Subaru's Outback wagon is known for being able to get you there — just not very quickly. It was one of the first high-riding wagons with all-wheel drive — the automotive critter that's called a crossover today.
It was tenacious, rugged — and slow.
Now it's quick.
Because it's available with a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine that's nearly as powerful as the engine in the high-performance WRX.
But with almost twice the ground clearance.
So you'll still get where you're going — and back.
What It Is
The Outback is a full-size wagon that comes standard with all-wheel drive and can be ordered with a high-performance turbocharged engine.
These two attributes make it unlike other crossovers in its class — which offer all-wheel drive as an extra-cost option and aren't available with a high-performance engine.
Prices start at $26,645.
The new 2.4-liter turbo engine comes standard in the Onyx Edition XT, which stickers for $34,895.
A top-of-the-line Touring XT — with the turbo engine, an 11.6-inch touch screen, heated steering wheel, Nappa leather seats, insulated side glass and a full-size real spare tire (something that's hard to find anywhere) — stickers for $39,695.
The Outback gets a full makeover for 2020.
In addition to the new turbo 2.4-liter engine, the Outback's standard 2.5-liter engine produces a bit more horsepower (182 now versus 175 last year) and gets slightly better gas mileage (26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway now versus 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway previously).
It's as capable as ever — just quicker.
It's as unique as ever (no direct competitors even offer a boxer engine — the same type of engine that comes standard in Porsches).
It's stronger than ever. With the new 2.4-liter engine, maximum towing capacity rises to 3,500 pounds from 2,700 pounds previously.
What's Not So Good
The high-powered 2.4-liter engine is only available in the higher-priced trims.
No version of the new Outback is available with a manual transmission.
Every version of the new Outback comes standard with a suite of driver "assists" that not every driver may want.
Under the Hood
Last year's Outback came standard with Subaru's solid but slowpokey 2.5-liter engine — without a turbo and without much horsepower.
It's still the Outback's standard engine. But it's a bit more powerful now — and uses a bit less gas.
The Outback's newly available 2.4-liter engine — with a turbo — is a lot more powerful and only uses a little more gas.
It makes 260 horsepower — nearly as much horsepower as the high-performance WRX's 268 horsepower engine — and manages to deliver 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, within the margin of error of the standard 2.5-liter engine.
Both engines are paired with Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission.
On the Road
The Outback has always been good off-road. Now it can tear up the road. And without looking like it has that on its mind!
With the 2.4-liter engine, it's almost as quick as the famously speedy WRX. But because it comes standard with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, versus 4.9 in the WRX, it's better suited for snow days and unpaved roads.
The Outback with the 2.5-liter engine may not be super speedy, but it can travel more than 600 miles on a full tank — which is easily twice as far as any electric car can travel on a full charge. And the Outback can be refueled and ready to travel another 600 miles in less than five minutes — as opposed to several hours for the electric car.
The Outback's ride is also much better than the WRX's — which is tuned for the track.
And unlike a truck — or an SUV — the Outback is still easy to get into and out of. It has about the same step-in height as a car.
Its roof is also low enough that you can reach it without a ladder. Which makes using the standard roof racks much more realistic.
At the Curb
The new Outback doesn't look radically different from the previous Outback, but it's essentially all new — and slightly larger.
It shares its platform — or basic underlying structure — with Subaru's full-size Legacy sedan and can be considered a wagonized version of the Legacy with more ground clearance.
And much more room for cargo.
There's only 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space in the Legacy's trunk — versus 32.5 cubic feet behind the Outback's second row. With the second row folded, the Outback's cargo room expands to 75.7 cubic feet — almost five times as much cargo space as the Legacy — and without significantly increasing the overall footprint.
All Outback trims come standard with a DriverFocus distraction mitigation system that uses facial recognition tech to identify who's behind the wheel and whether they're falling asleep behind the wheel (according to eye movement and other parameters).
This is technologically amazing. But some drivers may not want to be facially recognized.
Another tech feature — one that most drivers will like — is a new app called Chimani that provides a field guide to 419 national parks written by local travel experts.
The Outback is the only new car that currently offers this feature.
The Bottom Line
Getting there is good. Getting there a little faster is never bad!
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.