Subaru got people to buy wagons!
After last receiving a major redesign for the 2020 model year, the 2021 Subaru Outback soldiers on with a few minor improvements, including new safety features such as steering responsive LED headlights, passenger seatbelt reminder, and rear seat reminder. Anyone shopping for an Outback will enjoy the ride height of an SUV coupled with the long-roof layout of a station wagon.
Subaru offers the Outback in seven trim levels, including Base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT models. All of the XT models feature the turbocharged engine, and we recently tested the least expensive Onyx Edition. Here's what we liked (and hated) about the Outback.
Unlike most American shoppers, we openly love station wagons because they bundle SUV space with car-like driving dynamics. Despite being marketed as a crossover, the Outback is categorized as a wagon by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
If you look at all wagon sales in the US, which only accounts for 1.4% of the market, the Outback makes up the vast majority. In fact, 85% of all wagons sold in the US are a Subaru Outback. While other automakers have tried and failed to get Americans interested in wagons, Subaru has thrived.
All Outback models come with Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assist Technology as standard. This safety suite includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist. Other optional features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking.
Though it didn't come on our Onyx Edition XT tester, Subaru's DriveFocus Distraction Mitigation System is also available on the Limited trim and above. This system uses an interior sensor to detect if the driver becomes fatigued or distracted. It will then alert the driver to pay attention to the road ahead.
While the EPA calls it a wagon, the Subaru Outback is technically classified as a midsize SUV. That categorization puts it in a dangerous territory against much larger vehicles, including Subaru's own Ascent SUV. But buyers who prefer a vehicle that feels smaller on the road but can still carry all of their stuff (plus room for their dogs), the Outback doesn't disappoint.
The rear cargo area holds 32.5 cubic feet of space, which as you can see from our adorable volunteer, is plenty of space for your furry friends. Though the rear area isn't quite as large as some compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, mainly due to the Outback's lower height, Subaru makes up ground when you fold the rear seats down. With the seats mostly flat, the Outback offers a competitive 75.7 cubic feet of space. We also love how Subaru includes latches to lower the rear seats on the seatbacks and in the cargo area.
We probably wouldn't take it through Moab, but the Subaru Outback should prove rugged enough for most buyers. It offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is more than you'll get from many competing SUVs. Combined with Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system plus an X-Mode featuring hill descent control, the Outback can handle most poor weather situations. Using the X-Mode controls, drivers can switch from a normal setting to snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
Just like the current Legacy sedan, the Outback is based on the new Subaru Global Platform. Subaru says the new architecture boasts increased rigidity, providing more responsive steering, a smoother and quieter ride, and better handling. These aren't just marketing claims, you can really feel it when you drive the Outback. It's no sports car but the steering feels highly responsive with car-like handling. Motivated by a 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four delivering 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, it feels plenty quick, with 0-60 mph coming in around 6.3 seconds.
No matter how well Subaru disguises the Outback as an SUV, its wagon-like styling won't appeal to everyone. Even the Onyx Edition XT, which features sport black accents and grey wheels, may turn off buyers who prefer the upright styling of a traditional crossover rather than the long-roof wagon layout. Likewise, the body cladding and roof racks present a rugged and outdoorsy vibe that might not gel with urban or luxury buyers.
The 2021 Subaru Outback starts at $26,795 but being the power-crazed people that we are, we'd opt for one of the turbocharged XT trims levels. The Onyx Edition XT is the most affordable of the bunch starting at $35,145 and does offer great value for money with unique exterior trim, a hands-free power tailgate, a 180-degree front camera, and the X-Mode.
However, you still have to add the Starlink 11.6-inch infotainment system and reverse automatic braking as part of a $1,845 package. By the time you add that option package, you may as well step up to the Limited XT trim for $37,995. While we enjoyed the appearance of the Onyx Edition's black and grey durable StarTex seats with green stitching, the perforated leather in the Limited trim is softer and more comfortable.