By Will Kaufman | Edmunds via The Associated Press
Subaru has redesigned its popular Outback for the 2020 model year.
It’s roomier and better equipped with the latest safety and technology features.
But Subaru isn’t the only automaker catering to shoppers looking for a five-passenger midsize SUV.
Hyundai took a similar approach when it redesigned the long-running Santa Fe last year.
These two models are nearly identical in size, space, power and starting price.
Edmunds’ experts have tested the new Outback and Santa Fe and identified a few key differences that should make your shopping decision easier.
Passenger and cargo space
Both SUVs have roomy cabins.
There’s enough space to carry five adults in relative comfort or fit bulky rear-facing child safety seats without having to move the front seats up.
The Outback and the Santa Fe also have about 30 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats and more than 70 cubic feet with the seats folded down.
It’s sufficient space for most tasks, from Costco runs to loading up for a long camping trip.
The Subaru does have an edge for visibility.
Its large windows provide an airy-feeling interior and easy views, even when reversing.
The Santa Fe suffers a bit because its thicker roof pillars create bigger blind spots compared to the Outback.
Comfort and refinement
These two SUVs score well for seat comfort.
Supportive front seats and reclining rear seats should accommodate passengers of nearly all shapes and sizes.
The Santa Fe has a more upright driver’s seat, giving you an elevated view of the road, while Subaru’s seating position is lower and more car-like.
Subaru pulls ahead here with the Outback’s standout ride quality.
It impressively smooths out bumps and ruts in the road while giving you a solid, stable feel at highway speeds.
The Santa Fe’s firmer ride helps it feel a little sportier when going around turns, but it also makes bumps much more noticeable.
Infotainment and driver aids
The Outback features a large and attractive vertically oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen that’s standard on all but the base trim level.
Unfortunately, it can be frustrating to interact with. Its on-screen menus aren’t always logically arranged.
Worse, Subaru routes almost all of the vehicle’s settings, including climate control, through it.
What should be simple tasks can turn into distracting multi-step processes.
The Santa Fe uses a smaller but more straightforward touchscreen interface.
Combined with a helpful layout of physical buttons, the Santa Fe’s controls are easier to use
Both vehicles offer advanced safety features to help prevent or mitigate accidents, such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
Subaru goes a bit further, offering automatic rear braking and a camera-based driver attention monitoring system that you can’t get on the Santa Fe.
Unfortunately, the Outback’s safety features are more annoying to live with.
You’ll be subject to beeps and chimes as conditions change.
It can feel like being 16 again and driving with an anxious parent.
Winner: Sante Fe
Both the Outback and Santa Fe come standard with four-cylinder engines that make a bit more than 180 horsepower.
In Edmunds testing, both SUVs accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in about nine seconds.
That’s below average for the class since most other midsize SUVs come with more powerful base engines.
The catch is you’ll pay thousands more for those competitors’ base models.
Want more power? Hyundai and Subaru offer turbocharged engines as options.
The Santa Fe’s makes 235 horsepower and the Outback cranks out 260 horsepower.
Towing capacity for each is 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, enough for light recreational or cargo trailers.
The Outback is a little smoother when accelerating, and it comes with a higher ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive that make it more sure-footed when driving on off-road trails.
Both SUVs’ suggested pricing starts at just over $27,000, including destination charges.
Once you get past the base trim, you’ll pay a bit more for the Subaru, primarily because you can get any Santa Fe trim with front-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive comes standard on every Outback, while it’s a $1,700 option on the Santa Fe.
Nicely equipped Outback and Santa Fe models with the more powerful engines run about $36,000 and both max out around $40,000.
However, the value proposition is more obvious if you stick with the less powerful engines.
Otherwise, you’ll pay about what you would for a competitor with a V6 engine.
The Santa Fe does have one key advantage: Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Subaru’s five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty is par for the class.
Winner: Sante Fe
Edmunds says: The Subaru Outback impressed us with its comfort and performance, but ultimately its over-reliance on its menu-heavy touchscreen held it back from earning our top pick.
Instead, we recommend the well-rounded Hyundai Santa Fe.