Aside from the WRX and WRX STI, Subarus simply aren’t known for speed—but that changes with the turbocharged Outback XT models. The XT badge means a 260-hp turbo-four propels the lifted wagon to the top of the midsize SUV class in MotorTrend-tested acceleration. We’re talking WRX speed here. And in the 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT we’re driving for a year, we’ve come to appreciate the Outback’s class-leading quickness, even if it does come with a couple asterisks.
How Quick Is the Subaru Outback?
Most 2020 and 2021 Subaru Outbacks are powered by a 2.5-liter flat-four making 182 hp that delivers adequate responses, though you do need to plan highway passes a little farther in advance. Acceleration to 60 mph takes a MotorTrend-tested 8.7 seconds, which is a noticeable improvement on the last gen’s 9.4 seconds for a model with the base engine. It’s a smart choice. As a bonus, it delivers an exceptional highway driving range of over 600 miles. 600 miles!
Even the Outback XT models—powered by a 260-hp turbo flat-four that replaces the last Outback’s available six-cylinder engine—manage a highway driving range of just over 550 miles. When we tested our one-year Outback XT, it managed an impressive 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds. That’s as quick as some WRX and WRX STIs we’ve tested, not to mention quicker than any competitor we tested through 2020.
The Outback Onyx XT, Limited XT, and Touring XT will deliver acceleration that temporarily pins you to the seat as you rocket forward. It’s unexpected on a vehicle whose first function is more utilitarian, but in the past, we’ve valued the way the XT engine’s extra power and torque made it easier to slide around on the sand. Our one-year Outback Onyx XT is also an entire second quicker to 60 mph than a 2018 Outback 3.6R we’ve tested (the XT model replaces the 3.6R).
Outback XT Performance Downsides
Since the very beginning of our extended time with a 2020 Outback XT, we’ve experienced tuning issues with the CVT automatic. Now that the Subaru has been driven more than 10,000 miles, the transmission still occasionally bogs down a little in gentle-acceleration situations, it still simulates the shifts of a conventional stepped automatic too aggressively for my tastes, and there are times you can feel fake shifts when you slow to a stop. Despite all this, however, I’d still take this Subaru’s transmission tuning issues over the new 2021 Sorento in any trim with the quick-reacting but unrefined dual-clutch transmission.
Another negative aspect to our Outback XT’s performance is the engine stop/start system; when the engine reawakens, it can sometimes edge the car forward at a stoplight if you aren’t pressing hard enough on the brakes. On a more minor level, we’ve also noticed the Outback XT will occasionally shake a little at idle before you head off.
Today’s Outback XT makes more sense as an engine upgrade than the 3.6R did from the previous generation. With two fewer cylinders than the 3.6R, the 260-hp XT models manage a level of acceleration that helps justify the price premium to an unconvinced spouse better than the last-gen model did. What bugs me most about the Outback XT is the transmission tuning. If Subaru can improve that and smooth out the engine stop/start system, it may get even more buyers to see the Outback XT’s appeal.
An Unexpected Trip to the Dealer
Our 2020 Outback Onyx recently visited the dealer to address an SRS airbag warning alert. The front passenger seat belt needed to be fastened even if no one was there to quiet the Subaru’s beeping. The dealer did extensive work to determine the issue—initially without results. That wasn’t a big issue because I drove a 2021 Outback 2.5i Premium loaner car in the meantime. After replacing the seat bottom frame assembly without any change, a newly installed airbag control module fixed the issue.