Over the River, Through the Woods in the 2020 Subaru Outback

Braving late-fall weather in the new Outback was no problem

Back in the day, a sleigh was the best conveyance for getting to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, but these days there is a better solution: the all-new 2020 Subaru Outback. For the recently concluded Thanksgiving Day weekend we arranged to test the Outback in its natural element, transporting a family of five plus the cutest dog one has ever seen, including those in Subaru commercials, to Grandma’s house for the traditional turkey dinner.

For our weekend test, the weather cooperated, which in this context means we had torrential downpours followed by dry pavement. Snow did not get in our way in Southern California, but the rain and slick roads were sufficient to help us test the remarkable road-holding of the standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive that comes with every Outback.

2020 Subaru Outback is the perfect vehicle to go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

For those of you not familiar with the Outback, it was one of the first “crossover” SUVs. In essence, it wears an SUV-like body and has significant (8.7-inch) ground clearance while riding on what is essentially a sedan (Legacy) platform. What this enables it to deliver are both smooth, quiet, car-like handling and off-road and all-weather traction to make short work of potentially challenging situations. And as we found out, driving to Grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving morning in Southern California became a more challenging situation than we would have guessed.     

The heavy rains made for intimidating conditions for many drivers, and it proved too much for several of them. We noted a half-dozen spinouts on our lengthy drive. Happily, the treacherous conditions didn’t faze the Outback, thanks largely to its sophisticated all-wheel-drive, Active Torque Vectoring, and Vehicle Dynamics Control. Our Onyx Edition XT-level Outback was also equipped with X-MODE with Hill Descent Control, but that wasn’t required on our journey. Maybe if Grandmother decides to move off the grid.

Power was not a problem since the test vehicle was fitted with the more powerful of the Outback’s 4-cylinder “Boxer” engines. The turbocharged 2.4-liter delivers 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. The standard engine for most Outback models is a naturally aspirated direct-injection 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. It produces 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 176 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

One of the original crossovers, the Outback boasts a safe, secure, car-like ride.

Backing up both engines is the Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) that features an 8-speed synthetic manual mode with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Offering what are essentially fake “shifts” has always struck us a sort of silly, videogame-like affectation, but the public seems to want it, so okay. The good news is the CVT never gets in the way, and it helps the Outback offer good fuel economy. According to the EPA, the 2.4-liter turbo-equipped Outback has mileage ratings of 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined, while the 2.5-liter engine delivers 26/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined.

We didn’t tow anything on our trip to Grandmother’s house, but the Onyx edition we drove can tow up to 3,500 pounds, the most of any Outback in history. Cargo is no problem. With the rear seatbacks folded, the Outback offers up to 75.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and we liked the convenience of the hands-free power liftgate, part of the Onyx Edition equipment array.

Despite the horrendous weather during our outgoing part of the trip, we always felt safe and secure. We didn’t want to try them out, but the Outback has eight standard airbags, including a driver knee airbag. Additional reassurance comes from Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. One especially useful feature is adaptive cruise control with lane centering, which not only helps you maintain your speed and interval behind another vehicle but it also provides steering assist when the vehicle veers outside its intended lane. We decided to forego testing this feature in driving rain, but we found it helpful in less challenging conditions.

The interior of the Subaru Onyx Edition is as upscale as any Subaru interior we’ve ever seen.

The DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System uses a dedicated infrared camera and facial recognition technology to spy on you in a good way identifying signs of driver fatigue or distraction. It provides audio and visual warnings to alert the driver and passengers, but it proved unnecessary in the white-knuckle conditions of the rainstorm. Other available driver-assist technologies on the Outback include LED Steering Responsive Headlights, Reverse Automatic Braking, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and EyeSight Assist Monitor with head-up display.

On a more practical day-to-day basis, we became fans of the front view monitor that displays images within the driver’s blind spots in front of the vehicle, showing a 180-degree view on the Outback’s 11.6-inch dashboard-mounted display.

The 11.6-inch touchscreen made the infotainment system easy to operate.

Speaking of that display, we also became enthusiastic about the Starlink multimedia system. In addition to the high-resolution touchscreen, it offers integration with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and new Starlink SmartDeviceLink apps. It also has Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM stereo radio, rear-vision camera, and a 4-month trial subscription to SiriusXM All Access Radio. Navigation is an add-on we appreciated though we, like many other car buyers, now tend to stick with their phone-based nav systems.

Considering the weather, we were very glad we had the Subaru Outback at our beck and call. No matter what the conditions, it gave us a strong sense of security and safety. With overnight bags, three adult or near-adult children and that cute dog, the rear-seat was fully occupied, but no complaints were heard in the front seats.  Okay, the radio was loud. But if we had to do it all over, we’d make exactly the same choice.

And by the way, the turkey was delicious.