Subaru is a popular brand in northern New England. Upwards of 20-percent of registered vehicles in some areas come from the automaker, so it’s always a treat to get to test a Subaru here in its natural habitat. I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the 2021 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition and was not surprised to find that it’s well-suited to the task of hauling a family around Maine’s back roads and coastal highways.
With a few added-cost options onboard, my test car’s price tag checked in at just under $39,000, far from the Outback’s base price of around $28,000. The car’s Autumn Green Metallic paint and black 18-inch wheels complemented each other well for a gritty, ready-for-anything look that fits the Outback’s persona.
Under the Hood
The standard engine is a 182-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. My Onyx Edition tester came equipped with the spicier optional turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 260 hp. I should pause here and say that neither engine turns the Outback into a lively performer. The focus here is on comfort and capability, both of which the car delivers in spades.
Around town, the upgraded powertrain provided more than ample acceleration and grunt. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) has been programmed to act like an eight-speed automatic, which was done to reduce the droning and whining that many CVTs elicit from their engine companions. It works — mostly — but the “shifts” sometimes feel misplaced, and the transmission seems to be resistant to any sudden stabs from the driver’s right foot.
On & Off-Road Performance
As you might have imagined by now, the 2021 Subaru Outback is much more of a utility vehicle than an athletic cruiser. It’s got 8.7-inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, both of which give the car a distinct rugged feel, no matter the driving situation. The ride is comfy, thanks in part to the Outback’s suspension system, and the car maintains a confident and planted feel when the roads become rough.
Things go a bit sideways at highway speeds when wind and road noise become a prominent fixture in the cabin. This makes having conversations and listening to music a challenge, as the white noise pouring into the car tends to drown out the highs and lows from any music being played.
Inside, the front seats are wide, deep, and well-padded. The 10-way power driver’s seat adjustments allow for a low driving position and can be pushed upward to easily accommodate shorter drivers. There’s no lack of room up front, and the same is true in the back, where even tall adults will find generous head and legroom. Child seats fit without issue, even with tall people riding in front. I was able to install my four-year-old daughter’s full-size seat behind my driver’s seat, which is an accomplishment even many larger SUVs have not been able to pull off.
Heavy On Tech
Most Outback models, including the 2021 Subaru Outback, feature a gigantic touchscreen that handles everything from audio controls to climate and vehicle settings. The absolute unit of a screen measures 11.6 inches and is oriented vertically, like a painting. The visual effect is impressive, as the screen is bright, and Subaru has programmed in a lot of vibrant colors to keep things interesting.
The big screen is nice, but there are a few issues. The biggest was with the responsiveness of the touchscreen. There’s a noticeable delay between the touch input and the system actually doing the thing that was asked of it. That latency makes using the screen a pain at times, even more so with the vehicle in motion. The issue was especially pronounced when the vehicle was first started, as the warning message and startup processes made the system a bit slower to accept inputs.
Beyond the screen, there are few complaints with the Outback’s tech accouterments. The Onyx Edition trim misses out on the Harman Kardon premium sound system that comes with the Touring model, but the sound quality is acceptable with the optional Rockford Fosgate system. There’s more bass than is necessary, and things start to sound muddy at highway speeds when wind and road noise are more prominent, but it’s a passable stereo that’s more than capable of jamming Disney Radio for the kids.
In terms of safety, all Outback models get Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite as standard equipment. With that, the 2021 Subaru Outback comes equipped with forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. In practice, the systems function well and don’t get in the way, but the lane keep assist system is a bit more sensitive than most people would like. I found myself turning it off to avoid incessant beeps. “Just stay in your lane!” you’re probably saying, and I agree. The issue is that the system is sensitive enough to flag even a hint of lane-creep as a violation.
Summary: 2021 Subaru Outback
If you ask me whether or not I’d buy an Outback, I’d say yes. In fact, I already have, though it’s a car from the previous generation. The truth is, despite its quirks, the Outback is a spectacular family vehicle and has given us years of go-anywhere adventure. This new 2021 Subaru Outback still captures that magic but does so in a more refined and cohesive manner. It’s far from perfect, but for people with a use case for the Outback, there’s not a much better car to be had.