Subaru’s iconic Outback started life as a station wagon nearly 25 years ago, when it was billed as the ultimate car for outdoor enthusiasts and family adventures. As wagons gradually fell out of favour with consumers, the Outback transformed into a higher-riding SUV/wagon hybrid – and never lost its cult following.
For 2020, the sixth-generation Outback gets a complete overhaul, remaining true to its roots as the ultimate go-anywhere vehicle. To pronounce the car’s image, Subaru constructed a spectacular display at the New York auto show, with a backdrop of national parks complete with sound effects such as rushing streams and singing birds. It distracts the eye from the fact that there’s not a lot new on the exterior; most of the modernization is built into the interior.
On the exterior, only the keen eye and diehard Subaru fans will spot the design changes. While it still has a rugged, athletic look, the modifications are in the details. New wheel arch mouldings and lower cladding runs along the front and rear fenders; the scratch resistant moulding helps protect the paint from stone chips and scratches when driving on dirt or gravel roads. On the roof, cross bars are now accompanied with four cross loops at the front and rear to help secure items such as bikes or boats. And the ground clearance, 220 mm, remains intact from the current generation for adaptability to off-road ventures.
Inside, the cargo area has grown longer and the opening to the cargo space is wider, improvements that are attributable to the Outback’s new platform underpinnings. Now it’s easier to load items or gear into the back. Getting inside the cargo space is simpler, too – you don’t need to fiddle with a fob. It’s now hands-free: Just wave your hand over the blue Subaru emblem on the rear gate and it opens. The cargo cover also gets an added twist. You can retract the cover with one touch – even by hitting it with your elbow if your hands are full of groceries or camping gear. So there’s no need to struggle with unhinging the cover on both sides. The bottom of the cargo floor is also water resistant – as are the seats.
The biggest design changes are inside. The first thing you’ll notice is the large, smartphone-like tablet in the centre – an 11.6-inch touch screen gives the cabin a modern, updated look. There’s also more safety technology than ever before including a front-view camera with 180-degree view.
Subaru’s distraction mitigation system uses facial recognition software to warn the driver of fatigue or distraction, while the standard EyeSight system acts as a second set of eyes on the road. It includes a suite of driver assistance technologies such as a new advanced adaptive cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, and lane-keep assist that work together to help reduce the chance of a collision.
The advanced adaptive cruise control also gets a new lane-centring function that uses stereoscopic cameras to recognize lane markings and the preceding vehicle. And for added peace of mind, you can get Subaru’s Starlink connected services, which offers features such as advanced automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and roadside assistance and concierge services.
Two engine choices are offered – a 182 horsepower, 2.5-litre Subaru Boxer with nearly 90 per cent new parts, direct injection and an auto stop/start feature and a 260-hp, turbocharged 2.4-litre Boxer, which can tow 1,590 kilograms. Both are mated to a CVT. No surprise, symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive is standard.
The Outback will be built in at Subaru’s manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Ind. It goes on sale this fall. Prices aren’t available yet.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up for the weekly Drive newsletter, delivered to your inbox for free. Follow us on Instagram, @globedrive.