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Video review: 2020 Subaru Outback

Subaru's high-riding wagon is back and better than ever.

To say that Subaru is on a hot streak would be an understatement. It's been over seven and a half years since the company's seen a decline in monthly sales. And no vehicle has been more important to Subaru's 91-month winning streak than Outback.

The segment-blurring Outback -- which straddles the line between station wagon and SUV -- is Subaru's best-selling model. In fact, June was the best month ever for Outback sales, despite the fact that a brand new model is literally days away. That means the all-new 2020 Outback has to be really, really good.

Spoiler alert: it is.

The formula

Subaru's formula for making the 2020 Outback really, really good is rather simple-- they just took the already impressive Outback and made it better.

To that end, the Outback remains a high-riding wagon, although Subaru admits it toyed with the idea of turning Outback into an SUV. The 2020 Outback's overall styling is also similar to the outgoing model.

Subaru kept the Outback's redesign conservative because it knows its buyer prefers familiar to flashy. So instead of a revolutionary exterior design, the 2020 Outback has headlights that are a bit sleeker than before, new-look taillights and a raised belt line intended to give the wagon a sportier appearance.

Inside, the Outback's changes are more apparent. The most noticeable is a new tablet-like touchscreen in the middle of the Outback's dash. The top portion of the 11.6-inch screen is reserved for the Outback's infotainment system (which comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility). The lower portion of the screen is used for climate controls. The over-sized screen is standard on all but the base-model Outback.

The systems actually uses two separate processors -- one for the infotainment portion of the screen and another for the lower climate controls. Subaru says the dual processors allow for a lag-free user experience (we didn't experience any hiccups during our day-long evaluation). And fear not, glove-wearers -- the Outback retains redundant physical controls for things like radio volume and cabin temperature.

That tablet-like screen is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Outback's available tech. Every 2020 Outback comes standard with Subaru's EyeSight safety suite that includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and emergency braking. Blind spot monitoring with cross-path detection and automatic reverse braking (which will stop the vehicle if it detects an object behind the rear bumper) are available options.

The coolest bit of tech in the 2020 Outback is a face recognition system. First introduced on the Forester, the system monitors the driver's face and sounds a warning if it detects distracted driving. But more than just a nanny, the Driver Focus system can recognize up to five different faces and then store specific vehicle settings for those people.

The 2020 Outback also feels more premium than before. Materials are first-rate and you'll find soft plastics throughout the interior. Subaru even went to the trouble of rolling the stitching on the Outback's armrests so passengers don't rest their arms on scratchy thread.

The 2020 Outback is a bit bigger than before, and that larger footprint contributes to a more spacious cabin. There's plenty of room in the Outback's first two rows of seats, and the wagon's cargo area has also been expanded (of note, there is a new SAE method for measuring cargo volume so technically that space has decreased for 2020, but it's actually larger on an apples-to-apples comparison using the old measuring method). And while we're on the topic of the cargo area, top-end versions of the 2020 Outback get a trick hands-free power tailgate that can be operated by simply placing any part of your body in front of the Subaru logo.

Powertrains are all new for the 2020 Outback. The base engine is a new-to-Outback 2.5L boxer-four that's borrowed from the Forester SUV. It makes a respectable 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. It's hooked exclusively to a revised CVT and Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive featuring X-Mode, which is an off-road mode that includes torque-vectoring and hill decent control and can be used at speeds up to 24mph.

Subaru's nixed the Outback's optional flat-six in favor of a new turbo four. The same basic unit found in the Ascent three-row, the 2.4L flat-four makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Like the base Outback, the turbo model (which will be branded XT) uses a CVT and features X-Mode for when the pavement ends.

Fuel economy for the naturally aspirated Outback in impressive. It delivers 26mpg around town and 33mpg on the highway, netting a combined rating of 29mpg. That's better than a lot of two-wheel drive mid-size SUVs.

The higher-horsepower Outback XT takes a 3mpg hit across the board (23/30/26 city/highway/combined). However, unlike a lot of turbocharged models, the Outback XT is rated to run on regular grade gasoline.

Drive time

Subaru estimates that 70 percent of Outback buyers will opt for the 2.5L engine, and that's a fine choice. The base boxer-four provides more than adequate punch for around-town driving and returns excellent fuel economy. Accelerating up to highway speeds is a bit leisurely, but not out-of-step with the class.

Acceleration isn't, however, an issue with the optional turbo-four. Though not a substitute for an Outback STI, the Outback XT is a quick car that should satisfy the power needs for anyone shopping this segment. It's also impressive that the 2.4L engine achieves peak power on regular gas.

The 2020 Outback is an exceptionally smooth and comfortable car. Not only are the seats supportive and cushy, but the suspension does an excellent job of absorbing bumps. It also helps that the Outback has modest 18-inch wheels (19s are optional) with plenty of tire sidewall.

But despite its comfortable ride, the Outback isn't floaty. In fact, it feels quite athletic. And a look at the numbers explains why -- the Outback's new chassis is up to 100 percent more rigid than the architecture it replaces.

The Outback's cornering prowess is only limited by tires. You can tell the chassis is willing, but the standard all-seasons howl with displeasure at even moderate cornering speeds.

But drive the Outback sensibly and it's luxury car quiet. All Outback models get a laminated windshield for better noise isolation for 2020, and upper-end models also get that quiet-tech glass for the front side windows.

In addition to driving the 2020 Outback on the rolling roads of California's Lost Coast, we were also able to sample the new car on an off-road course. There the Outback impressed with its ability to keep crawling, no matter the surface. The Outback scampered up hills that lifted a wheel (or two) off the ground, trudged through mud and delicately carried us down steep hills with X-Mode engaged.

One thing to note -- mud seemed to initially flummox the Outback's all-wheel drive system. But within a couple seconds the car figured out which wheels to spin to get us free.

Good ground clearance also contributes to the Outback's ruggedness. With a ground clearance of 8.7-inches, the Outback is just 0.2-inches closer to the ground than a Toyota Land Cruiser. The Outback's approach and departure angles aren't as aggressive, but we doubt many Outback owners will take their car deep enough into the woods to knock off a bumper.

Prices for the 2020 Outback will start at $26,645. The cheapest version of the Outback with the turbo engine is the blacked-out Onyx Edition, which carries a retail price of $34,895. Opt for the top-spec Outback Touring XT and you'll be looking at an MSRP of $39,695. All prices exclude a mandatory $1,010 destination charge.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2020 Subaru Outback is an impressive package that does everything well, from comfortably cruising down the highway to tackling a challenging two-track. It's also spacious, efficient and reasonably priced.

Sales records, be warned. The 2020 Subaru Outback is coming after you.

Photos courtesy of Subaru.

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