2021 Subaru Outback

By November 13, 2020

Since the 1980s, station wagons have lost the family-vehicle wars to the minivan and now, to SUVs and crossovers. In proud defiance of the status quo, the adventurous, all-wheel drive Outback has been increasingly popular among a diverse set of enthusiastic buyers.

The Outback was fully redesigned for 2020, so the 2021 model is largely carryover.

Two different flat-4s are on tap here: the base 2.5-liter engine that makes 182 horsepower without turbocharging, and a turbo 2.4-liter that has 260 horsepower. Both engines mate up to a CVT, and both come standard with full-time all-wheel drive. Gas mileage for the 2.5-liter flat-4 is 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined; the optional 2.4-liter turbo-4 is rated for 23/30/26 mpg.

Safety equipment is no short supply on the Outback, which gets standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors come on the higher-end trims and are available elsewhere in the lineup.

Both the IIHS and NHTSA are impressed with how the Outback handles a collision: the IIHS gave it top marks across all their battery of tests, and the feds handed it a five-star overall safety rating.

Model Lineup

All prices include a $1,050 destination charge.

The Outback starts at $27,845 for a base model. Standard content includes LED headlights, 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, and two 7-inch infotainment touchscreens.

The Premium starts at $30,095 and subs in an 11.6-inch touchscreen in lieu of the two smaller screens. It also gets a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated seats, and dual-zone climate control.

For $34,645, the Limited comes with leather upholstery, 12-speaker audio, 18-inch wheels, a hands-free power liftgate, and keyless entry.

The $38,545 Touring adds to that navigation, nappa leather, a moonroof, heated and cooled seats, and a driver distraction mitigation system. It’s the most luxurious Outback with the 2.5-liter engine.

The turbocharged Limited XT is $39,045 and is the cheapest way into a turbo Outback. It essentially is a Touring model without nappa leather.

The top-shelf Touring XT is $40,995 and gets nappa leather, power-folding side mirrors, a surround-view camera system, and the turbocharged engine.

Exterior

Wagons aren’t supposed to be cool, but it seems the Outback hasn’t gotten the memo. On the one hand, it is clearly a station wagon; on the other, its cladding, high stance, and modest yet stylish sheetmetal give it an air of something more substantial than a plain-jane people mover. It has attitude, but isn’t braggadocious; that reserve makes it all the more effective.

The best angle of the Outback might be the front three-quarters, where the eye naturally moves back from the handsome front end to the long roof and big and airy windows. The Outback is distinctive and attractive, more so than the similar Legacy sedan. The wagon body style lends itself well to the styling direction Subaru has taken.

Interior

Subaru cabins still aren’t swank, but nowadays they’re nicer than ever. The Outback, which is the cornerstone for the brand, is particularly well conceived. Material quality is nicer than ever, switchgear feels substantial, and the design is clever and attractive. This is by far the most luxurious Subaru yet.

The centerpiece of it all is the 11.6-inch touchscreen that comes on all but the base model. The big screen essentially is the entire center stack, and it offers an almost Tesla-like feel. But though it still has some way to go before rivaling the infotainment experience of a Model S, the graphics and interface of the system are impressive. Unsurprisingly, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.

The Outback uses its wagon design to full advantage when it comes to roominess. The big windows and tall roof lend it an airiness that is absent in many crossovers. The rear bench, which is positioned slightly higher than the front seats, elevates rear passengers both in actual height as well as perceived status. Ample rear legroom and a reclining seatback makes the back seat a comfortable place to spend a road trip.

The Outback has 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats; that number grows to 75 cubic feet when the seatbacks are folded. Roof racks and tie-down points come standard on the Outback for more creative ways to carry cargo.

Driving Impressions

The Outback pulls no punches when it comes to performance. It isn’t gunning to be a performance wagon, even with its optional turbo engine, and it never pretends to be. With the standard 2.5-liter flat-4, it ambles up to 60 mph in about nine seconds and passes with leisurely indifference. Considering the Outback sells itself as a tool for escaping into the outdoors, the mildly underpowered 2.5-liter can be excused for its laid-back demeanor.

A turbocharged, 260-horse 2.4-liter flat-4 is also available. It adds a healthy bit of gusto to ordinary driving, but still remains true to the Outback’s pragmatic but adventurous personality. Our only issue with this engine is the price point: it costs nearly $40,000 to get into one, which is about $12,000 more than a base Outback. For the price of a turbo Outback, you could start to cross-shop the much more luxurious A4 Allroad.

Though marketing materials almost exclusively picture the Outback off-road, it shines best on the street, where it is quiet, composed, and refined. An ideal commuter, the Outback offers equivalent or better ride quality than a similarly-priced crossover. On the trail, it maintains much of that composure; it won’t skip a beat when the road suddenly turns to dirt. That breadth of ability is a major reason the Outback has become so popular with a certain breed of outdoors enthusiasts.

Final Word

The Outback is in a class of one these days; with both the Volkswagen Alltrack and Buick Regal TourX now off the market, there’s nothing at this price point that quite replicates all the qualities of the Outback. Subaru’s mainstay is beloved for a reason, and a bit of wheel time with one quickly shows why. The Outback is best in its most affordable guises, so we’d recommend a Premium.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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