honest; it’s still a CVT. AWD is standard across the lineup, and fuel economy is on par with what you’d expect from a crossover in this segment and sometimes even better.

How Much Can the Subaru Outback Tow?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 894988

Thanks to the Outbacks transformation into a crossover, it’s capable of hauling as much as 3,500 pounds when properly equipped. If you compare this to the main competition, the Outback is the clear winner most of the time. The Volvo V60, for example, can pull just 1,650 pounds while the Buick Envision can pull just 1,500 pounds.

Subaru Outback Towing Comparison
Subaru Outback Onyx  Volvo V60 Buick Envision Premium
Towing Capacity 3500 LBS 1650 LBS 1500 LBS

Can the Subaru Outback Go Off-Road?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
- image 895012

The Subaru Outback is a very capable vehicle, and it can, in fact, go off-road. Now, you can’t mistake it for a hard-core off-roader, and you shouldn’t expect to keep up with your buddies in Jeep Wranglers or Ford Broncos, for example, but the Outback can traverse some less-than-favorable terrain. The AWD system is top-notch – it’s the same system found in all Subarus – and the only real downfall is the CVT, which is where the limitations for off-road usage really comes from.

Subaru Outback Fuel Economy

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru Outback is rated at 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined, which is pretty admirable for a vehicle in this class. The Volvo V60 does beat it out in terms of highway economy (34 vs. 30 mpg), but it also sits much lower to the ground, so that’s to be expected. The Buick Envision, on the other hand, falls inferior with ratings of just 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined.

Subaru Outback Fuel Economy Comparison
City Highway Combined
Subaru Outback Onyx 23 30 26
Volvo V60 23 34 27
Buick Envision Premium 20 25 22

How Much Does the Subaru Outback Cost?

2020 Subaru Outback - Driven Exterior
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The Subaru Outback starts out at $26,645 in entry-level for, which includes the standard package of safety driver-assist equipment, all-wheel-drive, and a rear vision camera.

If you want the new infotainment system and a better-equipped vehicle, you’ll need to step up to the Outback Premium at $28,895. Front there, prices continue to climb incrementally to as much as $39,695 for the range-topping Outback Touring XT. Our tester, the one you see in this article, is the Outback Onyx Edition XT, which includes the 260-horsepower turbocharged engine and most of the options and accessories you actually want. It starts at $34,895.

Subaru Outback Pricing
MSRP
Subaru Outback $26,645
Subaru Outback Premium $28,895
Subaru Outback Limited $33,445
Subaru Outback Touring $37,345
Subaru Putback Onyx Edition $34,895
Subaru Outback Limited XT $37,745
Subaru Outback Touring XT $39,695

Is the Subaru Outback Better Than the Volvo V60 Cross Country?

2019 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior
- image 796828

The Volvo V60 is traditionally a wagon that caters to the same car-buying population that the Outback once did – people that love wagons. However, when you look at the V60 Cross Country, you find the perfect blend of wagon and crossover thanks to the Cross Country’s raised suspension that does, for intents and purposes, make it a strong competitor for the Outback. The exterior is classic Volvo design from the subtle grille to the not-so-dramatic body panels and design lines. The interior is also quite similar to the outback in terms of basic design as there’s a large, tablet-like display in the center console, oodles of cargo capacity (up to 50.9 cubic-feet, about 25 cu-ft less than the Outback) and a lineup of premium materials that are hard to ignore.

2019 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior
- image 796829

Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter four-banger that’s good for 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Where the Outback lacks thanks to a CVT transmission, the V60 fights back with a traditional eight-speed automatic. Towing capacity falls short at just 1,650 pounds (nearly 2,000 pounds shy of the Outback) but fuel economy is impressive at 27 mpg combined with a high rating of as much as 33 mpg on the highway. Off-roading capability is on par with the Outback, which means you can go off the beaten path, but don’t expect to traverse into Wrangler territory. If you’re stuck between the Outback and the V60 Cross Country, consider your needs in terms of cargo room and towing capacity. If neither are that important to you, then you’ll have to wrestle with the price difference, which is substantial. The Volvo V60 Cross Country commands a minimum of $45,745, which makes it a lot more expensive than even the range-topping Subaru Outback. Then again, the difference in materials might be enough to justify the purchase; just know that both models are considered very safe and very capable.

Subaru Outback vs. Volvo V60
Subaru Outback Onyx  Volvo V60
Engine 2.4- Liter Four-Cylinder 2.0-Liter Four-Cylinder
Fuel Regular Regular
Horsepower 260 HP 250 HP
Torque 277 LB-FT 258 LB-FT
Transmission CVT 8AT
Drive AWD FWD
Towing Capacity 3500 LBS 1650 LBS
Fuel Economy 23/30/26 23/34/27
Curb Weight 3884 LBS 3955 LBS
Fuel Capacity 18.5 Gal 14.5 Gal

Read our full review on the Volvo V60 Cross Country

Is the Subaru Outback Better Than the Buick Envision?

2019 Buick Envision Exterior
- image 770715
2019 Buick Envision

While the Subaru Outback and Volvo V60 Cross Country basically transformed from straight-up wagon to being crossover-ish, the Buick Envision was designed from the very start to be a crossover. The envision does, to at least some extent, represent the best you can get from GM’s mid-luxury line. The exterior is defined by Buick’s somewhat older grille design, bulky headlights, and a look that mixes muscle up front and a more toned-down appearance to the rear. Inside, you’ll find fairly upscale materials, but they aren’t exactly on par with what you’ll find in the Volvo. There are similar to what you’ll find in the Subaru, though. The Envision isn’t offered with a large infotainment system like the Subaru or Volvo, though, but it is quite easy to use. The important takeaway is that the envision is probably more suited to those not as interested in having the latest and biggest tech.

2019 Buick Envision Exterior
- image 770712
There’s even a new stop\start defeat button

Under the hood of the only model that really competes with our tester, the Buick Envision Premium, you’ll find a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder that’s good for 252 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The nine-speed automatic transmission is a good selling point here, and it does offer comfortable shifts, but if you want to have AWD, you’ll have to pay extra for it. Towing capacity is also limited to just 1,500 pounds, and fuel economy falls far short of both the Subaru and the V60. Pricing for the Buick Envision starts at $33,190 and climbs to as high as $44,795 with AWD adding on just over $3,000 to the sticker price.

Subaru Outback vs. Buick Envision
Subaru Outback Onyx  Buick Envision Premium
Engine 2.4- Liter Four-Cylinder 2.0-Liter Turbo-Four
Fuel Regular Premium
Horsepower 260 HP 252 HP
Torque 277 LB-FT 295 LB-FT
Transmission CVT 9AT
Drive AWD FWD/AWD
Towing Capacity 3500 LBS 1500 LBS
Fuel Economy 23/30/26 20/25/22
Curb Weight 3884 LBS 4083 LBS
Fuel Capacity 18.5 Gal 17.3 Gal

Read our full review on the Buick Envision

Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read More
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