NEWPORT, Calif. — The 2020 Subaru Outback marks the sixth generation of a vehicle, first introduced for 1994, that is in no small part the lynchpin to its company's current success. The Outback's sales have increased in every generation, with more than 700,000 sold in the most recent generation that started with the 2015 model year. Subaru doesn't expect things to slow down as it introduces the all-new 2020 Outback, which has undergone a major overhaul despite its familiar sheetmetal. The Outback has moved to the Subaru Global Platform (SGP), joining the Impreza and Forester on lighter, stiffer, and stronger underpinnings. If the 2019 Forester is any indication of how the SGP can improve a vehicle, this would mean the new Outback will also be calmer, quieter and more refined. Staging from the Inn at Newport Ranch on Northern California's "Lost Coast," with a day full of driving both on- and off-road, we were about to find out for ourselves if this would live up to our expectations. Our first driving stint was in an Outback Touring equipped with the lesser of two available engines. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer-four, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque, feels perfectly adequate for the driving we did at or near sea level, and climbs competently on steep grades. While it didn't perform passing maneuvers with a sense of urgency, we still felt comfortable overtaking slower vehicles when we had to. For daily driving somewhere like the California coast, or the suburbs of the Detroit, the more economical 2.5 (26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined) would be our choice to live with. This is mated to a CVT, one programmed to "shift" like a traditional automatic, staying out of its own way, and providing a nice linear pull — without a rubber band type of feel — when you need to climb a hill. Paddle shifters on the back of the wheel give you a sense of more control, if that's something you need. We rarely used them. If you live at higher elevations, need to tow up to 3,500 pounds, or just really miss the days of a turbocharged Outback, there's now a 2.4-liter turbo-four available in the resurrected XT models. You sacrifice some fuel economy — 3 mpg across the board, 23/30/26 mpg — but get a significant power boost, with hardly any turbo lag and satisfying response. We're certain customers who've graduated from the likes of a WRX to something that can better accommodate kids and dogs will appreciate the boost. As we had hoped, the SGP platform quiets down the ride considerably – we didn't notice any squeaks or rattles, and tire roar was only apparent on rougher pavement. Wind noise is low, too, even without the acoustic glass on the front doors — a feature standard on the Limited XT and Touring XT models. On narrower, curvier mountain roads, the Outback handles surprisingly well. The steering is particularly good, with just-right weighting, and offers the perfect amount of resistance as you dial in more angle. The ratio is quick enough that juking from corner to corner ad infinitum is done with very little hand-over-hand shuffling or unnecessary grabwork. There's just enough feedback to give you a sense of what's going on between the tires and the road surface while filtering out most of the vibration. This Outback is seriously easy to drive, and more important, it's enjoyable. Additionally, it behaves much more like a passenger car than its size and height would suggest — and it's easy to forget that the Outback is essentially a lifted wagon when it competes against the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Despite its ample 8.7 inches of ground clearance (more than most compact SUVs), there's minimal body roll, which means less stress for passengers who don't have to brace against it. When we did just that on some dirt roads, the all-wheel drive, brake-based torque vectoring and other stability systems help keep the Outback pointed where we wanted to go. Despite its sedan-like behavior, it's not confined to the pavement, and feels at home on terrain where other soft-roaders would lose their footing. A good part of our day was spent off-road, climbing mountain trails overlooking the coastal plains below. Between the Outback's standard hill descent control and all-wheel-drive grip, climbing steep, muddy trails was essentially drama free. When we couldn't see over the crest, we displayed the feed from the front camera (a feature standard to the Touring trim) to see which direction the trail led. It's no trail-rated Jeep, though, and is limited by specs like its 18.6-degree approach angle. Deeper ruts led to some scraping at the front fascia. Subaru reps told us that their team is discussing a quick-release lower front fascia that could help avoid such scrapes, but no final decision has been made. In this Outback, the EyeSight driver aid system has been improved to include lane centering assistance, bringing it to parity with the Touring Assist we tested out on a WRX in Tokyo last year. Subaru refers to the system here as EyeSight Driver Assist Technology with Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Centering. We found it to work well, with some limitations. While it will certainly make congestion or stop-and-go traffic less stressful, on sharper curves, the lane following system would reach some limit, chime at us, and turn off momentarily. It's certainly not the best or most robust driver aid suite we've used, but we're glad that not only has the technology improved, but that it comes standard in all Outbacks. In contrast to the outside, the interior has been massively overhauled. Front and center, literally, is a huge, vertical 11.6-inch touchscreen, which is standard in all but the base trim. It fits surprisingly well into the cockpit's overall design, and moreover we appreciate that it bucks the "floating tablet" trend. It's straightforward to use, and if you don't like Subaru's native UI, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. The screen's size and orientation make it easy to glance over and see the information you need. Subaru maintained hard buttons for a number of functions, including redundant temperature controls, for which we are thankful. This is the second Subaru vehicle to use the company's DriverFocus monitoring tech using facial recognition and biometrics. This driver-facing camera keeps a digital eye on you making sure you're not getting groggy or distracted, and will chime a gentle reminder to keep your eyes on the road. What's even niftier, DriverFocus will also recognize the faces of as many as five registered drivers, and welcome the individuals with their own settings as they slide in behind the wheel. The new Outback provides a number of other conveniences, like a hands-free proximity tailgate that opens up when you approach the rear logo with the key fob on your person. With hands full, you can even nudge the flap on the cargo cover with your elbow to get it to retract. Cubbies abound, and the front cupholders are massive. The Outback also retains the nifty "Swing-n-Place" roof rails, and adds tie-down spots at the ends. And this is a bigger Outback than before, at least inside. It's only 1.4 inches longer and 0.6 inches wider overall than the outgoing model. Inside, there's a little over 3 more cubic feet of cargo space than before, rear legroom increases by 1.4 inches, and headroom increases by 1.8 inches in front and by a fraction of an inch in the rear. This go-around, Subaru offers a version of the Outback called the Onyx Edition, with the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine, and is targeted toward younger buyers (in a car whose average customer is 45 years old). It features blacked-out (well, dark-gray-ed out) wheels, grille, mirrors and badging. Inside, it features water-repellent interior trim called Startex, which actually feels quite nice for a synthetic material, though certainly not as plush as our Touring model's Nappa leather. While other Outbacks have a donut in reserve, the Onyx has a full-size spare tire. It also features an upgraded version of the X-Mode system, with a setting for sand and mud, and has the 180-degree front monitor featured on the Touring trim. The Subaru Outback starts at $27,655, including destination, for the base trim with the 2.5-liter engine, and goes up from there. Premium starts at $29,905, and adds the 11.6-inch head unit, all-weather package, power driver seat and dual climate control. The Limited adds 19-inch wheels, leather seats, blind-spot monitoring and reverse auto braking for $34,455. Touring costs $38,355, and adds Nappa leather, ventilated seats, DriverFocus, power folding mirrors and 180-degree front monitor. The XT turbo models start with the Onyx Edition at $35,905. Limited XT costs $38,755, and the line-topping Touring XT has a price of $40,705. We came to California expecting a better, more refined Outback with updated tech features. We would have been happy with that. But the 2020 Outback isn't just competent, it's actually a pleasure to drive – a tall wagon with stellar handling, which makes it a standout against the crossovers it competes against. It does that while maintaining the utility and charm we've come to expect from the brand. Just as it did with the Forester, Subaru applied a practiced, winning formula for the new Outback, then refined it. When Subaru sales keep climbing, bolstered in no small part by the Outback, we won't be surprised.
MOAB, Utah – I'd love to put random SUV owners inside the 2020 Toyota 4Runner, and point them toward the console lever inside. No, not that one, the familiar automatic transmission lever – I'm talking about the stubby, silver-capped lever positioned around two o'clock. It's the transfer case selector, of course, but I'm wondering what percentage of today's crossover owners would know what to do with it, or what "L4" stands for. Toyota must have thought the same thing, because they put together a brief video tutorial for the 4Runner's manually operated, two-speed transfer case. It lets you shift the truck between two- and four-wheel-drive (at speeds below 50 mph); or to its low-range 4WD for low-speed rock crawling, driving in soft sand – or wherever you want, frankly. Yanking that high-effort lever into L4 – don't forget to stop and shift the transmission lever into Neutral first – is essential on the beautiful desolation of the Hell's Revenge trail, a slick rock jaunt in Moab. The Toyota's outstanding Crawl Control can automatically trigger brakes at individual wheels to walk you up or down hills with no human throttle or brake inputs, if those inclines seem beyond a driver's skill grade. By now, serious off-roaders – can I get a show of dirty hands? – are rolling their eyes and asking why I'm bothering to explain the obvious. But that's the point: The 4Runner, and vehicles like it, were once synonymous with the SUV: a steel-frame, truck-based vehicle with genuine four-wheel-drive. Today, the 4Runner is a niche vehicle, including features and capabilities that can seem odd or superfluous to the crossover-driving masses. If your lifestyle and geography favors off-road adventure, the 2020 4Runner is as charming and trustworthy as ever. If your lifestyle leans toward commuting, family chauffeuring, or road trips on the Interstate, well, let's put it charitably: The 4Runner is not the ideal tool for the job. Besides the inherent detriments common to truck-based SUVs, the 4Runner was last full redesigned for 2010. As such, its ride and handling, interior and fuel economy especially (you won't see 20 mpg on a bet) have fallen behind the competitive curve. To address some – but not all – issues, Toyota has mildly updated this 2020 version. Grilles are slightly revised, in part to accommodate a new front radar sensor for the previously unavailable but now standard Toyota Safety Sense Plus suite of accident avoidance features: automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automated high beams and lane-departure alert with trailer sway control. The 4Runner also adds new wheel designs, including the TRD Pro's black 17-inch TRD alloys with Nitto Terra Grappler tires. That top of the line trim can also now be had in "Army Green" paint, which like 2019's Voodoo Blue, was last seen on the FJ Cruiser. Toyota says the resurrected Army Green "will bring out your inner drill sergeant." Preferably not this drill sergeant. Inside, a new driver's instrument panel is more handsome and informative, including a chrono-style speedometer and tach. Toyota has also managed to shoehorn in its 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or Alexa. The 4Runner previously had a tiny 6.1-inch touchscreen and none of those smartphone connectivity features. Should you choose a TRD Pro or Limited model, the new system adds a 15-speaker, 550-watt JBL audio unit. In another nod to modernity, back-seat riders get a new pair of USB ports that fans have been demanding (the old 4Runner had one). Proximity entry with push button start also becomes standard on nearly all models. Mechanically, the TRD Pro adds a cat-back exhaust system with a slightly huskier growl. Though it's questionable whether anyone really needs to hear the 4Runner's ancient, 4.0-liter V6 groan its way to high revs. That V6 delivers an unchanged 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Toyota says it's good for a 0-60 mph run in a reasonable 7.5 seconds, which is a touch quicker than a burly Dodge Durango with its 293-hp V6. Unfortunately, the five-speed automatic transmission remains on hand from Toyota's old soldier's home. In theory, the shift lever's manual function should make things snappier, but the 4Runner's transmission often ignores downshift commands, with annoyingly tardy upshifts in manual mode. While the 4Runner remains roomy and relatively comfortable, it's looking as tired your grandpa's Barcalounger. Inside, plastic imitates seemingly every conceivable natural material: There's plastic that looks like leather, plastic as rubber, plastic as metal or carbon fiber. Fold the seats, including the optional, child-sized third row (only on SR5 and Limited models), and the 4Runner can swallow an expedition's worth of gear. Its maximum capacity of 90 cubic feet is actually comparable to three-row midsize crossovers, although it does have a higher liftover. As noted, nothing announces the 4Runner's authenticity like the manly-man transfer case once found on every four-wheeler. (You might crawl beneath the TRD Pro version to spot its 2.5-inch-diameter Fox shocks, or its expanded skidplates, but that would take more effort). Today, even most Jeeps (or the 2020 Toyota Tacoma pickup we tested at Moab) have replaced manual transfer cases with electronic knobs or switches, which are easier to operate but not nearly as tactile and cool. Toyota's Multi-Terrain Select system and Crawl Control are still operated with knobs, though they're oddly located on the ceiling forward of the rearview mirror. With all the above off-roading weapons loaded, the 4Runner proves to still have the Right Stuff, from the Flintstones-like landscapes of Moab, which instantly expose any SUV poseur, to hours on dirt roads through the high passes of the LaSal and San Juan ranges toward Ouray, Colorado. And it wouldn't be a Toyota review without a fond mention of the 4Runner's reputation for bulletproof reliability: It's something that could save your relationship, or your bacon, on lonely trails and in the wilderness. Realizing that we've spent most of the past two days on boulders, sand and dirt-roostertail roads, I take a pre-dinner solo run from Ouray on actual pavement. On these everyday roads, there's just no getting around the 4Runner's antiquated state: The placeholder powertrain, the sloppy and disconnected steering, the way the 4Runner wanders in its lane. It's here that 4x4 fans may do a facepalm, and say something like, "C'mon! It's an off-road truck. What did you expect, a Bentley?" Sure, the Toyota's off-road chops help explain its on-road shortcomings, but no longer excuses them here in 2020. For proof, look no further than the latest Jeep Wrangler, the (also aging) Grand Cherokee, or at higher price points, any Land Rover or the Mercedes G-Class. That Wrangler JL's all-new (cough, cough) design has proven that even a hardcore off-roader can achieve a respectable level of civility. While the current 4Runner is more livable than the Wrangler, considering how far that Jeep has come, couldn't Toyota do better? Toyota hasn't divulged pricing for the 2020 4Runner that goes on sale this fall, but cost increases should be negligible. For reference, a rear-drive, 2019 SR model starts from $36,405, while the TRD Pro goes for $47,910. Analysts' crystal balls do see Toyota bringing an all-new 4Runner to showrooms, finally, around 2022. It seems likely that the 4Runner can withstand market pressures until that sixth-generation model arrives, especially with its antiquated infotainment and missing safety tech features being corrected for 2020. Its market niche is also showing surprising endurance, thanks in part to Americans' increasing demand for SUVs with authentic design and rugged personality. This old soldier actually sold nearly 100,000 more units in 2018 than it did when it was brand new in 2010. Still, if you couldn't care less about four-wheeling and have no idea what that other shifter does, you might wait for another SUV that's also tripled its sales since 2009: The Toyota Highlander, whose all-new 2020 version goes on sale late this year. Choose that family favorite over the more purpose-built 4Runner, and Toyota won't mind a bit.
MILAN, Italy — When John Elkann lost his ally last year with the sudden death of Sergio Marchionne, some questioned whether the softly-spoken scion of the Agnelli clan would be able to emerge from his shadow to ensure Fiat Chrysler's future. But New York-born Elkann, who became Fiat chairman in 2010, acted decisively to fill the vacuum left by the larger-than-life Marchionne and get closer to the big merger deal the legendary executive was unable to deliver. At just 28, Elkann was thrust into the role of Fiat vice chairman after the deaths of his grandfather and great-uncle "because there was really nobody else" to take the wheel. For Elkann, who got his first taste of the car industry as an intern at a factory producing headlights in Birmingham, England, the first 18 months with responsibility for the family-owned carmaker and its long heritage were "terrible." But from that low point, Elkann, 43, is now trying to merge Fiat Chrysler (FCA) with French rival Renault to form the world's third largest carmaker and tackle new challenges facing the industry. Elkann will become chairman of the merged FCA-Renault if the deal goes ahead, ensuring the Agnelli dynasty plays a central role in the next chapter of automotive history. At an event in Milan on Monday, the usually-shy Elkann looked happy and confident. His first big break came with an instrumental role in persuading Marchionne, who was running one of the businesses owned by the Agnelli family, to become chief executive in 2004 and give Fiat "a new start," Elkann said in a "Masters of Scale" podcast last year. Fiat was at the time almost on the brink of collapse. This involved a "very long night ... and many grappas" but proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the Italian company founded by Elkann's great-great-grandfather Giovanni Agnelli, which built its first car in 1899. In 2005, Elkann backed Marchionne in negotiating the breakup of an alliance Fiat had entered into with General Motors in 2000, receiving $2 billion from GM in return for canceling a deal that could have required GM to buy the remainder of Fiat Auto. Marchionne then used GM's money to fund a turnaround at Fiat, which involved taking the Italian carmaker into a transformation alliance and then full-blown merger with U.S. automaker Chrysler as Elkann agreed to the Agnellis loosening their grip. If Elkann can deliver a deal with Renault — which will net the Agnellis about 725 million euros ($811 million) in a dividend payout — it will be partly thanks to his pick of new CEO. Michael Manley was probably was not the obvious choice, but the transition to the post-Marchionne era has been smooth with no tensions or rivalries within the family or the FCA group. The focus has been very much on the future as FCA, like its rivals, grapples with the challenges posed for the car making industry by fast-changing technology and regulation.
An electric vehicle has an appeal you can only understand once you've owned one. Sure, you might feel good about going green, analyzing every environmental consideration like our Alex Kierstein did recently. But there's a less noble, more immediately tangible reason to buy an EV — it really brings out one's inner cheapskate.
There is nothing sweeter than passing up the gas station where you used to throw away a $50 bill every week. Before purchasing a 2013 Nissan Leaf to serve my 35-mile daily commute, I had never imagined how satisfying it would be to whoosh past the pumps. Stuck in Seattle traffic, surrounded by gasoline-powered cars wastefully idling, my only energy loss was from the radio. There was political smugness: It felt kinda great to stick it to Big Oil. Don't have to stop, buy gas, fill up, change oil — don't have to do anything except remember to plug the car in at night.
CANTIL, Calif. — Honda is not a brand known for its offroad abilities. During the 1990s SUV craze, it borrowed from Isuzu. Even when Honda finally built a pickup, it stubbornly refused to go body-on-frame. Rock crawlers and overlanders aren't fleeing their Toyotas and Jeeps for Passports and Pilots. However, Honda is a brand known for fun, and sometimes it creates wacky concepts just for the hell of it.
The Honda Rugged Open-Air Vehicle is just such a concept, but it differs from the company's traditional concepts in a couple of ways. Honda's idea of "fun" is typically non-threatening and Disney-fied — think cute ASIMO robot, family-friendly ads, or its refusal to acknowledge its legions of tuner speed freaks. Even as it builds Type Rs, it wants to be seen as a responsible corporate citizen. Nor was the ROAV built to rotate on a giant lazy Susan on an auto show floor, like most concept cars.
THERMAL, Calif. — It's been more than 10 years since Lexus launched its high-performance F models. Ten years. After a full decade you'd think Toyota's luxury division would have it figured out by now, but the 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition isn't the hardcore machine we were hoping for.
Maybe our expectations were too high. We saw its lackluster specs at the Detroit Auto Show in January, but you just never know until you get behind the wheel. And while there's a lot to like here — this is the most powerful and track-capable Lexus since the LFA supercar was launched in 2011 — it's quickly apparent that Lexus' engineers were held back from making the RC F Track Edition what they wanted to make.