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Did Subaru Miss With The All-New Subaru Outback? Sales Continue To Drop

The 2020 Subaru Outback is all-new and has been the brand’s best selling model but sales are dropping. Did Subaru miss the mark with the wagon’s redesign?


The Subaru Outback was the flagship model for Subaru of America last year but things have changed. The 2020 Subaru Outback is all-new and completely redesigned, but sales continue to fall. The remodeled Outback rides on a new Global Platform, has improved ride quality, has been upgraded with a new cabin, and gets a new XT trim with a turbocharged engine. All trims are better than the outgoing sixth-generation model but sales continue to drop.

The all-new 2020 Outback arrived last summer but finished 2019 up only 1.3 percent over the previous year. In January the wagon was up 4.0 percent, February was only up 2.7 percent, March and April saw a massive -53.8 percent and -50.8 percent drop but this was when coronavirus hit and all Subaru models were down. In May Outback continues its decline down -36.8 percent, 11,382 vs 18,017 models delivered last year.

2020 Subaru Outback

In contrast, the redesigned Subaru Forester had record May sales and is up 11.4 percent, and Forester now has 66,370 sales through May, Outback sales are 52,055 year-to-date. Did Subaru miss with the new Outback?

Subaru brings the sporty new 2020 Outback Onyx Edition with a turbocharged engine and geared towards those with active lifestyles. It gets new seats wrapped in a new water-repellant durable StarTex material for weekend off-road adventures.

2020 Subaru Outback

In Subaru ads, they show young, active, customers taking the new Outback with kayaks, mountain bikes, and it’s shown in mountain outdoor settings. But when we look at an occupational breakdown of who is actually buying the Outback, it reveals a very different story. The large majority of Subaru Outback buyers aren’t buying the wagon for it’s off-road capabilities. They are buying the wagon for it’s all-weather abilities, cargo utility and safety.

Peter Tenn, a planning manager for the Japanese automaker, says the number one occupation buying the new Outback is educators followed by health-care workers (a lot of buyers are nurses), and the third group are people in technology fields. These buyers are all informed consumers who come to the Subaru dealer “armed with a whole lot of technical information,” Tenn says.

According to Subaru, the average age of Outback buyers is 45, and the gender split is 52 percent male, 48 percent female. Seventy-eight percent are married, and the average household income is $75,000 to $99,000. These customers are looking for a vehicle that will not only get them to work in all conditions, but they are also concerned with safety.

A large number of nurses are buying the Outback for it’s all-wheel-drive, all-weather capabilities. They need to get to work in all kinds of extreme conditions and they can’t be worried about getting stuck in the snow on the way to the hospital. This could account for some of the sales drop as health care workers have been focused on their jobs and staying healthy during this time, and educators aren’t out buying new cars.

Subaru didn’t miscalculate and knew the Onyx XT turbocharged model wouldn’t be volume-selling models. Subaru still offers the Outback in the base, Premium, Limited and Touring trims with the standard 2.5-liter engine, the same as the previous generation for its core customers. The new 2020 Outback still offers the same value and desirable features as the outgoing model.

Analysts at J.D. Power say younger buyers are returning to the market more quickly than older buyers. A big reason for the 2020 Subaru Outback’s decline is because of the age demographic who buy the wagon. They are sitting on the sideline and not returning to the market yet. Another reason is many buyers are waiting for the 2021 Outback. They know it’s smarter to buy a redesigned model after its first year of production when Subaru has most of the bugs worked out.

You Might Also Like: New-Generation Subaru Outback Is Now One Of The Most Discounted Cars This Summer

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!

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Photo credit: Subaru, Della Subaru


Don Engel (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 11:52AM

I sell Subaru's. We have one Outback in stock. Assume we would sell just as many Outbacks as Forester's, if availability was not an issue. Guests love both.

Ray Jensen (not verified)    June 7, 2020 - 9:28AM

In reply to by Don Engel (not verified)

I love Subarus. I used to be a GM at a Subaru dealer in the Northeast. Great cars with super loyal following. You can't pay for that. I feel that the new Outback is fine. It's not the changes. The issue sales wise , in my opinion, is as follows: 1) The CVT. No matter how you slice one likes them. They severely limit towing capacity compared to the competition. They get pretty bad reviews and are known as "snowmobile transmissions", and in general, they're just not fun to drive. WHY does Subaru insist on using them? 2) The price. I bought a fully equipped, much larger Kia Telluride , which is fantastic, and has a 10 year warranty and roadside assistance...for $38,000.00. The new Outback ONYX versions...are more expensive than that. Makes no sense. Not competitive. 3) The Ascent! Subaru knew that Outback sales would be affected by the new Ascent. They expect it. But whether it's a new Ascent or a new Outback....Subaru is still selling something to everybody! That's just smart! I believe that the Ascent is , at it's core, a great car. The that when it came out finally, after being really late to the dance, it had quality issues that were , as brand new car models go......MORTAL sins. Remember the first ones that had the body weld problems? Seriously? Absolutely....inexcusable in this day and age. But it happened. Terrible reviews of the CVT. "The car is too large and heavy for the same transmission used in the other models." "The steering is really vague". "The early cars have paint issues?" Not in this highly competitive market. No way. Lastly, the new Outback is fine.
It's a great car and they did all of the right changes! It's not the car. It's too many choices in the marketplace...that arer all EXCELLENT. It can't be easy to be a manufacturer. Lastly....I think that the new "startex" or whatever the name is interior in the ONYX funeral home pretty terrible personally. It's reminiscent of old vinyl interiors. Waterproof perhaps....but cold, ugly and ...."vinyl" in appearance. Subarus are still EXCELLENT cars.

Bill Brasier (not verified)    June 6, 2020 - 11:35AM

In reply to by Major Howland (not verified)

I had an engine rebuild done on my manual transmission 2010 Outback rather than trade it in on a 2020 CVT. If I could have bought another 6 spd MT, I would be driving a 2020.

Steveo (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 7:27PM

In reply to by Jeff Klabish (not verified)

never going to happen - they didn't change anything on that 3.6 motor in 10 years so why would they start now?
They know they'll lose some buyers (as they did when they dropped the manual gearbox) but they've done their sums on who they want to appeal to

Greg (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 9:12PM

What was not mentioned is cost. The average price difference is about $2K more for an Outback compared to a Forester. Start bumping up to higher trim levels, the gap further widens. With Covid-19 destroying the economy, unemployment at record numbers and much uncertainty, buyers are more frugal than ever. Too many economic/social/regional variables in the frey to really pin it down.

Bob Coggeshall (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 9:13PM

I would consider yet another Outback if the Touring level would come with the turbo engine AND the dual X mode. Right now only the Onyx XT comes with the dual X mode but not other comfort features found on the Touring level.

Jeff Richards (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 9:23PM

Its a crowded field. Ive been driving Subarus since 82....sold on the product. The problem i see emerging are the recall issues of late. Like i said...its a crowded field. A lot of options

Claus Rhineheart (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 10:47PM

I drove and liked the turbo outback....the awful start/stop system that can not be disabled without a 5 button deep journey was a deal breaker though. Bought a turbo cx-5 instead.

steveo (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 7:31PM

In reply to by Claus Rhineheart (not verified)

I ditched my 4 month old CX5 turbo Akera (Signature) to get myself back into (my 2nd) normally aspirated 3.6 last November while I still could.

Carl (not verified)    June 4, 2020 - 11:55PM

I've had three outbacks including the new 2020. I'd advise anyone looking to buy a used 2019 instead. The all digital climate control is annoying, the driver focus is annoying and has to be turned off every time you enter as well as the auto start stop. The turbo charged boxer lags compared to the previous six. Only nice feature is they've removed some beeps from the adaptive cruise control.

Paul Reith (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 12:24AM

I've got a 2020 onyx XT. We gave up the 2015 3.6R. I love the torque but my wife misses the 6 off the line and the rattle of that 4. Sound is base in a premium trim, and the rear struts can't handle the towing capacity.

I'm happier, but I'm sure it's even money for most.

Stephen Nault (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 6:55AM

Too BIG. The Outback has become just too big. I've owned several and my 2019 will be the last.

Darryl (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 7:58AM

The engine stop and start mechanism is a turn off pardon the pun. Has to be switched off through a tiered menu system every time. Not for me. Will require a new starter just after warranty is up
Turbo power is nice but will relate to decreased reliability over time. Dealers in our neck of the woods are very expensive and so are parts. Parts made by other manufacturers are scarce too. Bought a used Lexus RX350 with all bells and whistles and very happy. Toyota 6 cylinder engine is the most reliable engine ever made. Posted way to get and made by all kinds of manufacturers. Listen to Scotty Kilmer a mechanic in YouTube

steveo (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 7:25PM

In reply to by Joe nobody (not verified)

it's NOT an SUV at all (look closely at its silhouette). It's still a lifted wagon with ground clearance all family cars should have.
I bought a CX5 last July. Now that was an SUV and I traded it within 4 months for a used 2019 3.6 Outback

Mike W (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 9:06AM

I bought a New WRX in March. My wife has a 2015 Outback with the 3.6 engine and she loves it. I was planning on talking her into a new Outback until I drove one. The lack of the bigger engine was strike 1. The auto engine off feature was strike 2. The fact that it couldn't be disabled unless you went three screens deep in the infotainment system and that had to be done every time you started the car was strike 3. The car just didn't feel as comfortable as her older Outback and seemed to have more road noise too. Before I bought the WRX, I was really interested in the had the same annoying engine off feature and to top it off, it had a camera that watched you and nagged you if your eyes diverted from the road ahead. It was impossible to have a conversation with the passenger without the alarm going off. It seemed to me that even the slightest diversion from straight ahead would cause it to complain.

Sorry Subaru, but with a couple of small tweets you could have had 2 new Subarus in my garage...maybe next year.

Carson Lee (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 11:09AM

We just traded our 2016 in on a new 2020 outback. The main reason for the trade was the insane incentives that Subaru is giving due to the corona virus. The dealership paid off the complete balance on our trade in and took 3000 off sticker price. The loan is 0% interest. We had no choice but to buy a new one. Is it a better car?
I am slightly nervous about the new platform. Some of the engineering seems strange. The use of sound material under the car doesn’t make sense. It is exposed to the elements and will collect mud and dirt. The large aluminum a arms up front look expensive and potentially easily
damaged. I miss the round fog lights. The large infotainment screen is dumb. I think all big screens are dumb however not just Subaru’s. They make simple things like climate control a very expensive fix when the screen dies 7-10 years from now.
It is smoother and much quieter.
I plan on keeping it while it is under warranty then trading it in. I don’t think it is built to be a keeper like my 2007 4runner. Quality just isn’t there.

Justinethesuba… (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 11:12AM

The Outback is doing just fine. Maybe this article should note that the plant in Indiana that produces these vehicles has been shut down because of the Covid 19 closures. If we had more Outbacks to sell, we would sell more. They are in extremely short supply.

John connor (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 11:27AM

Love my outback...when it runs. Hold my breath and pray every time I push the start button. Have two subies but spouse has vetoed additional purchases. 20k miles, four batteries, two ecu reflashes, one altinator and still not fixed.

Duderino (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 12:02PM

Just bought an outback and the problem was availability. Local stock isn't available in Oregon because they are selling quickly in this region. We did buy it specifically to use in snow, sand, and offroad. Look at the geography and sales statistics and then you might have a story. Your article appears to get the wants and needs of the demographics you are speaking for all wrong.
30 years in the auto industry and this is this article is a huge miss.

Gail Oliver (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 8:22PM

I have an older model 2015... If I wanted a huge iPod in my face to change music, climate, etc. I'd tape one to my dashboard...too many options to find what you want while supposedly driving w/o distraction. If I needed a car to stop on it's own when I'm nowhere close to anyone or, let me know I'm changing lanes w/o a blinker w/o anyone being there, I'd stop driving... All distractions...not necessary.

I want a newer model, but I'll buy a 2019.
Although the new ones seem really cool.

Devin A Ditmore (not verified)    June 5, 2020 - 9:38PM

Maybe outbacks past is haunting them, cvt transmission cost to replace $5-8k is ridiculously expensive. Who would want to pay that at 150000 miles.