For the past decade, our family – my wife, Lisa, our 11-year-old son, Harry, and our 16-year-old daughter, Katie – has had rock-solid summer vacation plans. We’ve always rented a house in Southern Maine and crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge into the state from our home in Massachusetts, 30 minutes west of Boston, without a second thought. Around the first of January this year, we booked a reservation for July at the house we’ve stayed in for the last couple of summers, in the small beach town of Perkins Cove, and eagerly awaited our vacation.  

2020 had other plans for us, though. We scrapped our reservation in May thanks to COVID-19, when all travel to the state of Maine from Massachusetts was subject to a 14-day quarantine. Then, in July, Maine revised the regulations to waive the quarantine if the adults in the party received a negative test within 72 hours of arrival. Happy to have a second chance, we decided to book another house, take the tests and hit the road. 

As the automotive editor at Subaru Drive, I spend quite a bit of time evaluating the year’s latest products, and the opportunity to use the 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT presented itself. The timing couldn’t have been better. I’ll generally make the Maine trip with two bathing suits, a half dozen T-shirts and several books, but this year, there were two teenage girls – Katie and her best friend, Alyssa – my son, and all their gear. We ended up having to pack the way Diana Ross packs for a world tour.  

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT
Photo: Craig Fitzgerald


The girls are driving now, so they were on their own in a small 20-year-old, two-door, open-roof SUV with no room for cargo, while Lisa, Harry and I took the Outback and luggage, outdoor gear and beach paraphernalia for five people.

The seating configuration was perfect. We folded down the 60/40-split rear seatback, allowing plenty of room for a cooler and a suitcase where that seating position would normally be, and packed the 32.5 square feet of cargo capacity behind the seats with everything we needed. “There’s no way we could’ve fit all of our stuff in the SUV and my sedan,” Lisa pointed out as I loaded the last suitcase in the cargo area and watched the tailgate automatically descend to its closed position. 

Open trunk of a 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT with luggage
Photo: Craig Fitzgerald


Thirty-two and a half square feet is hard to quantify until you start filling it. It’s not only wide at 43.3 inches between the wheel housings (just a bit over three large cabin suitcases can comfortably squeeze between the wheel wells), it’s also tall, with a cargo area opening of 32.1 inches. You could easily stack three suitcases on top of each other and still have room to stuff soft items like pillows and blankets on top, making the standard rear-vision camera that much more of a necessity.

Over the last six or seven years, my daughter and I have been surfing more and more frequently, and I picked up a pair of 8-foot beginner softboards to ride waves this summer, something that allowed us to get some socially distant exercise that didn’t cost as much as a lot of other outdoor sports. I was scratching my head about how to get those boards up to Maine as our vacation approached, until the Outback arrived.

Even at the base trim level, the Outback provides roof rails with tie-down loops integrated into the rails. What you might not expect, though, is that the least expensive Outback comes standard with integrated cross bars. Other manufacturers may provide the roof rails, but if you want the cross bars for, oh, carrying things, they expect you to pay for it.

Backside shot of a 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT with surfboards on top
Photo: Craig Fitzgerald


These cross bars are ingeniously integrated into the side rails. Pull up a lever and the bar pivots laterally and locks into place on the parallel rail. From there, Subaru provides a range of available accessories that attach to those cross bars, customized to your personal activities. Ride a bike? There’s a Thule®1 bike carrier. Ski and snowboard? Thule has you covered with an attachment that carries both. There are roof cargo baskets and paddleboard carriers and even a portable step that mounts to the wheel to make putting things up on those accessories a snap.  
For our road trip, I just used the cross bars and tied the boards directly to them using friction straps. I ran the straps through the tie-down points and back up over the boards again, and they never moved.

In normal times, traffic heading from Massachusetts to Maine can be a brutal stop-and-go exercise from about Lawrence, Massachusetts, 40 miles north to the Maine state line. The pandemic quelled that a bit, but traffic was still pretty heavy in spots on a broiling hot Saturday afternoon.

While the girls roasted in that old open SUV behind us, we enjoyed cool air from the dual-zone automatic climate control system and plenty of great music from satellite radio. Like the Outback Premium, the Onyx Edition XT features the SUBARU STARLINK® 11.6-inch Multimedia2 Plus System, with on-screen controls for audio and HVAC functions.

With a solid two hours of highway ahead of us, EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology3 with EyeSight Assist Monitor was a major asset. Set your speed and the system monitors traffic ahead through the Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control4 function. As traffic slowed to 15 or 20 miles an hour, we followed along at a prescribed distance. Then, as speeds increased, the Outback automatically resumed its preset speed. Thankfully, we never encountered anything that would cause the Pre-Collision Braking System4 to apply the brakes, but if we had, the system could’ve provided that extra split second of reaction time that can be the difference between a pulse-increasing near miss and a ride on a flatbed. 

Southern Maine has been built up significantly since I first started coming here 52 years ago, but you can be in the dense woods not a mile west of Route 1. There’s no place in the 48 contiguous states that has more undeveloped wilderness than Maine, and you can be in it quickly. Fire roads, logging trails and other unincorporated areas are part of Maine’s charm.


X-MODE® allows drivers to explore a lot more of the wilderness by managing functions like throttle response and transmission shift points. Descending steep terrain, X-MODE manages the braking for you, allowing you to steer around obstacles at crawling speed. And I was able to see obstacles much more clearly thanks to the 180-Degree Front View Monitor. It shows you exactly what’s in front of the Outback Onyx Edition XT, as if you didn’t have an engine compartment or hood in your line of sight.

The girls and I got quite a bit of surfing in on Ogunquit and York’s Long Sands Beach. After a three-hour session in the water, the last thing you want to worry about is how to keep the seats dry. The Onyx Edition XT has seats that are upholstered in a polyurethane material called StarTex®. Instead of having to wrap ourselves in towels or find somewhere to change, we just plopped onto the seats. The upholstery is designed to repel water, and it was dry to the touch instantly after we got out of the car.

From enormous cargo capacity to thoughtful roof rack integration to advanced safety technology, the 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT is the road trip partner you’ve always wanted. “The back seat was huge,” Harry told me after the trip was over, though that may have been in part because he didn’t have to share it with his sister. It’s both rugged and capable enough to take you off the beaten path, but with its arsenal of comfort and convenience features, it’s able to eat miles by the hundreds to get you farther from home.

Road Trip Checklist

Personal Health and Safety 

First-Aid Kit: Our friends at REI have a range of first-aid kits roughly based around activities, from bicycling to mountain climbing. For our activities, the Ultralight/Watertight .3 Medical Kit is ideal for a standup paddleboarding adventure. At just 2.3 ounces, it’ll slip in a backpack and you’ll hardly know it’s there. 

Tick Remover Tool: Unfortunately, we’ve already had one kid go down with a bout of Lyme disease and it made for a scary summer. If you’ve been out in the grass or woods at all, a tick check is a must and the Tick Patrol Tick Remover tool will help with removal.

Face Covering: Different states and cities will have different mask regulations, so it’s good to have a few per person on hand for your trip. A two-layer, snug-fitting mask or face covering is going to protect you and others from spreading COVID-19 and other germs. We like this mask from Outdoor Research because it has adjustable ear bungees and a formable nose piece to help keep glasses from fogging. It also comes with removable filters. Or show your Subaru pride with this mask from the Gear collection

For another option, a neck gaiter isn’t going to offer the protection of a mask, but it’s better than no face covering, and wearing one around your neck means you’ll never be caught without something to cover up. As a bonus, this REI version offers UPF 50+ protection for your face and the back of your neck. When wet they can cool you off a bit in the hot sun, and in the colder months they’re a great face protection for running. And the performance microfiber material is made of recycled material including single-use plastic bottles. 


Auto Recovery 

Booster Pack: Jumper cables are great, but they require another vehicle to work. If you keep a booster pack charged, you’ll have enough power to jump-start your vehicle on your own, without having to rely on anyone else. The Stanley® brand has been around since 1843 and offers a range of booster packs today. The Simple Start Lithium Ion Battery Booster model is small enough to fit in the storage tray behind the wheel openings in the Outback cargo area.

Spare Tire: The Outback Onyx Edition XT has a full-size spare tire and wheel as standard equipment, making it unique in the Outback lineup.  

Recovery Strap: Recovery straps are much safer than chains, cables or ropes to haul out a stuck vehicle. In the off chance that they snap, nylon doesn’t store energy the way a cable does – it will simply fall to the ground, rather than becoming a weapon like a cable or a chain. Recovery straps don’t have hooks at either end, further eliminating the chance for injury.

Cargo Options 

Nylon Straps: We must have 20 of these things in the garage, from light-duty straps like the ones we used to tie down the surfboards to ones with hooks for cinching down heavier items and ratchet straps that will compress a motorcycle suspension. Riverside® Heavy-Duty Utility Straps have rubber protectors that keep the buckles from damaging your paint. Tip: If you put a twist in the straps when using the roof rack, they’re less likely to vibrate in the wind. 

Trailer Hitch: The Onyx Edition XT offers 3,500 pounds of towing capacity5 with a 350-pound tongue weight. But even if you never tow a trailer, the Subaru Trailer Hitch in the accessory catalog is a huge benefit – it allows you to slide in accessories like the 4-bicycle hitch-mounted carrier from Thule1. It’s the only Thule rack that’s made for your Subaru, and it’s designed to work specifically with the Subaru receiver hitch. 

Paddleboard Carrier: We managed just fine for a two-hour ride using the cross bars and friction straps to mount softboards to the roof, but if we were going to be using the Outback to tote them regularly, we’d definitely opt for the Thule1 Paddleboard Carrier. It provides a padded surface for the boards and also gets them up a little higher so that you can get the tailgate open with the boards in place. 


1 Thule® is a registered trademark of Thule Group. 

2 Compatible smartphone and application required. For applications to operate, latest version of each application required. Data provided by smartphone is displayed on head unit screen. Some state laws prohibit the operation of handheld electronic devices while operating a vehicle. Smartphone apps should only be launched when vehicle is safely parked. Your wireless carrier’s rates may apply. 

3 EyeSight is a driver-assist system that may not operate optimally under all driving conditions. The driver is always responsible for safe and attentive driving. System effectiveness depends on many factors, such as vehicle maintenance, weather and road conditions. See Owner’s Manual for complete details on system operation and limitations. Requires automatic transmission. 

4 The Pre-Collision Braking System is designed to provide automatic braking that either prevents a collision or reduces the severity of a frontal impact. Pre-Collision Throttle Management is designed to reduce acceleration and minimize the severity of certain frontal impacts. Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control and Brake Light Recognition are designed to assist the driver and are not substitutes for safe and attentive driving. Lane centering function operates only when used in conjunction with Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control. The Lane Departure and Sway Warning with Lane Keep Assist operates only when the lane markings are visible, and its effectiveness depends on many factors. See Owner’s Manual for complete details on system operation and limitations. 

5 Maximum towing capacity varies by trim level. Trailer brakes may be needed. Some safety features, including Blind-Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Smart Rear-View Mirror, and X-MODE may not function properly during towing. See Owner’s Manual for details.