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2020 Subaru Outback: Familiar on Its Face, All-New Underneath

Competes with: Compact and mid-size SUVs, including the Volkswagen Tiguan, Toyota RAV4, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe

Looks like: A gently updated version of the current Outback with a few curves and more prominent cladding

Drivetrain: 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder or 260-hp, turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer; continuously variable automatic transmission with artificial eight-speed manual mode and paddle shifters; standard all-wheel drive

Hits dealerships: Fall 2019

Subaru continues to have success with its SUV-ish Outback mid-size wagon and apparently decided not to “frighten the horses,” as they say, with obvious radical changes in the otherwise all-new 2020 Outback that is being unveiled at the 2019 New York International Auto Show.

Related: More 2019 New York Auto Show Coverage

It’s a redesign formula Subaru followed with the new 2019 Forester, making modest styling changes accompanied by big changes underneath and inside. For starters, the redesigned Outback moves to the stiffer and more capable Subaru Global Platform underpinning other new Subarus and bringing better ride, handling and noise levels.

The new Outback also gets a new interior. Being essentially a wagon version of the Legacy, it picks up much of the fancier design along with upgraded trim and tech features we were impressed with in the redone 2020 Legacy mid-size sedan unveiled in February.

XT trim levels also come with a power upgrade that represents a big change. The 2019’s aging 3.6R six-cylinder power option has been retired and replaced with the 260-horsepower, turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission used in Subaru’s new 2019 Ascent three-row SUV and 2020 Legacy.

When the 2020 Outback goes on sale in the fall, it will come in lots of flavors, including base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Limited XT and Touring XT trim levels, as well as a new Onyx Edition XT model with more standard features and its own black-finish exterior trim, 18-inch alloy wheels and gray two-tone interior.

Exterior Tweaks, Familiar Shape

An Outback would seem naked without its cladding, and the 2020 comes fully dressed with more impressive bumpers and corners, wheel arches and lower body molding. The lower-body cladding gets a sculpted, toothy look similar to that on the new Forester and which Subaru says is designed to resemble a hiking boot sole. The hood is a bit higher, the grille logo bigger and foglights at the lower corners (standard on all but the base model) now are a stack of LEDs. Overall there is a little more curve to the character lines.

Nicer Inside With Upgraded Tech

A star of the new interior is a redesigned dashboard dominated in all but the base model by a vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen that takes over most of the multimedia and climate controls, cleaning up a formerly busy dash. There still are volume and tuning knobs, as well as buttons for cabin temperature and defrosters, however. The multilevel dash also gets a soft-touch wrapped surface with available double stitching that can extend to the seats and door trim. Adding a more luxurious feel, the Touring trim level includes Nappa leather seats, gloss-black molding for the pillars, chrome plating on the door handles and satin-finish side mirror caps.

Both Limited and Touring models feature 10-way power-adjustable front seats on both sides and an adjustable cushion length on the driver’s seat. Those trim levels also have front and rear heated seats that have three levels of heat for 2020 along with more coverage up your backside to your shoulders. Touring models add ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel to the comfort list. Subaru says that, as in the Legacy, there is more head-, shoulder- and legroom in the rear seat, and Cars.com News Editor Jennifer Geiger found in the sedan that it’s enough to be noticeable. Subaru also says that a lot of effort went into making the cabin quieter, including new door seals and thicker glass, and acoustic glass in the windshield and front-door windows.

Cargo space with the rear seatbacks folded is a maximum 75.7 cubic feet with a floor length of up to 78 inches behind the front seats. The rear opening is slightly bigger, and the Outback now will offer a “hands-free” power liftgate, although it works by waving in front of the Subaru badge on the liftgate — which sounds a lot like it still requires a hand. We’ll have to try it. Also available will be a new, potentially less complicated (Subaru loyalists will know what I mean) lifting cargo cover. Roof rails with integrated, retractable cross-bars and tie-downs are standard.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Outback, and you can get up to four USB ports and a pair of 12-volt outlets. Apps on the big screen can be configured to your preference, and for the first time in a vehicle, one of them (appropriately for an Outback) can be the Chimani app that is a guide to the national parks with information specific to each park. The premium audio option is a 12-speaker Harman Kardon system, with Clari-Fi restoration technology. And the 2020 Outback also will be the first one to offer a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Better Bones and a New Turbo Under the Hood

The Outback gets its first turbo engine option since 2009 with the turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer four-cylinder that puts out 260-hp at 5,600 rpm and 277 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. The base 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder has been revised (Subaru says nearly 90 percent of its parts are new) and puts out 182 hp at 5,800 rpm and 176 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. A CVT is standard with either engine, and it has a manual mode with eight artificial gear steps and paddle shifters. Subaru estimates fuel economy ratings will be 26/33 mpg city/highway for the 2.5-liter and 23/30 mpg city/highway for the turbo. That would be a healthy increase for the turbo over the outgoing six-cylinder’s EPA ratings of 20/27 mpg city/highway and a bit more than the 2019 base engine’s 25/32.

Subaru’s active torque-vectoring all-wheel drive is standard, and so is the X-Mode off-road system that includes hill descent control. Ground clearance remains the same at 8.7 inches. Towing capacity with the 2.4-liter powertrain is 3,500 pounds; the base engine’s rating was not specified. Subaru says the 2020 Outback also has an all-new suspension that is lighter and promises to be more responsive. And ride and handling will benefit from the new platform that Subaru says is 70 percent stiffer.

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Standard Safety

Standard on all 2020 Outbacks is Subaru’s EyeSight safety and driver assistance tech bundle that includes a front collision system with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and a new lane-centering steering assist. Additional options include adaptive LED headlights, reverse automatic braking, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.

New for 2020 is a driver distraction system that uses an infrared interior camera and facial recognition to spot driver fatigue or distraction, and issues audio and visual alerts. Also new is an available front-view monitor that can display a 180-degree view on the display to check road conditions and aid parking.

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