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2020 Subaru Outback XT Test Drive: 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender

This long-roof deserves your love.

Automobile's All-Stars awards are back, and this year we have one of the best fields of cars we've ever evaluated. In total, we invited 21 of our favorite new or significantly revised cars to find out which are the very best of the best. We've split them into Contenders and Winners, but let us make it clear: every car invited to our All-Stars event is one of the most special cars on sale for 2020. Each day between March 8th and March 10th, we'll bring you a new batch of Contenders, and on Wednesday, March 11, we'll announce our 2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners.

At the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, Subaru's exhibit was unmistakable: Rocks, big trees, what looks like a snowmelt (it isn't), a rustic forest floor of peat moss and leaves and pebbles that is actually—and we're not sure where you order this from—carpet, comfortable benches that lack only your whittling Grandpa, and during the press conference, puppies!

There was on-the-nose music, a stentorian voice calling you to come look, and when you did, there was a 2020 Subaru Outback, literally rising from the mist!

Does this company know its market, or what?

Our Outback, an Onyx Edition XT with a base price of $34,895, or $37,750 out the door as ours was configured, was a legit All-Stars contender for our more nature-loving staffers, perhaps less so for big-city dwellers who prefer to continue dwelling.

"The Outback's loyal following is understandable, and this newest iteration furthers that sentiment with its excellent dynamics and isolating ride. But for the true enthusiasts out there (and anyone who detests behind-the-times multimedia systems), the latest Outback, sadly, falls short," said contributor and racing driver Andy Pilgrim after extensive test drives.

A more charitable Rory Jurnecka, our features editor, observed: "Good power from this engine, and the manual shift paddles really help going up over the hills. The interior quality is a little better than before. The vertical display works nicely and includes analog dials for radio tuning and volume, plus hard buttons for climate control. There's a massive second row and cavernous cargo space behind it, with smart storage for the cargo cover! Why hasn't anyone else thought of that?"

The vertical center stack-an 11.6-inch touchscreen named Starlink that, stunningly, might remind customers of an iPad, is reasonably user-friendly, and you should be able to find NPR and your favorite podcasters quickly. Front seats are wrapped in vegan-friendly Star-Tex water-repellant upholstery, but they will have to tolerate the Onyx's leather-covered steering wheel and shifter handle.

That shifter handle connects to the "high-torque Lineartronic" CVT transmission, which will not win over CVT haters, but does, at least, have those manual shift paddles, as Jurnecka pointed out. The CVT is connected to a new 2.4-liter turbocharged DOHC four-cylinder boxer engine, rated at 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, and the EPA suggests you'll get 23 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway. There is no rating for "in the woods" or "climbing mountains."

Other Outback models get the mostly-carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 182 horsepower, but are rated at 26 mpg city, 33 highway. Like all Subarus, the Outback is all-wheel-drive, and ground clearance is a healthy 8.7 inches.

The Outback Onyx XT, a name so pleasantly alliterative that we'd never get tired of telling people we drive one, is absolutely archery-aimed at a target market so specific that we'd suggest no other mainstream vehicle, with the possible exception of the Jeep Wrangler and its spawn, serves its buyers better.

Adding to that, the Outback has a rather wide model lineup, starting with the $26,645 standard model (not including $1,010 for shipping), to the Touring XT where, if you click most of the option boxes, you can get to over $43,000.

So why did the Kia Telluride beat out the Outback as an All-Star? Most of us are still not enamored by a CVT transmission, "Lineartronic" or not, and we liked the Telluride's eight-speed automatic. Also there's more horsepower than even the Onyx model (31 hp more), it tows 1,500 pounds more, and has available eight-passenger seating.

But Subaru knows its people, and most are not likely to do much cross-shopping, except with other Subaru models, perhaps. We salute those people, and Subaru, for finding each other.

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT Specifications
PRICE $35,905 (base)/$37,750 (as tested)
ENGINE 2.4L turbo DOHC 16-valve H-4/260 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 23 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 191.3 x 73.0 x 66.1 in
WHEELBASE 108.1 in
WEIGHT 3,884 lb
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A

2020 Automobile All-Stars Awards: The Very Best Cars of the Year

This year's Automobile All-Stars awards saw us return to the Palmdale area for track testing at Willow Springs before spending a few days in Angeles Forest and Borrego Springs. So what are the best cars of 2020? These are.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners 

The new Ferrari F8 Tributo is arguably the best mid-engine car on sale today, delivering ludicrous performance and, just as important, a driving experience to match.

What makes the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette an Automobile All-Stars winner? Killer performance and unbelievable value, for starters.

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2020 Kia Telluride SX Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

In a field of supercars, sports cars, and Europe's best, Kia's Telluride three-row SUV proved it's a great choice for anyone in need of an affordable, well-built people hauler. So great, it's an Automobile All-Star for 2020.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner

Even facing down the very best supercars of the year, this American powerhouse proves it can do finesse as well as brute force—and earns an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

With its upscale interior, great chassis, and fun-to-drive demeanor, the Mazda3 proves that a car need not be expensive to be an Automobile All-Stars winner.

2020 Toyota Supra Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

The new Toyota Supra has been a polarizing figure since it hit the market, and our test drivers found plenty to debate about it. But it proved it's one of the most-fun sports cars on the market, and easily claimed an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

Reimagining a legend isn't easy, but sometimes Porsche makes it look that way. The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S is not just a great sports car, it's an Automobile All-Star.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Contenders

Subaru's family wagon might seem a bit out of place in this company, but that's only because you haven't driven it. The 2020 Subaru Outback XT is a 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender.

It's Mercedes' smallest offering in the U.S. , and not even the hot version, but the A220 is breathing the rarified air of the 2020 Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Subaru WRX STI S209 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

This limited-edition, U.S.-market-exclusive super-STI is unlike any Subaru that's come before, that's for sure. But is the WRX STI S209 an All-Star?

The Lamborghini Huracán Evo is fast, loud, and gorgeous. No wonder it's a strong 2020 Automobile All-Stars contender.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender

It's a special edition, but is the Porsche 718 Spyder really that special? We found out during our 2020 All-Stars evaluation.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

We spend three days in Southern California hills and desert testing the 2020 Jeep Gladiator along with 20 other All-Stars Contenders to see which rise to the top.

2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The very fact that an affordable family hauler is rubbing shoulders with hypercars and mega-luxe cruisers should tell you the 2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite is something special. It's also a contender for the 2020 Automobile All-Stars award.

How does a car this big drive this well? We dig into what brought the 2020 Mercedes-AMG 63 S to this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

It's McLaren's first car to put a serious emphasis on practicality and comfort over outright performance—but is the GT an Automobile All-Star?

2020 BMW Z4 M40i Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2020 BMW Z4 M40i proves it's just as much about good handling and driving fun as it is about top-down cruising.

BMW's excellent M850i xDrive luxury sport coupe does battle with 2020's best cars but falls short in this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback Test Drive: 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback is a compelling and powerful machine that's a winner in its own right.

Electric cars have many inherent advantages over the combustion-powered competition, but does the 2020 Audi E-Tron have what it takes to hang with this year's best?