As the percentage of individuals ages 20 to 34 holding U.S. driver’s licenses falls, automakers have to work harder to get young people to purchase their vehicles. That’s why Subaru is starting to come out with special trim lines such as the Onyx Edition XT of its redesigned 2020 Outback.
While nearly 90 percent of people aged 30 to 34 had driver’s licenses as of 2017, according to researcher Michael Sivak of Sivak Applied Research, that’s down from almost 97 percent in 1983. The trend holds for people 34 to 39. That’s dropped from nearly 95 percent to just over 90 percent during the same period, according to Sivak.
Those two age groups are especially important to automakers. Many have enough money to purchase new vehicles. They are starting families, which makes them look for the type of utility and safety that are hallmarks of the Subaru brand. And, this age group is where loyalty is created. Subaru has the highest brand loyalty of any major automaker, with 61.5 percent of its buyers trading in a used Subaru, according to research firm J.D. Power.
“Customer loyalty is perhaps the most important metric for manufacturers because it incorporates many factors that lead customers to become brand ambassadors,” said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power. “When a brand can connect emotionally with owners through the vehicle’s content, capabilities or prestige level, owners are much more likely to come back and purchase that same brand again.”
That’s exactly what Subaru wants to achieve with the Onyx edition of the new Outback.
Subaru expects Onyx buyers to engage in hiking, cycling and similar outdoor activities.
“The vehicle becomes just another piece of their gear,” Tenn said.
The design starts with visual appeal. The Onyx edition forgoes chrome badging and other shiny bits for blackout trim, and includes a black grille, black 18-inch alloy wheels and black sideview mirror housings. On all Outbacks, black cladding adorns the wheel well arches, the lower door panels and the bumpers. The dark accents give the Onyx a more aggressive, rugged look than other Outback models.
Subaru equips the Onyx Outback with a four-cylinder, 2.4-liter turbocharged engine. It produces 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. That gives the model a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. It has more horsepower, torque and towing capability than the 2.5-liter engine that comes standard in other Outbacks.
But there is a fuel economy penalty. The Onyx carries an EPA rating of 30 miles in highway driving and 23 in city driving. That compares with 33 for highway and 26 for city in the 2.5-liter models.
The model comes standard with all-wheel drive. It also has as standard Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance suite of safety technology such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
At $34,895, the starting price slots between the $33,445 Outback Limited and the top-trim $37,345 Outback Touring.
Another difference: The Onyx edition comes with gray two-tone, water-repellent StarTex upholstery that makes it easier to clean the mud and blood of an active lifestyle.
Off-road capability is enhanced.
Unlike the standard X-Mode on other Outback models, the Onyx has Subaru’s dual-mode X-Mode system, which includes settings for “Snow/Dirt” and “Deep Snow/Mud.” Both X-Mode systems, standard and dual-mode, include a hill-descent feature that governs speed and braking when descending steep off-road hills. X-Mode also adjusts the amount of power sent to the wheels to provide capability. The goal is to elevate driving confidence, especially on uneven surfaces or challenging inclines.
A 180-degree Front View Monitor that can be accessed on the center infotainment screen gives drivers a better view of the terrain they are crossing and what lies immediately ahead.
“We know that a large percentage of our customers like to go off-road. They like the off-road image and capability,” Tenn told Trucks.com.
Other Onyx features include a full-size spare tire – a rarity in the automotive world these days. A hands-free power liftgate allows easy access to the cargo area.
The versatile Outback Onyx edition is capable on pavement and off-road. While it won’t crawl rocks, it can drive just about anywhere else off-road to reach remote fishing spots and the best mountain bike trails.
And the new Outback is fun to drive. It easily handles mountain roads without excessive body lean or fatiguing steering. There’s more than enough power to handle freeway on-ramps and passing slower vehicles on the highway.
The Onyx is deceptively big and competes well with seemingly larger vehicles including the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Edge and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance are best in class, which is why it is a great off-roader. Its cargo space is tops in the class. That’s a big advantage considering the audience Subaru is targeting. There’s plenty of room to pack snowboards, surfboards, bicycles and dogs inside the vehicle.
Subaru plans for about 10 percent of Outback buyers to opt for the Onyx. But Tenn said he wouldn’t be surprised if that number turns out to be 15 percent or higher.