The 2020 Subaru Outback’s Power Comes at a Price

The redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback kicks some off-road assets. The Subaru Outback is known for cutting paths through rough terrain for years, but its optional 2.4-liter turbocharged engine’s beefy, powerful, and plain fun to drive. CNET decided to review the sixth-generation Outback, taking you into their three-day getaway with insight into what makes this wagon go the distance.

The Subaru Outback CNET long review recap

What started as a 3-day camping trip for the CNET Detroit review crew turned into a lesson in Outback fuel efficiency. Sure after folding down the rear seats, 76 cubic feet of storage will easily fit all the camping gear. But once on the road, the crew found that the continuously variable transmission (CVT) wasn’t exactly smooth sailing at lower speeds, especially coming off a stoplight. They found acceleration tended to be jarring until the revs evened out, but that can happen when a CVT takes off like an 8-cylinder.

Despite the full-stop to acceleration issue, you’ve got to appreciate the 2020 Outback’s refinements: otherwise smooth handling, a quiet ride, high-end interior, and an 11.6-inch Subaru Starlink infotainment and climate-control screen. But it’s the optional turbocharged engine that gives this Subaru its mojo during freeway passing and off-road meandering through backwoods campgrounds.

Not exactly turbocharged fuel economy

The CNET review crew appreciated that turbocharged engine, especially at the higher 3,500 RPMs. But when a 260-horsepower engine draws that kind of power, fuel economy inevitably suffers. Of course, you could stick with the smaller, standard 4-cylinder, 182-horsepower engine and gain a tiny edge on fuel economy; but it’s not huge, just about 3 miles, which might be enough to get you to the next gas station.

Before the camping trip, the crew kept tabs on the mileage for three months. Little changed during that time, with mileage hitting the 21, 22, and 23 mph marks. The EPA predicted 23 city miles and 30 highway miles for a combined fuel rating at 26 mph. The review crew found its mileage lacking at an average of 21.6 mph. But overall, they enjoyed the storage, the high-end seats, and the infotainment system. 

So what’s the trade off?

There’s no doubt that turbo power makes for an exciting ride. But was it worth changing up the Outback’s 2019’s 6-cylinder for the 2020 4-cylinder turbocharged engine? A 4-cylinder turbo will glean you extra power, but only when you need it. And in an ideal world, that turbo should get you not only more power and higher torque, but also fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. 

According to U.S. News and World Report, whether the trade-off is worth it often depends on the model of your vehicle and the cost of options like a turbo with fuel efficiency being the sacrificial lamb.

Still, if you prefer a few extra miles of fuel economy, there are other trims that you might want to consider: the Outback’s base, premium, limited and Touring trims. All come standard with your 4-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, and continuously variable transmission. There’s always the option to add the turbocharged engine if you want that extra power despite the lower fuel economy.

U.S. News and World Report rank the Subaru Outback second in its wagon category, 16th in crossover SUVs, and 11th in SUVs with second-row seating. The 2020 midsize and 4-door Outback is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) top safety pick.

Whether you call it a station wagon or an SUV, the Subaru Outback’s redesign keeps it a contender for weekend adventurers who love a little off-roading with the family.

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