The Subaru Outback wagon has a long-running reputation as a smart alternative to an SUV, and the redesign 2020 model carries on that proud tradition. Unveiled at the New York International Auto Show, the next-generation Outback gains elegance in its exterior design, while adding comfort and convenience features.

It is clear that Subaru doesn’t want to stray from its established formula. The redesigned Outback so closely resembles that last two generations that a spotter’s guide may be needed to distinguish them at a distance.

The benefit to this evolutionary approach is that the Outback has been an impressive performer in Consumer Reports’ tests, with better-than-average owner satisfaction and reliability. It needed more power and modern features, and those are the emphasis of this redesign.

Here’s what we know so far.

2020 Subaru Outback front

2020 Subaru Outback

What it competes with: Buick Regal TourX, Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, Volvo V60
What it looks like: A more elegant Outback.
Powertrains: 182-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 260-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder; continuously variable transmission; all-wheel drive.
Price: $26,645
On-sale date: Fall 2019

Outside

The term “Outback” has practically become a verb in the auto world, referring to how a traditional car can get a rugged makeover with the judicious application of black, plastic trim. For 2020, the Outbacking of this wagon has increased, with bolder cosmetics applied to a more sophistical body. Subaru cites a hiking boot as its inspiration for the look.

2020 Subaru Outback interior

Inside

The most dramatic interior change is the 11.6-inch infotainment screen in all versions except the base trim. This is the largest screen Subaru has ever offered. It houses the controls for entertainment, climate, and vehicle settings. The display can operate in a split-screen mode to allow two separate functions to be shown simultaneously.

There is a top trim that adds a navigation map by TomTom. Rather than pay for the upgrade, though, buyers can use the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, tapping into their smartphones for directions. WiFi hot-spot capability is available.

More from the 2019 New York Auto Show

The Limited and Touring trims have 10-way-adjustable front seats, heated front and rear seats, and an adjustable bottom cushion length for the driver. The seat heaters now warm all the way up to a passenger’s shoulders.

Subaru claims the interior is 3 decibels quieter at highway speeds than it used to be, helped by special door weather stripping and sound-insulating glass. We found that the current car already effectively mutes road and wind noise.

2020 Subaru Outback cargo

What Drives It

The Outback comes standard with a 2.5-liter engine that produces 182 hp, up slightly from the last generation. This is the same engine that debuted in the Forester, where it helped that small SUV return impressive fuel economy, but the acceleration there is decidedly tepid. Subaru estimates that this powertrain will be EPA-rated at 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, an increase of 1 mpg each over the current Outback.

A turbocharged engine returns for the first time since 2009. It replaces a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine that was powerful but thirsty.

Models designated XT will feature this 260-hp, 2.4-liter engine, the same one that powers the Ascent. Subaru estimates that the turbo powertrain will be EPA-rated at 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway—a 3 mpg improvement for each over the six-cylinder engine. Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission that has a manual mode that simulates moving through eight gears.

Safety and Driver Assist Systems

Subaru claims that the body structure is 70 percent stiffer, and that it can absorb over 40 percent more energy in front and side crashes.

All Outback models are equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight system, a suite of advanced safety and driver assist systems. It includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane centering. Other available features include responsive headlights that rotate as the car turns, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert with automatic braking. A Front View Monitor system presents a 180-degree view on the large center display that essentially helps the driver “see” through blind spots to help with parking.

The Outback also offers a driver monitoring system that uses a camera and facial recognition software to monitor whether the driver is distracted or falling asleep. When we experienced this system on the Forester, we found that it could detect some extreme head movement, such as when drivers have turned away from the road, but it could not discern risky behavior such as gazing down at a handheld phone.

CR’s Take

The new Subaru Outback looks poised to build upon its current highly rated wagon with the promise of better fuel economy, a quieter cabin, added safety features, and a more advanced infotainment system.

2020 Subaru Outback rear