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Is the 2020 Subaru Outback Safe? Plus, Our Long-Term SUV’s Power Liftgate Has an Issue

is-the-2020-subaru-outback-safe?-plus,-our-long-term-suv’s-power-liftgate-has-an-issue
Subaru Outback Full Overview

Subaru has built its reputation on safety, reliability, and the convenience of standard all-wheel drive on every vehicle it makes. Well, almost everything. But how safe is the 2020 and 2021 Subaru Outback? We’ve spent months with a 2020 Outback Onyx and can explain its NHTSA and IIHS crash test results as well as how its active safety systems work. Oh, and before we dive in, here’s the story on a new issue affecting our power liftgate.

About Our Subaru Outback’s Power Liftgate…

Compared to its midsize SUV competition—see our rankings here—the Subaru Outback makes a power liftgate affordable. Although the feature isn’t available on the base trim, the next higher trim offers it in a package. For $31,495, your 2021 Outback Premium or higher will have a power liftgate with a memory-height function and two buttons to close it; one just closes the liftgate, and the other closes and then automatically locks the car. That helpful feature is one I look for in every power liftgate.

Well, I appreciated the close-and-lock button until it disappeared the other day.

After the close-and-lock button didn’t respond the first time I pressed it, I tried again with the same, normal amount of force. The shy button then left its normal place and hid in the safety of the liftgate’s assembly where it is now. It’s unfortunate, though I’m thankful it happened to the close-and-lock button and not to the other one that simply closes the liftgate. We’ll have this checked out the next time we’re at the dealer.

Like an increasing number of SUVs, the Outback’s power liftgate comes with a hands-free feature. Wave your foot underneath the car with the key fob in your pocket, and the liftgate will open. That’s cool, but I personally prefer the system I’ve seen on Hyundais, Kias, and Genesis cars. Simply stand behind the car, wait for it to beep three times, and it opens—no fancy footwork necessary. This may lead to a bit of unnecessary beeping—say, if you’re walking around your car to your home’s nearby trash bin—but it’s the trade-off I’d make.

So How Safe Is the Subaru Outback?

The Outback is one of the safest vehicles in its class. Part of that comes from its superior all-around visibility. You like the bold curves of the Chevrolet Blazer and Nissan Murano? I do too, but they have a serious effect on rear visibility. Except for a rearview mirror that’s a bit more in the driver’s face than in some SUVs, the Outback does well with visibility. Then there are crash tests. In NHTSA testing, the 2020 Subaru Outback earned an overall five-star rating (out of a possible five stars). That’s a result of five-star front and side crash test evaluations and a four-star rollover score. The Chevrolet Blazer and Ford Edge match those scores, but the new Toyota Venza gets only four stars in the frontal test.

Then there’s IIHS testing, where it tends to be more difficult to earn top awards. Even so, the 2020 Subaru Outback aces IIHS testing, with top scores in six crash tests, good front crash prevention scores, Acceptable and Good headlight scores, and even an excellent ease-of-use score for LATCH child seat anchors. You can see why the IIHS calls the Subaru Outback a 2020 Top Safety Pick+. The Toyota Venza and Ford Edge both receive 2020 Top Safety Pick designations—good, but not as good as the Outback.

So clearly the Outback is safe. Unfortunately, however, its safety systems can be annoying. When the lane departure system can no longer sense lanes on the road, an alert appears in the instrument cluster’s info screen. Fine. What we could do without is the chime the system makes to communicate the same thing. At least on roads around Los Angeles, the system is often detecting and then losing sight of lanes—no problem. Although my husband and I enjoy pretending that each chime indicates we’ve earned a couple video game coins, I’d much rather the alert be silenced. There is a way to remove part of the lane departure/lane keeping’s functionality, but then an overly urgent orange alert appears in the instrument cluster. On a 2,000-mile road trip, senior copy editor Jesse Bishop kept mistaking the alert for a low fuel warning and wished “the light weren’t so big and bright.”

Agreed. Other than that consistent critique MotorTrend has had about Subaru’s sometimes overly fussy (but effective) active safety systems, our one-year Outback test SUV gets a satisfactory grade on safety tech. One highlight: I very much appreciate the rear cross-traffic alert system that’s bundled with rear automatic emergency braking. I still don’t consider them must-have safety features, but both have been extraordinarily helpful when backing out of driveways or parking spots. Then there’s the DriverFocus system that monitors whether the driver is paying attention to the road ahead. Our Outback Onyx doesn’t have it, though maybe that’s not a bad thing. During 2020 SUV of the Year testing, the Subaru earned a place as a finalist, but we commented on “the frantic alerts for seemingly random occurrences of driver inattention.”

The 2020 and mostly unchanged 2021 Subaru Outback don’t offer the commanding seating position of a traditional SUV, but it still competes with the segment’s best on safety. The tech could use a little fine-tuning, but we still appreciate its solid structure and safety features.

Looks good! More details?

More on Our Long-Term 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT:

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