Subaru's midsize Outback crossover has been enhanced for 2021 with upgraded safety and operational technology
Subaru’s Outback has to be the most popular midsize SUV on local roads. Its popularity comes from its excellent traction abilities, its conservative styling, reasonable price, and a host of high-tech and safety features.
Outback’s are offered in base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT (tested) and Touring XT. An Outback for every budget and pleasure.
The 2021 Limited XT came with comfy two-tone leather seats and an 11.6-inch touchscreen with a host of features, functions and apps.
The heated front seats, in particular, are exceptionally supportive. Subaru interior designers did a great job designing the overall interior.
Then there’s the new large touchscreen with its Starlink infotainment system serving the audio, rearview camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, driving statistics, navigation, HVAC systems and more. The only feature missing is a wireless phone charger on the Premium trim, perhaps because there’s no room. But there are front and rear receptacles to charge a phone or iPad.
As for the HVAC system, most functions operate primarily from the touchscreen as do the heated seat controls. It takes some getting used to and momentarily takes the eyes off the road for certain selections. It’s an extremely busy screen that requires several touches for certain selections. It’s also controversial for some. In one Kelly Blue Book site customer review, the Outback owner wrote, “To access X-Mode for better traction, you need to navigate from the home screen to the second level screen and then find the X-Mode option.” Operationally, the owner should read the owner’s manual as this should primarily be done when parked as the system has a speed limitation for engagement and it will disengage above 25 mph.
We found that when accessing “Climate” to adjust settings, the screen only stays up for six seconds. And to bring up the heated seat touch controls, it’s necessary to first touch the seat/heat icon, then “heater,” which appears for which you then select one of three intensity bars for the amount of heat required. Seems simple hard switches, as most vehicles have, are better, quicker and safer.
Outback came with an array of the latest safety features including lane departure/sway warning, blind spot detection w/rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise w/lane centering, reverse auto braking (very helpful when backing out of a parking place especially when parked between two large, view blocking SUVs), Eye-Sight Driver Assist System w/auto emergency braking and Driver Focus (Distraction Mitigation System). The latter employs facial-recognition that can spot driver drowsiness, fatigue, distraction and will also adjust the drivers’ seat for the particular driver it recognizes. When the system detects one of the aforementioned conditions, a beep sounds off and a notice displays on the driver information screen on the gauge cluster. It doesn’t detect, however, in direct bright sunlight or when wearing sunglasses.
Outback’s comfy rear seat has generous leg and headroom for two adults or three youngsters. It offers easy ingress/egress thanks to wide opening doors and a low 19-inch step-in. And unlike many four-door’s, there’s thoughtful assist handles above each door.
With a wave of a foot beneath the back bumper, the rear hatch automatically opens up to a spacious cargo area. With the back seats upright, there’s 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 42.5 inches deep, 45 wide and 29.5 wide. Flip the rear seatbacks by pulling two handles in the sidewall and it opens up 75.7 cubic feet of storage that offers 74 inches of cargo loading depth. And for small item storage, the underfloor has a foam bin into which small items can be stowed. And lift-over into the cargo area, is a mere 27.5 inches.
Subaru’s have always been known as great cars in snow, especially with Outback’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Their newly announced Outback Wilderness model becomes more off-road capable with its all-terrain tires, larger shocks and springs and a generous 9.5 inches of ground clearance.
With Subaru’s Active Torque-Split AWD system, it continuously adjusts to driving conditions by sending power from the wheels that slip to the wheels that don’t. In essence providing power to all four wheels simultaneously. Outback’s X-Mode system can be activated (via the touchscreen) for tough traction conditions such as deep snow, mud and dirt. It also operates Hill Descent Control.
While the 2020 Outback handles nicely with its suspension taming road imperfections and maintaining good stability in sharp turns and twisty roads, it also parks easily with a relatively tight turning radius of 36.1 feet. Shod with 18-inch Yokohama tires, Outback is a smooth, quiet rider.
Our test model was powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that generates 260-hp and 277 lb/ft of torque. With auto start/stop engine technology and a standard CVT transmission, the combination garnered EPA mileage ratings of 23 city, 30 highway mpg. So powered, Outback produces lively acceleration from a standing stop and during passing maneuvers. Especially so when the turbo kicks in.
With an extremely long list of impressive standard features and amenities like a sunroof, Harmon/Kardon premium audio, 8 months free Subaru Starlink Security Plus system, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity and more, the only extra cost was delivery ($1,010) that took the base price of $37,745 to $38,775.
If you want one, better hurry because we understand a comparable 2022 Limited XT will cost an added $4,440 when they go on sale in late summer. Despite this, Outback will continue to be a top seller in its class.
In government testing, Outback received very impressive safety scores of a full five stars for overall safety; five each for driver/passenger frontal crash; five each for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover.
Outback also comes with a 3 year, 36K basic warranty; 5/60K powertrain; 5/Unlimited rust protection and 3/36K roadside assistance.