2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT Fast Facts
2.4-liter turbocharged three-cylinder (260 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm; 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm)
Continuously-variable automatic transmission with eight-speed manual mode, all-wheel drive
23 city / 30 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
10.1 city, 7.9 highway, 9.1 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $34,895 (U.S) / $39,295 (Canada)
As Tested: $37,995 (U.S.) / $41,549 (Canada)
Prices include $1,010 destination charge in the United States and $1,975 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
Subaru’s Outback has long been a standard-bearer for wagons. The addition of the Onyx Edition XT trim level for 2020 won’t change that.
Really, that’s the big news, and I don’t mean that sarcastically. While minor trim-level additions and changes sometimes seem so minor as to not be worth a review, this one is.
Mostly because any trim with “XT” in the name gets a turbocharged 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It’s the first turbo in an Outback since early in Obama’s presidency – when your author was still (just barely) in his 20s. And yes, it’s a boxer. Naturally.
Other new for 2020 goodies include the tablet-style, 11.6-inch infotainment screen that has been popping up across the Subaru lineup, a hands-free power liftgate, a driver-distraction mitigation system, and the addition of advanced adaptive cruise control with lane-centering to Subaru’s already existing EyeSight safety suite.
Let’s start with the turbo. While it adds 111 lb-ft of torque and 78 ponies over the base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated boxer four it doesn’t exactly make the Outback swift. You won’t struggle in most situations, including merging, but you won’t blow anyone’s hair back, either. The words “fine” and “adequate” come to mind.
That applies to the ride and handling aspects, as well. The car is perfectly pleasant to drive, but not terribly dynamically engaging. It’s just, well, fine.
This isn’t really a problem, since the Outback is designed with safety and utility in mind. And it does what it’s supposed to well enough, or at least as well as I can tell – I didn’t actually take the Outback camping or load it down with kayaking gear. I suspect, however, if I needed to use it those ways, it would do quite well.
Yes, Subaru saddles this car with a CVT, and that may be part of why the Outback doesn’t necessarily feel quite punchy unless you use the paddles to replicate an eight-speed automatic. At least this CVT doesn’t drone or whine like some do. As you no doubt know, the Outback, like most Subies, is AWD.
As far as the other features go, the large tablet-like infotainment screen is an improvement over what Subie offered before, though the screen can still look a bit outdated in terms of fonts/graphics. One nice touch is how you can set it up to be a split-screen between Apple CarPlay and the Subaru system.
Part of the Onyx treatment is more-aggressive styling and blacked-out wheels. The overall Outback shape is retained, so the car still looks familiar, but there’s an aggro theme to it that will be off-putting to some. I am not sure that legions of families who buy Outbacks for safety and family trips to the trailhead were clamoring for a roided-up look, but then, I don’t have access to Subie’s internal customer survey data.
The specific exterior styling changes that Onyx brings include 18-inch wheels (blacked-out, as previously noted), a black finish to other elements such as the lower front bumper, and specific badging. The interior gets a gray two-tone treatment.
Interior controls are mostly what Subaru calls direct-touch, though buttons and knobs remain for certain functions, thankfully. Most notably that means there are knobs for the audio and buttons for the basic HVAC controls – temperature and defroster.
As for the updated EyeSight system, the lane-centering system does what so many others do these days – guide the driver back should he or she stray. Meanwhile, the driver-distraction mitigation system uses an infrared camera and facial-recognition technology to scan for signs of fatigue and/or distraction before alerting the driver. I found it to be a bit inconsistent – occasionally it would alert if you took your eyes off the road to say, change the radio station, but trying to trigger it by intentionally looking away from the road (when it was safe, of course) didn’t always work.
Other standard or available features include automatic emergency braking, lane-departure and sway warning, front-view monitor, rear-view camera, a traction-management system, LED headlights and fog lamps, Bluetooth, 18-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, USB ports, Wi-Fi hotspot, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, navigation, moonroof, wireless charger, and reverse automatic braking.
All for a price tag of around $37K.
In the end, the Outback remains what it always has been – a high-ground clearance (8.7 inches) wagon with an emphasis on utility and safety over performance. More-aggro styling and more guts don’t change that.
And that’s just fine (there is that word again). This is one of those “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” situations. Outback buyers shop Subaru because of that emphasis on utility and safety, and the Outback still delivers.
Minor improvements to the infotainment system or a little more passing punch can’t hurt. But the formula works.
And it keeps one of the few wagons left on the road rolling strong.
[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]