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When Subaru introduced the Outback in the 1990s, it was a step in the right direction: This was the car for anyone with a weekend cabin, who lived for hiking or who rejoiced in snow days when the roads were empty (Subarus were known for having all-wheel drive). We were a tribe and we drove Subarus. Yes, I was one, too; mine was a late ’70s GF.

And now, in the 2020 model, with a starting price of $26,645 that tops out at just under $40,000, the Outback gives owners even more features and more capability. And while the design of the car has been tweaked, there are no rude surprises here. 

I took a test-drive on both city streets and off road, testing out its AWD capability and some great new features. Short story: I found a lot to be impressed with.

new information systems
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1. The New Infotainment System

The tablet-style system represents Subaru’s new direction with tech; the touch screen holds most of the car’s functions, though there are static buttons and controls for climate, radio, X Mode all-wheel drive system and a home button to get you back to square one quickly. The system features navigation by Tom Tom, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. When using the car’s navigation system, you’ll see turn by turn directions on the driver’s information screen, including the speed limit of the road you’re on. However, when using Apple CarPlay, directions (and speed limit) only appear on the infotainment screen. All in all: an elegant, less cluttered look and feel.

2. IMPROVED 'EYE SIGHT'

Subaru’s driver-assist safety system is called Eye Sight and it’s gotten better. The system encompasses adaptive cruise control, and now adds lane centering (but yes, you must pay attention and keep your hands on the wheel). On my test-drive, it actually guided the car around curves and followed traffic—impressive!

3. More Interior Space in a Same-Sized Car

Subaru’s designers worked to slim the car’s skeleton and make it safer while, at the same time, increasing interior space without increasing the overall size of the car.

new interiors
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4. Beautiful New Interiors

I fell in love with the Nappa leather in the Touring Edition, but the Onyx Edition boasts a waterproof leather-like upholstery, which, I’m guessing, means it's dog slobber-proof, too. That's good news: This interior looks and feels like leather but it’s more resilient, easy to wipe down and keep clean. The Onyx Edition also has a sportier look with toned-down exterior details. It might be the most “Outback” edition of the Outback to date.

5. A More Convenient Lift Gate

This is brilliant: The hands-free sensor for the lift gate is in the Subaru badge. Simply wave your hand (or elbow or arm) at it when your key fob is on your person, and the lift gate opens, easy peasy. Then, if you’d like to move the cargo cover, tap it with your elbow and it will retract out of your way.

roof rails
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6. Roof Rails With Built in Cross Bars

I LOVE this feature! I don’t have to go to the dealer and pay more money to use the roof rack. Simply flip open the latch and position the roof rails as you like. Yay!

7. More Power If You Want It

New for 2020 is a turbo engine option. The standard 4 cylinder has 186 horsepower—plenty of power for daily driving and most off-road challenges; the turbo brings horsepower up to 260, so even more power for climbing mountains, if you’re into that kind of thing.

offroading
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8. Better Off-Road capabilities

In the new Outback, "X Mode" has been upgraded to "Dual X Mode," which essentially means the car is even more capable in sand, mud and snow. The Dual X Mode also has downhill descent control in which the car determines the speed of the descent to maximize traction and control. All you have to do is steer.

9. Tons of charging options

A wireless phone charge pad holds two USB ports, and the back of the center console has two USB ports for back seat passengers too (as well as seat heaters).

10. Size and Power for the Road You Want to Travel

My drive took me up some harrowingly narrow cow paths and around some very tight curves. I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to make the turns or that we might lose our footing, but the Outback was patient and capable, taking each bump and ditch like a pro. On the flip side, the car was equally comfortable on the highway. I totally forgot I was in a vehicle designed to climb hills and be outdoorsy. It just felt…nice.

RELATED: 9 of the Best 3-Row SUVs, from Luxury to Affordable

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