2020 Subaru Outback long-term update: Let’s talk touchscreen

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Truly, it’s a massive screen.


Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Tech sells. It’s sexy. Just look at Tesla; there’s absolutely a reason why its cars are very appealing to technology-minded folks, and there’s no shame in that. This couldn’t have been more apparent than when I brought Roadshow’s long-term 2020 Subaru Outback to a local car wash a few weeks ago.

“Whoa, what year is this? That screen is huge!” an attendant said as they glanced at the interior. The vertical display measures 11.6 inches and makes up a very large portion of the center stack. Just seven physical buttons and two knobs line the outside for essentials like volume, climate and tuning. Everything else is handled via the touchscreen.

The big screen creates a clutter-free center stack, which looks pretty good.


Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Thankfully, the Starlink multimedia system is good. It’s not superb, but it’s good. Landing at the home screen provides massive app icons that you can’t miss. There’s the occasional lag when selecting an app, but nothing that truly ever irked me in the process. Our Outback Onyx Edition XT also includes built-in navigation that functions exactly as it should. The vehicle settings are plentiful and let me customize numerous things, such as how I want the power liftgate to operate, and I can even set a birthday reminder for a friend or family member.

Most importantly, the climate controls are simple. The button and screen placement feel natural, where each front-seat passenger has physical controls to change the temperature, but fan speed and direction happens on the touchscreen. These functions are always snappy, and I’m quite glad that’s the case.

The car info screen, meanwhile, doesn’t really do too much for ordinary drives, but for those that plan to take an Outback off-road, the incline/decline function is kind of neat. Or maybe you just want to know how steep your friend’s driveway is. Either way, it’s a nice touch. Outside of the incline/decline reader, the section displays the various active safety features currently activated and provides details on scheduled maintenance intervals. It’s probably not a place where drivers will spend a lot of time, even if good information is housed within.

Thank goodness this all works well.


Nick Miotke/Roadshow

I’m a big fan of Apple CarPlay, so it’s great the Outback includes the feature (and also Android Auto) standard. What is definitely not great, however, is how the automaker implements the system within the vertical touchscreen. Subaru’s solution is to display the smartphone-mirroring tech horizontally. It results in some ridiculously small buttons, causing me to miss my intended selection a handful of times. Plus, it leaves a huge empty section of screen area below. It’s just not the best, and after a while, I resorted to sliding my phone into the wireless charging cubby and using the built-in media via a Bluetooth stream. Honestly, that’s easier.

Although not specifically related to the infotainment, I also need to say this for any audiophile readers out there: The six-speaker sound system is not a friend to any type of music. My colleague, Craig Cole mentioned this previously, but truly, the sound quality has me wondering if there’s actually something wrong at certain times, with seriously muddled quality and overpowering digital bass boosters. Subaru does offer a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system that probably rectifies this issue. Unfortunately, it’s not offered on the Outback Onyx Edition XT. If you want better sound quality, it requires stepping up to the Outback Limited XT, if you want to keep the turbocharged engine, or scaling back to the less-powerful Outback Limited, minus the XT badge and turbo. 

Overall, the big screen seems like a smart move by Subaru. It adds a much-needed dash of modernity to the Outback, which has stayed true to the long-roof wagon formula for so many years. With the Outback now out of my garage and back in Michigan, I had to say, “See you,” just as the infotainment screen told me as I exited after each drive. But overall, the infotainment system is just another solid part of the generally likable Outback package.


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