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12 New Can't-Miss Things About the 2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

Under the 2020 Subaru Outback’s blink-and-you-miss-it new styling unveiled at the 2019 New York International Auto Show is a much refined Outback that significantly improves on the 2019. Subaru has done its best to make that a point, with the kind of hoopla rarely seen these days at auto shows: a woodsy, multilevel, national park-themed display with giant screens, fake rocks and plants, and even carpet in the design of a forest floor. Subaru calls it “a totally immersive ‘360-degree, floor-to-ceiling’ outdoor experience, designed to celebrate the relationship between Subaru customers, their love for outdoor adventure, and the introduction of an all-new 2020 Outback.”

If you stop by (in person or online), here are 12 features not to miss in the new-for-2020 Outback:

Related: More New York Auto Show Coverage

1. Better Bones

The 2020 Outback moves to the stiffer and more capable Subaru Global Platform underpinning other new Subarus. In each case it has improved handling and comfort with improvements in ride quality and cabin noise levels. Subaru says the 2020 Outback is almost 3 decibels quieter at highway speeds. That’ll make the ride to that national park a lot less fatiguing.

2. More Grunt for Fewer $$$

While many buyers are happy with the Outback’s modest base engine, the option of more grunt — for bigger loads, towing or just for fun — until now has been an unrefined and thirsty 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat-six-cylinder engine. No more. A 260-hp, turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder is the 2020’s power upgrade. The turbo does a good job moving the hefty new Subaru Ascent three-row SUV, so it should do even better with the lighter Outback; it also offers more torque at lower rpm than the six. Meanwhile, Subaru estimates fuel economy at 23/30 mpg city/highway, 3 mpg better on each than the old six.

3. HD Big Screens Rule

Even stereotypical Subaru buyers likely have a sleek HD big screen at home these days. The 2020 Outback adds a new, sleeker dashboard with a big and vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen that takes over most of the multimedia and climate controls, a design that brings to mind a Tesla or Volvo — or a high-end Ram pickup truck. The portrait orientation also is more logical for splitting various functions and information on the screen.

4. A Better Hands-Free Liftgate

Hands-free liftgates now are a thing, but the kick-to-open versions require yoga-class balance, not to mention sometimes putting your foot under a muddy or slushy bumper. I prefer the Hyundai-style liftgate that you just stand near, but you have to learn to get close only when you mean it to avoid an inadvertent opening. The new Outback requires just an elbow close to the big logo in the center of the liftgate. It works, and it’s a better idea.

Full disclosure: The new cargo cover inside is designed to also get out of the way for loading by bumping it with your elbow. I had less luck with that, though maybe the learning curve is higher. But the new cover also still has Subaru’s overdesigned bulkiness with the funky little panel extension.

5. A New Sporty Trim Level

The Outback gets a new trim level that mimics the attractive new mid-range Sport trim level of the 2019 Forester. And with the Outback, it’s not just a sportier look. Like the Sport, the Outback’s more grandly named Onyx Edition XT builds on the second-level Premium trim’s features and adds black (or should I say onyx?) exterior trim accents as well as good-looking black 18-inch alloy wheels. But it adds more than looks. It also includes the turbo 2.4-liter engine, an upgraded all-wheel-drive mode control with more settings, a full-size spare and a front-view monitor. It gets its own two-tone gray interior upholstery in an easily cleaned imitation leather with lime-green contrast stitching (though I prefer the orange accents in the Forester Sport).

6. Fancier Leather

The upscale Touring model interior now uses fancier Nappa leather, along with its upgraded trim. The new leather looks and feels great, even if it seems more suited to glamping than camping.

7. Better Heated Seats

While we’re talking about pampering, it’s worth noting that the heated front seats (and rear in some trim levels) now have three levels of heat along with more coverage for your back. That’s a needed upgrade for a model so popular in snowy climates. The Touring trim level also has a heated steering wheel as well as ventilated front seats for when the weather warms up.

8. Drowsy Driving Alert

New for 2020 is a driver distraction system that uses facial recognition and an infrared interior camera behind the little panel above the multimedia screen. It can spot driver fatigue or distraction, and issue audio and visual alerts that will wake up you and all your passengers. It also can recognize up to five drivers and greet you by your user name while adjusting to your seat-memory settings. That’s nice and only a little creepy.

9. Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Centering

Subaru’s package of EyeSight safety and driver assistance technology (standard on all 2020 Outbacks) now includes lane-centering steering assist for marked lanes. Combined with the standard adaptive cruise control, they can take a lot of the load off in traffic and while cruising.

10. Better View

I was hoping to see an available 360-degree camera system and didn’t. But the next best thing is a new-for-2020 front-view monitor that puts a 180-degree front view on the screen to spot hazards, whether off the road or just trying to park.

11. Better Rails

While the styling update is “gentle,” one of my least favorite aspects of the current Outback’s look is the functional but clunky roof rails. The 2020’s rails still have the onboard cross bars that swing out as needed (often for many owners), but the new edition has trimmed openings at either end that lighten the rails visually and also could do double duty as tie-downs.

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12. There’s an App for That

The national park theme continues with a new Outback app. Whether you are visiting a park, or just wish you were, the Outback multimedia system includes the Chimani app that is a guide to the more than 400 national parks units in the U.S. and includes park history and highlights commentary.

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