2021 Subaru Outback Review
The Subaru Outback has been around for more than 25 years, splitting the difference between a midsize SUV and a station wagon. That niche has broad appeal, and the ever popular Outback has continued its successful formula over six generations. While it drives mostly like a regular car, that hatchback design, decent ground clearance and taller seating position give it an SUV flair. We think it's a successful mix. The Outback is comfortable, well appointed and versatile, and the standard list of driver aids make it very compelling.
There aren't really any other vehicles around that strike that wagon/SUV balance. The Outback is classified as a midsize SUV, and as such competes against models such as the Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota 4Runner. Each one has its high points, from the Passport's large and usable interior to the 4Runner's serious off-road credentials. Any one of these is well worth a look if you're in the market for a two-row SUV.
What's it like to live with?
We were impressed enough with the redesigned Subaru Outback that we added one to our long-term test fleet to see if our impressions change living with it from day to day. We like the Outback's comfortable ride, handsome interior and peppy turbocharged engine.
The Outback does all the work of an SUV better than most SUVs but without any pretense. It combines a station wagon's practicality, comfort, easy-driving character and fantastic outward visibility with the ground clearance, ride compliance and all-weather sure-footedness of an SUV. We have our complaints, ranging from the frustrating infotainment screen to the anemic engine, but there are more strengths than weaknesses.
How does the Outback drive?
The Outback is slow, but that's about the only negative in this category. Our test vehicle, an Outback Limited with the base four-cylinder engine, accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. You'll want to upgrade to the turbocharged engine to get power similar to what rivals such as the Honda Passport and Ford Edge are capable of. At least the transmission shifts quickly and promptly to help you keep pace with traffic.
There's some noticeable body roll when making turns, but in general the Outback is well behaved. The steering offers good on-center feel and feedback from the road. The best part? With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, the Outback can go pretty much anywhere its SUV competitors can — and some places they can't.
How comfortable is the Outback?
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable vehicle for the money. The front seats are great. They're soft but supportive, offering a decent amount of bolstering without feeling tight. Overall, these are welcoming seats, pleasant to settle into when you're tired and easy to stay in for a long time.
The Outback's ride quality is excellent overall, too, even if certain road surfaces can create some vibrations in the cabin. Potholes, speed humps and drainage ditches are absorbed easily, yet there's no real floatiness to the vehicle. It's an impressive balance of compliance and control.
The climate system works well to regulate cabin temperature. Unfortunately, making any adjustments beyond temperature requires using the complicated touchscreen interface.
How’s the interior?
From a space standpoint, the Outback is fantastic. Some might prefer a more upright SUV-like seating position, but the Outback offers plenty of seat adjustability. Backseat passengers will be treated to excellent head- and legroom, and the cabin feels airy and open. The big windows also make for easy visibility all around and help eliminate blind spots.
Unfortunately, in pursuit of reducing button clutter for drivers, most of the Outback's controls are routed through the touchscreen. The screen can be slow to respond and very distracting to use. Changing any setting requires navigating through multiple menus, adding time and distraction to even simple tasks.
How’s the tech?
A nice-sounding stereo and plenty of charge ports are pluses, but Subaru's vertical 11.6-inch infotainment screen is a wasted opportunity. It's pretty but not very functional. It's easy enough to find settings and selections, but the complicated menu structure adds time to any task.
Plug in a smartphone, and the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto display is crammed into the top half of the screen, rendering the bottom half totally useless. Subaru's native voice command system is also subpar and struggles to recognize even basic requests.
Subaru's EyeSight is one of the most capable driver assistance systems you can get, but it's also really annoying. While everything from adaptive cruise to lane keeping works well, all of it subjects you to almost constant beeping notifications.
How’s the storage?
Because the Outback is more a lifted station wagon than an SUV, it loses out just a bit in terms of total cargo capacity. But at least the cargo floor is low and flat, making loading and unloading a breeze. It's also easy to install gear on the Subaru's roof rails because the Outback isn't quite as high as your typical SUV.
Cabin storage is clever but lacking in volume. There's a nice phone shelf for front passengers, and rear passengers get bottle holders in their doors and seatback pockets on both sides, but the center console box is smaller than the ones in most SUVs. Ultimately there's less space to stash your stuff.
Installing child safety seats should be a breeze, thanks to easily accessible seat anchors and plenty of room.
How economical is the Outback?
The EPA estimates you'll get 29 mpg in combined city/highway driving with the base engine, which is better than competitors manage. With our test Outback, however, we only managed around 20 mpg. This could be because the anemic power source demands a lead-footed approach to keeping pace with busy traffic.
Is the Outback a good value?
Most competitors have stronger standard engines, but otherwise the Outback offers an excellent value. The base model isn't lacking any practicality. And when loaded with extra luxuries and technology features, it costs less than similarly equipped competitors. The equation changes a bit if you want the more powerful XT models, whose prices are more directly aligned with traditional SUV competitors.
The Subaru doesn't offer any particular ownership advantages, with a warranty that's average for the segment. And while the Outback feels well put together, the design and quality of materials don't really stand out in any particular way.
The Outback does SUV things better than most SUVs, and does it without pretense or overcompensation. We wish that meeting fuel economy estimates was easier, but in its unassuming competence the Outback reminds us of the value of putting function before image.
Yes, the Outback is a little bland, but it's also very sure of itself. With plenty of ground clearance, full-time AWD and a smooth ride, it invites you to tackle potholes or unpaved roads. All told, it makes driving on bad city roads or unkept country roads altogether more pleasant. In fact, the Outback's strength is that it invites relaxation.
Which Outback does Edmunds recommend?
The midlevel Premium trim offers a lot of features at a competitive price point, but if you have the budget, we suggest stepping up to the Onyx Edition XT. It packs more features than the Premium trim and benefits from a more powerful turbocharged engine.
Subaru Outback models
The Subaru Outback is a midsize SUV that comes in seven trim levels: base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT and Touring XT. All-wheel drive comes standard on every trim. Feature highlights include: