Subaru fans rejoice, new Legacy and Outback are the best yet
Subaru keeps insisting that its Legacy sedan and Outback crossover are two different models. Don't believe it. They are closely related and both are better because of it, given the 2020 redesigns.
Just looking at the two side-by-side, it's easy to conclude the Outback is essentially a station wagon version of the Legacy. The same conclusion is reached by merely glancing into the front cabins and back seat areas. They also offer the same engines and transmissions.
And, of course, the both come with Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system, which is standard on all Subaru's except the BRZ sports car co-produced with Toyota.
Aside from the additional cargo space in the Outback, the biggest obvious difference with the Legacy is its greater ride height, which provides 8.7 inches of ground clearance. That's more than enough for semi-serious off-roading, while the lower Legacy is clearly more at home on pavement.
By adding such features as lower body cladding, a roof rack, and Dual X-Mode traction management to the Outback, Subaru can rightly argue that it is an SUV and not just the station wagon version of the Legacy. Fair enough.
But completely different? That does a disservice to those of us who remember when the Outback was in fact one of two station wagon versions of the Legacy sedan. One was the GT, which came with a more powerful turbocharged engine. The other was the Outback, which came with the cladding and some other features, but not significantly greater ride height. But then they split into the sedan and crossover versions.
Now for 2020, Subaru has released the sixth generation version of both vehicles. They're built on the same new new chassis platform, which offers more interior space and contributes to smoother and quieter rides. Outback have traditionally been more popular in the Pacific Northwest because they are more practice and outdoor-oriented, and that's not likely to change.
But the big news for both of them is the return of the turborcharged engine. All Subaru's feature 2.4-liter horizontally-opposed — or "Boxer" — engines. Most recently, the turbocharged version has only been available in the high-performance WRX models based on the compact Impreza sedan. The Legacy and Outback both offered a 3.0-liter flat six cylinder engine as options. It had more power, but weighed more, which offset some of the benefit while providing worse mileage.
But now, after proving a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine in the large Ascent SUV, Subaru has dropped the six and made it the optional engine in the Legacy and Outback. Although not as tranformative as those in the earlier GT models, the turbo is still worth the additional money because it provides more power while getting an EPA estimated 26 average miles per gallon.
Though not nearly as punchy as the turbo in the WRX, we found the one in our Outback to be well matched to the standard Lineartronic High Torque Continuously Variable Transmission. The combination provided good acceleration off the line, improved hill climbing ability, and more than enough performance for freeway traffic and passing.
Safety is another priority. Subaru estimates the new version has a 40% improvement in crash safety, and which should allow to retain the same five-star and Top Safety Pick + ratings as lat year's model. And Subaru HAS also includes the advanced Eyesight safety system on every Outback as standard equipment. It has been found to reduce pedestrian impacts by 35% and rear-end collisions by an even greater 85%.
More immediately apparent to drivers and passengers will be the substantially upgraded interior. It is the most attractive design yet, and most trims include an 11.6-inch tablet-style infotainment interface. You can get this with or without navigation, but since both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported, you'll always have navigation of some kind. There's also a great sounding optional Harman Kardon audio system.
Out test version was the new top-of-the- line Onyx Edition, which included black-finish exterior elements, 18-inch alloy wheels and badging, a gray two-tone interior with seats are wrapped in a new water-repellant durable StarTex material. Even with all that, the price was a very reasonable $37,750.
As fellow Pamplin Media Group auto writer Jeff Zurschmeide has written, "If there was an 'official' car for the Pacific Northwest, it would have to be the Subaru Outback. We see them everywhere, and there are good reasons why Subaru's mid-size SUV-style wagon has remained a consistent favorite with Northwest families for over 20 years. The Outback has always offered go-anywhere capability in a convenient, economical, and easy-to-drive package."
Expect to see even more of the newest version. And don't be surprised to see more new Legacy sedans, either.
2020 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition
Base price: $34,895
Price as tested: $37,750
Type: Mid-size crossover
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (260 hp, 277 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 23/30
Overall length: 191.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,500 pounds
Final assembly: Lafayette, Indiana
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