COAL: 2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT

2020 Subaru Outback

Welcome to my next, and unexpected, COAL installment. I wasn’t planning on getting rid of the COAL 2018 BMW 740e, at all.

A little back story. My Mom bought a new metallic white 2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT, top of the line, in August 2020. Eight months later, she unexpectedly passed away. My Dad didn’t like to drive “her” car, but didn’t want to sell it either.

Three years now after my Mom passed, he was ready to sell her Outback and did I want it?

2020 Subaru Outback

The 740e COAL was up to 105,000 miles and I was very happy with it. But, I wanted to keep the Outback since it was Mom’s, and she had special ordered it (this was during Covid when cars were hard to get). It was essentially a new car, garaged for it’s life to date. And, two things had been going through my mind lately anyway. (1) was I living on borrowed time with the general and PHEV complexity of the 740e, and, (2) could I use something more useful and flexible for our mountain house on about ten hilly acres.

The 2000 GMC Sierra COAL I wrote up was 2WD, so I didn’t want to use it on the hilly fields for fear of almost certainly getting stuck. I also recently gave it to my handyman, whose similar Chevy pickup died. He’s paying the minimal price we agreed on by trading out work.

I had been looking for a used 4WD pickup to leave in the mountains, but a good cheap 4WD pickup is hard to find. I don’t need to do heavy work, but being able to pull a trailer for mulch, and cleanup duty after winter storms, would be nice. I’d like to rent a towable wood chipper too. There’s debris out in the field like stumps and old concrete pipes I’d like to be able to drag over to the side with a chain or heavy tow strap. I’d considered a small used tractor, too.

Even if I could find a good used 4WD pickup or tractor, it would be hard to justify it no more often than it would be used, and I wouldn’t want a truck for my everyday car either.

2020 Subaru Outback interior

The Outback seemed to check a lot of boxes. AWD, reasonable fuel economy, and it was well equipped and comfortable for an everyday car. With the addition of a hitch, I could use my 12′ utility trailer, my bike rack, a cargo box I’ve owned for years, rent a chipper, drag stumps and pipes, etc. The roof rack and cross rails means I could throw a ladder on top. Between the mountain house, my rentals, and a park model mobile home at the beach, being able to carry a ladder is something I would find very helpful.

My “new to me” 2020 Outback and Dad’s 2024 Ascent.


My parents have owned Subarus for years, I’m not sure how many. My Dad recently traded his Legacy sedan in on a new Ascent. But, this was my first Subaru so I didn’t know much about them, the trims, the engines, etc.

The “XT” denotes their 2.4 liter turbocharged engine, and of course all Subarus have the flat “boxer” four cylinder. The XT has quite a bit more power and torque, and makes the torque down lower, than their 2.5 liter non-turbo base engine. I’ve never driven a 2.5 so I can’t compare the two, but the XT engine has quite satisfactory performance.

The horsepower (260) and torque (277) are a bit more than my son’s 2015 BMW 328i GT with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder (240 hp and 255 ft. pounds), and both have AWD. The GT and Outback weigh about the same (3,915 versus 3,937), and are within 1.3 inches of the same overall length. The Outback is clearly the less athletic handler of the two, but acceleration is no problem.

The non-turbo clocks in with significantly less horsepower (182) and torque (177), which seems a little low for a two ton, AWD drive car. A couple of good online reviews of the 2.5 said it’s fine in town, and with a couple of people on the highway, but filled with people and cargo, or towing, it’s overwhelmed. It does get better mpg’s of course, and it would be less complex for the long-term. If anyone reading has a non-turbo 2.5 or XT 2.4, tell us about your experiences.

I’ve been getting about 26 mpg in my mixed driving, and 31 on interstate trips. The EPA ratings are 23/30 for the XT. I’d like a little better mpg, but that seems reasonable given the AWD, weight, and size of the car. The 328i GT usually comes in lower, about 28mpg on interstate trips.

It does have a CVT, which I wasn’t too keen on. However, it seems well behaved and is much less disorienting to drive than the 2024 Nissan Kicks rental car I recently wrote up. The Subaru CVT has eight simulated gears/shiftpoints, and paddle shifters. It feels like an eight speed automatic most of the time.

The Touring (available in non-turbo or the XT) came standard with everything Subaru has on the option sheet. Most things you can think of are there but a pano roof is not (just a regular power glass sunroof). Apple CarPlay is present but was not wireless for the 2020 model year, though it is for 2023 and up. You have a tilt and telescope steering wheel but it is manual.

Heated seats front and rear, power front seats (but no lumbar for the passenger), driver seat memory, cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius, navigation, Nappa leather seating (in a nice saddle color and super comfy), power hands-free hatch, keyless touch locking and unlocking, LED headlights and fog lights, and a pretty good Harmon/Kardon stereo system are all present.

2020 Subaru front door card

I don’t think this door panel would look or feel out of place in a Lexus or BMW.


There’s a lot of genuine stitching and padded surfaces on the dash and door panels, the armrests and center console are cushy, and optional matte finish fake wood that looks nice. It’s definitely a more premium look and feel than either the 2015 BMW, or my former 2016 Lexus ES350.

2020 Subaru Outback center dash screen

I like the center touch screen, which is pretty intuitive. When CarPlay is in use, it occupies all the area above the climate controls and below the radio station/clock/temp display, so it’s conveniently large.

Subaru Outback roof rack

The roof rack has handy affixed cross bars that are hinged at one end to rotate and click into position, or,

Subaru Outback roof rack

rotate and store atop the side rails for less drag and noise when not in use.

Reflection in the hood of a Subaru Outback

You can tell a few places where quality control is not quite up to par. There are a half dozen specks of dust or debris in the paint, which you would never see on a new Lexus or BMW. These are hard to show in a picture of a metallic white car, but in the reflection on the hood you can see one such spot between the tubes of the LED ceiling fixture. Not a huge deal given what I paid for the car (about 60% of new MSRP) and 99.5% of owners would never notice. Still, a 2024 Outback Touring XT is not a cheap car, about $45,000.00.

I had to dispose of the 740e, so I went to webuyanycar, Carvana, and Carmax. Only Carmax made me come in person for an appraisal, the other two were online. Carvana gave me the highest price, and all the paperwork was done online via Docusign. I made an appointment to bring the car in (but they will come to you for a $40 charge). I was there literally five minutes; they walked around the car, checked the odometer, and handed me a check.

I doubt they kept it, it probably went to auction. It hasn’t shown up anywhere yet online for sale that I can find but I Google the VIN every now and then. I put their check in the bank, and got a certified check for what I had agreed to pay Dad for the Outback.

Ottobox Wireless CarPlay adapter

So on to the mods: I found an adapter online for $50 to give me wireless CarPlay. There were many brands online, I went with Ottocast because it was the cheapest.

CarPlay screen

The Ottocast tucks into the storage tray ahead of the shifter. With it installed, wireless CarPlay boots up automatically when you start the car, as opposed to having to select CarPlay on the Subaru home screen each time. The car thinks the box plugged into the USB is the phone, and the Ottocast box is then wirelessly paired with the phone.

CarPlay screen

I had my doubts, but CarPlay works better this way than when I connected the phone directly with a USB cord. The audio quality of my streamed music is just as good to my casual listener ears, too.

I ordered a Draw-Tite hitch online. The 2.5L can tow 2,000 pounds and the XT, 3,500 pounds. You could get a Class 2 hitch (with a 1.25 inch receiver tube) or a Class 3 hitch (with 2 inch receiver tube) to fit the Outback. I went with the Class 3 because my Kuat bike carrier and a large cargo box I own are both for a 2 inch square receiver.

It was cheaper ($250) than the factory hitch ($500+), and also did not require removal and cutting of the rear bumper cover. It did require that you lower the exhaust to get access to already existing holes in the frame rails, but that seemed easier and less risky, cosmetically, than taking the bumper off and neatly trimming a hole for the receiver tube.

hitch on a 2020 outback

The hitch in place; the L shaped tube above the label is an exhaust hanger which proved to be hard to reconnect to.


Fortunately, it arrived while my youngest son was home for Spring Break, so we went to the rental garage and got to work. Lowering the XT’s dual exhaust and suspending it with a rachet strap was the easy part. Fishing the carriage bolts into place inside the frame rails and lining up the hitch went fine, but then we realized that the instructions for trimming the heat shields had been unclear. We had to remove them a second time and do more trimming to get everything to line up.

2020 Subaru Outback

My “baby boy” (much taller than I am) working on the driver side heat shield.


Getting the exhaust reattached was the most challenging part. We had removed or disconnected five rubber hangers to lower the exhaust. Three of the five went back on pretty easily, but the hitch now was in the way and left you little room to work the last two into place.

1980 240D

We got frustrated and took a break. We admired a 1980 240D with 60,000 miles someone else was working on.

The last two rubber hangers finally got properly installed with enough time and patience. This last step (like most of the job) would not have been possible without two people. It would have been very unpleasant (and maybe impossible) to do all this on your back, without a lift.

2020 Subaru Outback with hitch

I was happy with the final result. With the ground clearance of the Outback, the bottom of the receiver tube is about 11 inches off the ground, close to “normal” height. The factory hitch would only be 3 or so inches higher, up into the silver plastic trim on the bumper, hence the need to cut away part of the bumper with a factory hitch. I can use the hitch as-is for the bike carrier or cargo box. I bought a ball mount with a 4 inch rise for pulling things.

We also installed a four pin trailer connector. The vehicle is factory prewired to add this. The connector is inside the vehicle and under the plastic threshold to the liftgate.

The control unit for the trailer lights, about the size of a deck of cards, lives in the spare tire well. I wrapped the controller and various connections with adhesive foam to prevent rattles. We dropped the self-tapping screw for the ground wire, so we had to remove the spare.

While we had the spare out, we lined the well with adhesive butyl and foam sound deadening. I also removed the rear seat cushion for a peek (which unlatches without tools), found just bare metal under there, and covered that area with the sound deadening.

Trailer connector

The wiring can stay neatly inside when not in use,

Trailer connector

and snake out under the closed hatch when in use.

I have been looking at small travel trailers that the Outback could tow. It could handle a popup for sure, and there are fully self-contained 14 to 16 foot trailers that come in under 3,000 pounds. The self-contained ones manage to fit in a queen size bed, a dinette/sitting area, micro/fridge/sink/2 burner stove, and a nice size bath and shower.

I would need to add a trailer brake controller and a 7 pin trailer connector. The Outback is not prewired for a brake controller, but it doesn’t look difficult to hook one up. There is a 7 pin connector kit that plugs into the 4 pin connector I just installed, for the lighting functions. You would then need to run two wires from the 7 pin connector at the hitch: one to the brake controller under the dash, and another fused connection to the car battery for constant power to the trailer. Not hard, but hiding the wires could take some time.

While we had the Outback on the lift, we changed the oil and filter with Castrol Edge 0w20 and gave everything a looking over. Total time for all three jobs, just two and a half hours!

2020 Subaru Outback turbo engine

The oil filter is on top of the engine, super convenient. The intercooler also is on top of the engine, along with the intake manifold. The turbocharger and exhaust are under the engine.

2020 Subaru Outback

There are large plastic ducts on the underside of the hood to feed air to the intercooler.

Ambient lighting at night is not something anyone needs, but, the BMW’s have it and it is nice. Subaru has a factory kit to add ambient lighting to the front footwells, and I found one online for about $50. It came without any instructions, but I found the dealer instructions in a Subaru chat group. The ambient lighting plugs into the power feed to the dimmer switch, which is below and to the left of the steering wheel. The LED’s snap into mounting points in the underside of the dash. The job was complete in about 30 minutes. While I had the glovebox out of the car (easily removable without tools), I swapped in a new HVAC filter.

Subaru box

Below the dimmer switch is a hinged cover to a fuse box. Someone has come up with a hinged replacement for it which incorporates a little coin tray, and is easily removed for access to the fuses. Not something I was needing, but for $10 on Amazon it looked handy.

Next? Some efforts to reduce road noise. The Subaru Outback Limited XT and Touring XT have a laminated, “sound insulating” windshield and side door glass for better sound deadening, something I have only previously known to be on S-Classes, 7 Series and the like. But coming from the 740e, my impression when getting on an interstate for the first time in the Outback was just how much road noise there was. Even my wife, a self-professed non-car person, said “Geez this thing is loud”. The sound deadening I added under the cargo floor and under the back seat cushion made for some improvement on the highway.

I wanted to line the inside of the doors, for noise comfort, as well as music listening. Road noise tends to mask the lower frequencies first, so your system sounds overly bright at highway speeds.

The Harmon Kardon system in the Touring is pretty good, but sure enough seemed too “bright”. I felt like I was hearing the dash mounted tweeters, and the subwoofer, but not much in between. Since I was taking the door cards off anyway, a speaker upgrade would be quick and easy. Crutchfield recommended better 6×9 speakers for the front doors, which just receive the low frequencies from the factory amp.

Subaru Outback door with the door card removed

The inside surface of the door had a foam mat for sound, but nothing inside the door itself.

I went with an Infinity Reference 6×9 speaker which is a direct plug and play fit at a reasonable cost, about $150 a pair. It is intended to be a “high efficiency” upgrade to work well with generally underpowered factory amps. The Harmon Kardon amp isn’t very powerful, and would be easy to swap out since it is under the front passenger seat. However, Crutchfield recommends against upgrading it as the Subaru Starlink system doesn’t play nice with aftermarket amps.

Subaru Outback door card

The back of the door card had polyfill padding for sound.


The inside surface of the doors and the door cards had more insulation than I expected. Definitely more sound-deadening efforts than were present in my 2016 Lexus ES350. However, as you can see through the speaker cutout, the inside of the door skins was just bare metal. Most cars have at least some modest asphalt strips applied in there. I applied the self-adhesive butyl and foam deadening, and then a layer of 1/2 inch hood insulation on top of that, inside the exterior door skins of all four doors. Reaching up in there and applying it neatly takes some time, and gets one’s hands and forearms pretty scraped up.

Between the added insulation and the new speakers, it was a night and day difference in reduced road noise, and better sound. I’m going to go back and add Infinity Reference speakers to the rear doors as well. You notice the engine more now, but it’s pleasant to listen to and very smooth, since boxers have perfect primary and secondary balance. Smoother and quieter than the four cylinder in the 740e for sure, even with the 740e’s dual firewalls. The door cards came off, and went back on, super easy using the Crutchfield instructions.

It doesn’t need tires yet of course, but I think different tires would reduce road noise when the time comes. The factory Yokohama Avid GT isn’t known for being a quiet tire, judging from the online reviews I read. The 225/60R18 size is very common, and relatively inexpensive as tires go, another bonus.

Not sure why car maker would not want their cars to be as quiet as possible, but I assume it comes down to cost and weight. The sound deadening materials I added cost about $100, and added 40 or so pounds.

2020 Subaru Outback

After the tint was added to all the windows.


I visited my local tint shop for a little tweak. The front doors had no tint, so I got the darkest legal for my state, which isn’t very dark at all. If you have a two or four door vehicle, that’s as dark as any of the windows can be legally. You can legally go as dark as you like on the rest of the windows aft of the front doors, on anything with a rear opening into the passenger compartment  (vans, hatchbacks, wagons or SUVs).

The rears doors, cargo area and liftgate had a slight factory tint, but I went darker for heat control, cargo security, and I liked the way it looks. Total cost, $550.00, two or three hundred dollars less than what dealers charge you when they add tint as a markup. I also got their best offering, a Llumar ceramic film with a lifetime warranty against peeling, bubbling or fading. I would bet the dealers use the cheapest films they can.

This shop also carried clear window tint, which I was not aware of. It has the same UV and heat blocking properties, if you don’t want the darkening.

I have used this husband and wife owned shop several times over the years, and they do a lot of high-end work, in addition to making time for regular cars like mine. It’s been fun to watch them expand and succeed. I enjoyed seeing the cars dropped off and being readied for pickup while I waited.

Porsche 911

A special ordered 2024 911 with a sunroof delete, but about $30,000 of other options. In from the dealer for window tint.


Porsche 911

This was a black 911, all the matte silver is a vinyl wrap they installed.


Chevrolet pickup

A Silverado with window tint, and black vinyl wrap on the hood and front bumper.


Finally, the black plastic exterior cladding was looking a little washed out, despite the youth of the car and being garaged since new. I applied a couple of coats of Wipe New, a great product I have used on a lot of prior, older cars. Unlike Armour All or similar products, Wipe New doesn’t come right off in the rain or car wash, and gradually fades over about a year.

LGL detailer spray

I want to put in a plug for a product line I discovered at the tint shop. This detailing spray is amazing, and leaves a super shine that beads like crazy after repeated washes. Definitely worth $20 a bottle.

Happy Spring to everyone, and tell us about any Subaru experiences you have!