Buy a Camry or Buy This: 2021 Subaru Outback XT
It’s go big or go home time.
To date, we've offered you a regular cornucopia of Camry alternatives, from the underrated Nissan Frontier to the versatile Subaru WRX, with a few Honda Accords (the sporty Accord Sport 2.0T, the base-model Accord LX, and the fuel-saving Accord Hybrid), the impressive Hyundai Kona Electric, and a fun-to-drive Chevrolet Camaro Turbo in between. Today, however, we pull out the stops and send the best the 2020 Toyota Camry has to offer to do battle with the 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition.
Loyal readers will recall the Onyx Edition Outback XT was among our most recent Automobile All-Stars contenders, and though I was in the minority, I ranked it among my winning picks. It's not just a good Camry alternative, it's an exceptionally good car, period. And by opting for the Onyx Edition on the Outback XT, you can get a lot of go-anywhere fun and function for your $37,000 and change.
But before we get into the specifics, let's get into the specs:
|2020 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Specifications||2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition Specifications|
|PRICE: $36,125/$39,174 (base/as configured)||PRICE: $36,255 /$37,509 (base/as configured)|
|POWER: 301 hp @ 6,600 rpm||POWER: 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|TORQUE: 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm||TORQUE: 277 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,800 rpm|
|WEIGHT: 3,572 lb||WEIGHT: 3,884 lb|
|0-60 MPH: 5.8 sec||0-60 MPH: 6.1 sec|
|L x W x H: 192.7 x 72.4 x 56.9 in||L x W x H: 191.3 x 73.0 x 66.1 in|
|EPA MILEAGE: 22/32 mpg (city/hwy)||EPA MILEAGE: 23/30 mpg (city/hwy)|
Surprised the Camry is the more expensive of the two? To be fair, we didn't select the very priciest grade of Subaru Outback XT, as the Onyx Edition pairs improved aesthetics with excellent value—so much so that we threw metal engine-and-differential protection plates, and a whole set of all-weather mats and related accessories, into our as-configured price.
2020 Toyota Camry XSE V6 vs. 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition: By the Numbers
First up, the spec chart seems to send mixed messages; the 2020 Camry XSE V6 offers considerably more peak horsepower, it's quicker to 60 mph, and it weighs about 300 pounds less than the 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition. Yet, somehow both cars get functionally identical gas mileage. And hold on—the Outback XT's torque figure is not just 10 lb-ft stronger than the Camry XSE V6's, but it's also available across a wide plateau rather than at a single peak. What, exactly, is going on here?
It's not quite all in the numbers, it turns out—or at least not explicitly. While the Camry's 301-horsepower peak wrangles 41 more horses than the Outback XT's 260-horse show, the Subaru's abundant and always-on-tap torque very nearly makes up for both its power deficit and its 300-pound weight disadvantage—the Camry only wins the 0-60-mph dash by 0.3 second. There's another spec that has some bearing here, too, but it's not on the chart: transmission types.
While the Camry XSE V6 uses a familiar and smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Outback XT gets Subaru's increasingly ubiquitous continuously variable transmission (CVT). We've justifiably levied complaints at some other CVT-equipped cars, but the Outback XT's CVT is mostly unnoticeable—thanks, in part, to the wide torque band, which lets the CVT accelerate the car at a suitable pace in most situations without having to rev up to reach a naturally aspirated power peak, thereby mostly avoiding the all-too-familiar loud droning engine note of a typical small four-cylinder engine paired with a CVT.
2020 Toyota Camry XSE V6 vs. 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition: Equipment and Features
It should come as no surprise that these nearly-$40,000 upmarket specials come fairly well loaded with features and equipment. These days, that typically means tech features and multimedia equipment first and foremost, and neither car disappoints. The 2020 Camry XSE V6's 10-inch head-up display (HUD) is both futuristic-feeling and functional, presenting information alongside your view of the road, rather than taking your attention elsewhere.
The Outback XT doesn't offer a HUD at any price, unfortunately. But you won't miss the HUD too much with the 11.6-inch, high-mounted, portrait-oriented center display within easy reach. Bluetooth audio and handsfree? Check. Same with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plus, the Subaru offers NFC communication for compatible electronics. Fixing the weakest part of the interior of every modern Subaru, the current Starlink infotainment system (a name also used for the subscription-based, integrated safety-telematics suite) is easy to use, quick, and effective. It's still not the most beautiful screen or user interface design on the market, but it suits the Outback XT and Subaru's (and the buyer's) general preference for functionality over form.
The Camry's Navigation Package (bundled with the $2,790 Driver Assistance Package with Options) brings an 8.0-inch touchscreen, in traditional landscape orientation, and has the USB ports and Bluetoothing you'd expect, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a three-month subscription to Sirius XM and a trial subscription to Toyota's various remote safety-assistance systems.
2020 Toyota Camry XSE V6 vs. 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition: Capabilities
It's not all about the tunes and the navigation, is it? Sometimes you want a car not just to get somewhere, but to do something with, and that frequently means getting away from paved roads, whether you're mountain biking, camping, hiking, or just sightseeing. You could step down a few trim levels (and lose a couple of cylinders) for an all-wheel-drive Camry, but you're of an age where you feel like you shouldn't have to skimp to get what you want—and Subaru agrees.
In contrast to the 2020 Toyota Camry XSE V6's 5.7-inches of ground clearance and front-wheel drive, the 2021 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition offers 8.6 inches of ground clearance, permanent all-wheel drive, and a 3,500-pound tow rating. Oh, and it offers more than twice as much cargo space even if you fill every seat with a person. If you keep the people in the front row, the Outback XT Onyx offers up to 75.7-cubic-feet of cargo space with the rear seats laid flat. Take the wagon form factor into account, and it's much easier to get large items into and out of the Subaru, too. And you haven't even gotten to the hitch, which, in addition to being a handy place to put a rack to supplement the standard roof rails, also has enough towing capacity to pull an actual trailer—think bicycles, dirt bikes, a jet ski (or two), a small sports car, or even a camping trailer—all are within reach.
Oh, and by the way, the Subaru is about $1,600 cheaper than the Camry. Do I even need to say it this time? For good measure: If you're looking for a comfortable, quick, well-equipped car that's easy to get into and out of, ready for anything you can throw at it, and not too hard on the wallet, you'd be hard pressed to do better than the Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition.