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New Subaru Outback Sales Drop Like A Rock - It's Being Upstaged By The Substantial Ascent

The 2020 Subaru Outback came with a complete redesign, but it's slipping in sales. Could the Ascent family hauler be the reason?

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The Subaru Outback has been the best-selling model in Subaru of America's lineup since 2016. But there's a significant shift in the SUV lineup going on at Subaru now. Last year, the Subaru Outback was the Camden, N.J. automaker's number one selling car in the all-wheel-drive lineup. For the 2020 model year, Outback received a full remodel from the ground up, and it looked like the SUV-alternative wagon would be the best-selling model again.

The newly-redesigned Outback finished 2019 strong, and SOA delivered 181,178 Outback wagons, and the Forester compact SUV was a close second with 180,179 sales. But something happened this year. Through eight months of 2020, the hot Forester compact SUV is far ahead of Outback with 118,434 sales compared with Outback's 89,323.

2021 Subaru Outback, 2021 Subaru Ascent

Why has the all-new Subaru Outback slipped so far in 2020? Our guess is, many buyers are looking at the newly-redesigned Outback and picking the new Ascent 3-Row family hauler instead. The Japanese automaker built the most substantial vehicle in terms of size it has ever produced. Subaru designed the Ascent for North American families, and it's doing better than expected.

Through August, Subaru sold 44,091 Ascent family haulers, and it is likely taking some of those sales from the new Outback. The Subaru Ascent had the best month of 2020 in August.

2021 Subaru Outback, 2021 Subaru Ascent

Ascent and Outback are considered SUV/crossover vehicles, but the Outback carries five passengers. With Ascent, you can haul 7 or 8 depending on the middle-row selection of a bench seat or captain's chairs. Ascent has more passenger space, cargo volume, and towing capacity. You can read our Outback vs Ascent comparison here.

How does the Outback compare to the Ascent in pricing?

Customers can get an Outback Premium trim for $30,095 and a comparably equipped Ascent Premium for $35,845 ($5,750 more.) To get the Ascent's new 2.4-liter direct-injection turbocharged engine in the Outback, customers need to opt for the Outback Onyx Edition XT priced at $36,195, $350 more than Ascent Premium.

What made the Outback popular is also available in the Ascent. The 3-Row SUV comes with standard all-wheel-drive, 8.7-inches of ground clearance, safety features, X-Mode for off-pavement capability, and similar driving dynamics. But buyers get the third row and more cargo room.

Many SUV shoppers are looking at the new Outback, but they choose the more spacious 3-Row SUV over the smaller SUV-alternative wagon. The newly-redesigned Outback won't be replaced in the lineup by the larger Ascent, it's just a better choice for buyers who need the extra passenger space and cargo room.

You Might Also Like: The Complete 2021 Subaru New Model Preview And Shopping Guide

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press and the founder of Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Michael Katz (not verified)    September 7, 2020 - 6:33PM

I'm disappointed. Having issues with many of the advanced features. Dealer explained that there are 41 computers, and there is nothing they can do. The map system typically creates routes that take 1-3 hours longer than Google Maps. The satellite radio reception is much poorer than the FM radio. The automatic engine shutoff restarts in less time than the manual says you need for it to save gas. The driver recognition system is a joke. The Eye Sight system is so bad that it's useless. And it makes so much noise for no reason.

michael (not verified)    September 7, 2020 - 8:33PM

I've had a ton of problems with my infotainment system in my 2018 OB. Not sure why someone shopping for an Outback sized SUV would scale up, either you need the room or you don't.

I think the new OB design is really ugly too. Glad I got their last 3.6R.

Chandrakanta Mohanty (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 4:01PM

In reply to by michael (not verified)

I have owned the 2020 OB over 7 months now, and I have had no issues whats so ever. The car is very smooth to ride, and I love the lane centering feature as well as the overall interior and exterior. It's quite as well (as compared to my 2016 OB). I don't see a reason to go for an Ascent if there is no real need. I have been hauling a lot of things on and towing as well and still I am getting 30 MPG,around 6k miles on the odo. Not only I loved the car, my driving my OB four friends have bought 2020 OBs and the 5th one is on it's way. I have the 2.5L and and the Onyx(one of my friend owing) is super happy (he has come out of a RDX) with his Onyx and it's performance as well as it drives.

David thompson (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 5:03PM

In reply to by michael (not verified)

I agree the 3.6L 6 cyl. Engine makes all the difference. Subaru can stuff the 4 turbo. It is noisy under pressure And can’t handle stop and go traffic. I have a 4 cyl forester but never another one till the 6 cyl returns.

T Youngerman (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 10:30PM

In reply to by michael (not verified)

I agree, I had a lot of problems with the infotainment system in the beginning but no problems recently. I upgraded to the 3.6R, so would not buy another Outback without the V6 option.I don't use the navigation system anymore, it would tell me to get off the highway then right back on again on trips. Also, the Android auto doesn't ever work correctly.

Farzone (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 11:27AM

Or maybe it's because the Outback isn't a wagon anymore? The Outback is a crossover now for Subaru, with the Forrester being the "compact" SUV (and still kinda big for that category) and the Ascent being the their full size SUV. If the Outback had maintained it's "sport wagon" size and feel then maybe it would be doing better since, essentially, no one else in the U.S. makes one. Subaru made the Outback big and boaty, I saw one sitting next to a BMW X3(compact SUV) and the Outback was BIGGER. I won't by an Outback at it's current size and stature but the old TRUE Wagons that were Outbacks are still some of my fav cars.

Ray K. (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 2:48PM

Loved the Subies over the years. I’ve had every 6 OB models since 2003, I’ve been following the OB Forum, unfortunately too many dislikes of infotainment system, start stop, windshields cracking, everything is touch screen-no knobs or buttons, no more storage pockets like before and almost $40K if you want more HP via the turbo, even looks so similar to my 2010 and 2012! Looking to move onto a larger Honda Passport with a V6 for the same price range and options, Subaru is not a $20K value car anymore.....

Marc Wertheimer (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 3:23PM

Happy owner of 2011 and 2017 outback 3.6R but declined 2020 outback. Overly intrusive warning bells, abrupt stop-start system, terrible turbo lag in the optional engine, lack of buttons and dials which forces use of too many menus on the infotainment screens. Needs fixing.

Burt (not verified)    October 21, 2020 - 3:22PM

In reply to by Marc Wertheimer (not verified)

Hard to blame Subaru for some issues. U.S. Government regs drive them. If a vehicle’s stop/start system can be permanently turned off, then the vehicle’s fuel economy is tested both when stop/start is active and when it’s off. The EPA then averages the two tests. Happy I didn't get the turbo.

shoreline (not verified)    September 8, 2020 - 8:27PM

Fix the infotainment in the Outback, recall everything for some serious software and possibly even RAM upgrades, and then see what happens. Also seems priced to fail with how the pricing on turbo engines matches up with the Ascent.

Shawn warnick (not verified)    March 23, 2021 - 3:26AM

As an owner of two subarus I can tell you im done with Subaru after these two. Shoot luckily the resale value is high so i may just get rid of them soon. The 2011 legacy 3.6r has had a timing cover leak since 65k miles which would cost a great amount to fix. The 2017 outback 2.5i has a cam carrier case leak at 61k miles. Its bull. Just outside of the warranty and getting major leaks that are unacceptable in my opinion. Its not like these are high powered cars, they shouldnt be leaking especially at 60-70k miles. Btw i have only followed the severe service intervals on my cars and yet this happens. Not only that but the vast majority of new subarus have the same fb25 engine that is in my outback. So good luck with that engine guys. Not only that but the rediculous infotainment systems are an absolute atrocity. Subaru owners are about practicallity and safety so why are you going to put some shiny piano black, highly distracting and non intuitive controls in your best crossover. I 100% will not buy a car that does not have physical controls for all the following; lights, volume, tuning, hvac, seat heaters, and all the traction/stability/awd controls. So essentially im going to a mazda, kia or hyundai.