Mountain Wheels: 2020 Subaru Outback adds optional turbo power |

Mountain Wheels: 2020 Subaru Outback adds optional turbo power

Now in its sixth generation, the Subaru Outback is available in seven trim levels, including an off-road-styled Onyx Edition.
Photo from Subaru

Well, back to some Summit County reality. I haven’t been in a Subaru since before the pandemic began, but they didn’t disappear and still remain a staple of High Country living and lifestyle.

Getting back behind the wheel of the heavily revised 2020 model of the Outback — yes, I know, wagons are dead, except in Subaru land — is a bit of culture shock if you’ve been cross-shopping with other brands or are more familiar with crossovers that are more SUV than wagon.

I spent a week with the higher-output XT model, with a new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine that produces 260 maximum horsepower, Outback’s first turbo in a decade. It was also the Onyx Edition, which means blacked-out wheels, a super-rugged set of dark bumpers and body trim, plus odd day-glow stitching inside.

Like almost every other member of the Subaru family, it packs standard symmetrical all-wheel drive and will most certainly get you through winter’s worst very easily; 8.7 inches of ground clearance also makes deep snow a little easier. On mine, the X-Mode all-wheel drive settings for deep snow or deep mud needed to be accessed through the oversized main screen.

So what’s a Subaru like, after a long break? It is very different, indeed. Subaru owners know and love the four-cylinder Boxer engine and its mild-to-strong blort-blort-blort chugging — the kids in the WRXs accentuate this technological oddity — but it’s definitely an acquired taste, if you’re more used to the range of 2.0-liter turbos found in most other vehicles these days.

That turbocharged chugging was especially noticeable when, despite my best efforts to disable it from doing so, the automatic engine start-stop system did its job and then violently restarted (you have to go into the Outback’s large and very comprehensive Starlink multimedia navigation screen, which is almost Tesla-sized, as there are virtually no real buttons or controls left in the entire cabin).

That sent a very noticeable shiver through the entire vehicle, which is not small and Impreza-sized. In this sixth generation, it is even larger than previous Outbacks. Mine weighs 3,884 pounds.

Out on the road, no problem. That power is versatile, relatively easy to access and, other than an mildly slushy single-speed continuously variable transmission, it cruises like a champ as long as you get it above 2,500 rpm and gets 30 mpg without any problems whatsoever.

There are six other levels of trim available for the 2020, helpful if you feel that Onyx’s body work and what seem to be very, very large roof rack rails look a bit more like an expensive hiking boot than a family truckster. A 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter direct-injection engine borrowed from the new Forester is the other engine option.

Classy simplicity is certainly the name of the game inside. Literally everything minus the parking brake, front-view camera access system and liftgate is controlled by that 11.6-inch screen, which has a set of physical audio knobs, defroster controls and temperature switches on its edges.

It is a very comprehensive system, a bit sensitive (I kept messing up the maps by accidentally touching the screen while adjusting the volume), but loaded to the gills with content. As mentioned, you can also go in and readjust the multitudes of onboard systems, including the updated EyeSight driver assist program that now has five different forms of visual and auditory warnings to keep you in your lane as well as gently tugging the wheel.

It’s certainly one of the easiest vehicles to see the road from as you drive, as new frame construction means thinner A-pillars in the windows and full aircraft-styled glass in front of the side mirrors, so you can actually see outside of the cabin, versus the massive, impossibly huge blobs of mirror on many SUVs. Add a wide, low, flat dash, moderate-sized B-pillars and clear views to the rear, and it is quite impressive.

That’s helpful as the Outback is not insignificant in its size and shape, even though the full Ascent SUV has eclipsed it. It gained 1.4 inches of length, bringing it to 191.3 inches overall, and it’s also a half inch wider. That means 75.7 cubic feet of storage with the second-row seats dropped and the ability to accommodate a 43.3-inch-wide load inside.

On dry road corners, push it a bit, and you’ll feel the weight. Respect the mass, and it handles nicely, cruises smoothly and will almost certainly get you home. Towing capacity has increased to 3,500 pounds, as well, if that is a consideration.

Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at

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