The Tesla Model Y is the company’s flagship sports utility vehicle, a fully electric midsize SUV that reached consumers in March 2020. The Subaru Outback, on the other hand, was first introduced in 1994 and has since evolved into one of the most popular consumer crossovers on the road. If you are in the market for a new family car for outdoor adventures, should you purchase the Model Y or Subaru Outback?
The Tesla Model Y is a better overall buy than the Subaru Outback, offering a host of benefits that can better serve the modern market. However, if cost and proven track record are your most important metrics, the Subaru Outback is still a great car that compares favorably to the innovative Model Y.
As with any type of consumer product, the comparison between the Model Y and Subaru Outback is largely subjective, with consumer preference the most important factor in determining which vehicle to purchase. With that said, the Model Y offers a multitude of cutting-edge benefits that make it difficult for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to match.
When all points of comparison are analyzed, the Tesla Model Y proves to be a better overall vehicle than the Subaru Outback. Nonetheless, each vehicle has its own unique strengths and weaknesses that will appeal to different demographics.
The Model Y is clearly the best option for those consumers who want contemporary benefits, such as fuel efficiency, zero emissions, and elite safety. It is not as strong at hauling heavy loads, and there is really no track record as to how it will perform over many years on the road.
The Subaru Outback has a proven track record that the Model Y cannot match. Millions of Outbacks have explored the country over the decades, with consumers flocking to them as an affordable means of securing an AWD option. However, Subaru has been painstakingly slow in adopting EV technology, a major sticking point for contemporary users.
Although the Model Y looks like the better overall choice than the Subaru Outback for consumers looking for a midsize SUV or crossover today, it is not necessarily a slam dunk. Each model has its own unique features that will appeal to specific demographics, so it is important to analyze the vehicles along each of these lines to determine which is best for you.
Regardless of the benefits that a vehicle offers, the price remains the single most important factor influencing a consumer’s purchase decision. This is why, despite zero emissions and the ability to forego the gas pump, the adoption of EVs has been slow over time—the sticker price has been prohibitive for most Americans.
To this effect, the upfront cost is the one area in which the Subaru Outback has the clearest advantage over the Model Y. The most popular package for each vehicle, the Tesla Model Y Long Range AWD and the Subaru Outback Base CVT, carry the following sticker prices:
- Tesla Model Y Long Range AWD – $52,990
- Subaru Outback Base CVT – $26,795
As you can see, the upfront cost of a new Model Y is roughly twice that of a new Outback. It is this affordability that has made the Outback such a strong player in the automobile industry over the years, as its AWD crossovers are extremely appealing to customers who cannot afford the price tag of larger SUVs and 4WD/AWD vehicles.
For those buyers for whom upfront cost is not the primary consideration, the benefits of the Model Y start to become readily apparent, starting with performance metrics.
Despite the misguided notion that EVs are little more than oversized golf carts, the electric motor of the Model Y is actually significantly more powerful than the ICE engine of the Subaru Outback. Consider the following metrics:
- Model Y – 456 Horsepower and 497 lb-ft Torque
- Subaru Outback – 182 Horsepower and 176 lb-ft Torque
The power produced by an engine is called horsepower. In physics, horsepower is known as the rate at which a vehicle does work, with higher horsepower equaling higher speed. Therefore, if you want a faster vehicle, the Model Y is clearly the better option.
Torque is the expression of rotational or twisting force. As engines rotate around an axis, torque is created. Viewed as the “strength” of the vehicle, torque is the force that accelerates a car from a standstill to top speed. Without the need to transfer signals through the transmission to the engine to spur acceleration, EVs (EVs) are equipped with instant torque that ICE vehicles cannot match.
The Subaru Outback has long been a favorite among both family-oriented and outdoor consumers for its AWD drivetrain. It created a corner on the market for smaller crossovers with AWD capabilities, improving safety in times of treacherous road conditions and giving customers the ability to explore off-road areas for camping and outdoor activities.
However, the Model Y is also equipped with an AWD drivetrain, giving owners the peace of mind that their midsize electric SUV will handle any type of road condition with which they are confronted.
When comparing EVs to ICE vehicles, there is really no comparison in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions. The Tesla Model Y uses no fuel and gives off zero emissions, making it the absolute best choice for environmentally conscious consumers who want to skip trips to the filling station.
However, it is worthwhile to look at the Subaru Outback along these lines to see if they are tenable, given the lower sticker cost. It averages 26 MPG in the city and 33 MPG on the highway for an average MPG of 29. This is a very favorable MPG figure for an AWD crossover, putting it more in line with midsize sedans in terms of fuel efficiency.
As far as emissions, the Outback sits right around average for all vehicle types, giving off 6.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, assuming that the vehicle is driven 15,000 miles. The EPA estimates that a vehicle averaging 22 MPG and driving 11,500 yearly will give off about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
When this is adjusted for the Outback’s superior fuel efficiency at 15,000 miles, the 6.1 metric tons of emissions is right in line with the average for all ICE vehicles, making it an okay choice for environmentally conscious consumers, but lightyears behind the Model Y.
One major complaint against EVs, in general, is their lack of range. Most consumers do not have the confidence to take EVs on long trips because of the likelihood that they will have to recharge the vehicle multiple times along the way. Not only is this time-consuming, but at this point in EV infrastructure, EV charging locations are not readily available in many locations.
The Model Y has an EPA estimated range of 325 miles per charge cycle. While this is considerably better than many EVs—which have ranges well under 300 miles—it is still not ideal for installing confidence on long-range trips. It would be a bit risky to take your Model Y into the wilderness without ensuring that a charging station is available within 100 miles of the destination.
When looking at the Subaru Outback, if the combined 29 MPG is multiplied with the 18.5-gallon tank, users can estimate a range of 536 miles. This range allows users to explore remote locations with the utmost confidence. In addition, gas stations are much more readily available than EV charging stations at this point in the EV infrastructure, further increasing user confidence in the event of a low fuel situation.
One of the key considerations in the midsize SUV and crossover line is storage capacity. As these vehicles are typically favorites for families and outdoor enthusiasts, the likelihood that they will be hauling some gear is great. The stated cargo storage for each vehicle is as follows:
- Model Y – 68 cubic feet
- Subaru Outback – 75.7 cubic feet
While the Outback has more overall storage space, users report that its storage space is also more usable than that of the Model Y.
Model Y Storage
The Model Y has its storage pieced together between the trunk, under the trunk, and frunk (storage area similar to a trunk at the front of the car). The under trunk and frunk are small, with neither area being able to stow anything larger than a small suitcase. The remaining storage in the trunk is subsequently smaller than most users would like for a midsize SUV.
Subaru Outback Storage
The storage in the Subaru Outback seems comparatively vast, as it is concentrated in the trunk. Users can simply slide luggage straight into the stowing areas without any fancy manipulations, with the Outback shown to be able to house two large suitcases, four medium suitcases, and three small suitcases in the trunk alone.
There is also an under trunk that houses the spare tire, so if you are in a crunch for space, you can remove the tire and fit another small suitcase. In addition, the Outback is a favorite vehicle for outdoorsy people because of its compatibility and ease of installation for overhead racks. Overhead racks for the Model Y have yet to be extensively explored, but they appear questionable at this point.
Finally, if you have long items that you do not want to store on the overhead rack, the second row of seats is known as “60/40,” meaning that 40 percent of the bench can be laid down to increase the interior storage area. However, it should be noted that if this is used, the remaining 60 percent of the seating makes for a tight fit for two people.
Overall, while storage capacity will depend largely on the size and shape of your cargo and how you plan to employ the space, the Outback has more cubic feet of available storage and appears to allow for more straightforward stowage of more cumbersome items.
For those users looking for a midsize AWD family vehicle, interior space may be more important than storage space. While both the Model Y and Subaru Outback are marketed as seating five people, there are some special considerations that prove that the two vehicles are not necessarily equal in this regard.
In terms of interior dimensions, it is a bit of a toss-up between the two vehicles, with the Model Y generally having more leg and headroom and the Outback generally having more shoulder and hip room. The following dimensions are reported for the Model Y:
- Front seat legroom – 41.8 inches
- Front seat headroom – 41 inches
- Front seat shoulder room – 56.4 inches
- Front seat hip room – 53.8 inches
- Rear seat legroom – 40.5 inches
- Rear seat headroom – 39.4 inches
- Rear seat shoulder room – 54 inches
- Rear seat hip room – 50.6 inches
Comparatively, the interior space dimensions for the Subaru Outback are as follows:
- Front seat legroom – 42.8 inches
- Front seat headroom – 40.1 inches
- Front seat shoulder room – 58.1 inches
- Front seat hip room – 55.5 inches
- Rear seat legroom – 39.5 inches
- Rear seat headroom – 39.1 inches
- Rear seat shoulder room – 57.4 inches
- Rear seat hip room – 54.8 inches
The Outback looks to be a bit more spacious when looking at these dimensions, as it has the larger figure on five of the eight metrics.
However, it should be noted that the Model Y comes with the option for a third row of seats. For an additional $3,000, two more seats can be added to the back of the Model Y, giving it the capacity to seat seven people. Opponents of the Model Y third-row purport that this is not necessarily an advantage, with the additional seats being extremely cramped and unsuitable for anyone but children. The third row also basically eliminates the trunk space.
When choosing a vehicle for family functions or for outdoor exploration, safety is of utmost importance. To this effect, the Tesla Model Y was designed to be the safest vehicle in its class, with nearly every modern safety feature imaginable, including:
- Back-up camera
- Cross-traffic alert
- Rear parking aid
- Blindspot monitor
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keeping assist
- Tire pressure monitor
- Brake assist
- Stability control
- Traction control
- Driver airbag
- Front head airbag
- Front side airbag
- Knee airbag
- Passenger airbag
- Rear head airbag
Although the Subaru Outback does have some impressive safety features, its list is not as comprehensive as that of the Model Y. It is notably missing the cross-traffic alert, rear parking aid, and a blind-spot monitor.
In terms of its ability to withstand a crash, the Model Y is designed with a “low center of gravity, rigid body structure, and large crumple zones for unparalleled protection” (Source: Tesla). It gets 5-star NHTSA ratings across the board for front and rear passenger safety and rollovers.
The Outback also is a safe car in a collision, albeit not as safe as the Model Y. It gets a 5-star NHTSA side crash rating and a 4-star rollover rating.
One area that EVs have been notoriously weak is in the realm of towing. Designed with efficiency in mind, battery life is diminished precipitously when any type of trailer is attached. The Model Y can be built with a towing package for an additional $1,200. It is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds on all types of wheel configurations. The Subaru Outback, on the other hand, has a maximum towing capacity of only 2,700 pounds.
The most significant factor, though, is how range is impacted by towing. One Model Y user reported an efficiency of 45% when hauling a 3,000-pound boat during a 98-mile trip to the lake. Using his Model Y as normal, he had 29% battery remaining upon arrival at the lake—not enough to make the return trip home without finding a place to recharge.
While the Outback does lose efficiency while towing, reports differ on how steep the decline is. Some users claim that efficiency is only decreased by 3 MPG, while others have noted that the drop is as much as 10 MPG. Even in the most extreme scenario, if the total efficiency is dropped to 19 MPG while towing, the Outback can expect to have a range of 351 miles (19 MPG x 18.5 gallons per tank).
Although towing capacity is hard to predict, with the total weight of the trailer, wind, road grade, and payload—all of the factors that can influence efficiency—it is clear that the Outback is the better choice for those interested in towing.
In terms of charge time, the Subaru Outback is the clear winner, as it does not need to be charged at all. While it takes 5 minutes to fill up the gas tank in the Outback, it will take 10 hours to charge the Model Y battery, assuming a current of 220/240 V.
This makes it prohibitive to take the Model Y on long road trips where time is of the essence. Quicker charge times are an important element of the wider adoption of EVs.
Although the Tesla Model Y Long Range AWD and Subaru Outback Base CVT are the most common models, each vehicle can be made in several configurations to suit the needs of different customers.
The following are the different options for the Model Y:
- Standard Range RWD ($39,990) – the reduced price tag comes at a hefty cost, with the range being reduced to 244 miles and no AWD capabilities. This makes this option more of a commuter car than you would like for a crossover or midsize SUV.
- Performance AWD ($60,990) – for $8,000, the Performance model comes with a faster top speed, bigger wheels, a lowered suspension, and performance brakes. While these features are desirable, it is questionable whether they are worth the increased cost for a midsize SUV.
The Subaru Outback comes with the following upgraded versions:
- Premium CVT ($26,795) – offers the same performance features as the base model, with a wider selection of interior and exterior colors and additional entertainment features.
- Limited CVT ($33,595) – the same performance metrics as the base model but has a universal assortment of entertainment features and leather seats.
- 2.4T Onyx Edition XT CVT (34,145) – this model sacrifices some efficiency for increased performance. The horsepower increases to 266, and the torque increases to 277 lb-ft. The towing capacity increases to 3,500 pounds. It also offers interior upgrades and entertainment features over the base model.
- Touring CVT ($37,495) – this model maximizes interior features, with a heated steering wheel and seats—major calling cards.
- 2.4T Limited XT CVT (37,995) – this model combines all of the best features of the most luxurious Outback with the maximum engine and towing performance.
Both vehicles use a rack and pinion system for power steering. The turning diameter for the Model Y (39.8 feet) is more than 3 feet greater than that of the Outback (36.1 feet), making the Outback the better choice for maneuvering in tight spaces.
Each vehicle uses aluminum wheels, but both the front and rear wheels of the Model Y are more than 3 inches across and 2 inches wider than their Outback peers. This will give the Model Y better traction and more clearance than the Outback.
Finally, the Model Y uses a double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension, while the Outback uses a strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension. There are pros and cons to each suspension type, but all effectively keep the vehicle level and ensure a smooth ride.
The standard Outback model has a greater selection of standard color choices, while the Model Y has only the Pearl White Multi-Coat. However, it does offer an upgraded selection of optional exterior colors from which the user can choose.
The Model Y has the better interior materials, with the most popular model equipped with premium leather seat trim. The Outback, on the other hand, uses generic slate black cloth upholstery in its standard model.
Outside of a standard AM/FM HD radio, the Model Y comes with basically every entertainment feature imaginable. It truly is a computer on wheels. Some of the highlights include:
- Bluetooth connection
- Hard drive media storage
- Smart device integration
- Wi-Fi hotspot
- Navigation system
- Steering wheel audio controls
- Power liftgate
- Power mirrors
- Optional automatic parking
- Multi-zone AC
- Seat memory
- Keyless start
Outside of the presence of a radio, the Outback has no features that the Model Y does not have, and only a selection of the features that it does.
The Model Y has superior warranty options across the board. Consider the following table:
|Warranty Type||Model Y||Subaru Outback|
|Basic||3 years or 36,000 miles||4 years or 50,000 miles|
|Corrosion||5 years and unlimited miles||12 years and unlimited miles|
|Drivetrain||5 years or 60,000 miles||8 years or 120,000 miles|
|Roadside Assistance||3 years and 36,000 miles||4 years or 50,000 miles|
Although the warranty is better for the Model Y, it will be easier to find service for the Subaru Outback. There are simply more mechanics trained in servicing ICE vehicles at this point in time.
The Model Y will likely need to be taken to a Tesla dealer to receive service. Fortunately, the network of Tesla dealerships and service centers continues to grow at an impressive rate.
Subarus, in general, are known for maintaining their value over time. Many users are confident that a reasonably maintained Subaru will run well over 200,000 miles, while many vehicle owners begin losing confidence at the 100,000-mile mark.
While there is no doubt about the Tesla’s ability to drive to extremely high mileage, as there are fewer moving parts under a Tesla hood and no damage caused by the combustion process, Teslas have traditionally depreciated faster than ICE vehicles for a simple reason: as EV technology improves, buyers want to buy the latest models with longer battery life.
The Model Y is still too new to determine exactly what its resale potential will be, but if battery life improves to over 500 miles, similar to that of an Outback tank, it can be guessed that the current Model Y will depreciate more rapidly than owners would like.
The Model Y is Tesla’s first foray into the all-electric midsize SUV game, while the Subaru Outback has long been established as one of the premier options in this same vehicle class.
Although each car has its advantages, the Model Y is the overall best option at this point in time, offering an unmatched array of contemporary benefits for those buyers looking into family and outdoor vehicles.