There is only one vehicle on the market with a roof rack system like the 2020 Subaru Outback. Literally everything else has either recessed or raised rails where some form of crossbars are connected to “towers” (OK, so however you would do this) call on the 4Runner TRD Pro). While carmakers sometimes include crossbars, it is often left to the accessories catalog or third-party companies like Yakima and Thule. In any case, keeping cross members on your car, no matter how they are fitted, will increase wind noise and can harm fuel economy. They can also tarnish the view from your sunroof, but that’s clearly one less of a concern.
The Outback doesn’t have to worry about that, including buying aftermarket pieces. The roof rails are the cross beams.
Making this transformation couldn’t be easier. Simply lift up on a tab, pull the rail out of the round holder and turn to the other side. Repeat with the other bar. Plug the rail into an outlet on the other side. Done. You have crossbars.
Compare that to mounting the Yakima Timberline towers and rods on my 2013 Audi Allroad.
Find bars and towers in the garage. Move the Christmas tree. Find a special Yakima screwdriver gadget. Line up the bars at approximately the 32-inch opening that Yakima products will fit. Wrap rubber “band” connectors around the raised side rails and tighten two screws with a Yakima screwdriver thing. Repeat three more times.
None of this is particularly difficult, of course. In fact, once you set up the bars / towers to fit your car, it’s incredibly simple and intuitive. However, it takes a lot more time than what you can achieve in the Outback. You will be less likely to remove them, which again is not ideal.
Here’s another benefit of the Outback’s shelving. While other Subarus have these, they are still unique to the brand. There are sturdy mounting points on each corner of the rail for those times when your rack itself isn’t enough. However, I should note that the new Ford Bronco is available with such mounting points on the hood. Useful.
Back to the joists. Another potential benefit is that they sit lower on the roof than most cross beams (although something like the Thule AeroBlade Edge comes close). Don’t name me here, but a smaller gap between the roof and what’s above it probably seems to be an aerodynamic benefit. It’s a different angle, but you can still see how much lower the CBX Solar sits on the Outback’s roof than it is on the Allroad.
Since it’s lower, it’s also much easier to load everything onto the roof – something that’s already made easier by the Outback’s slightly lower roof compared to SUVs.
Now there are downsides. The Outback’s crossbars aren’t quite as wide as aftermarket options, including those Timberlines on my Allroad. This makes it more difficult for you to mount multiple things on board, especially with something as grand as the Yakima CBX Solar roof rack shown in these photos. If they aren’t wide enough for you, apparently it’s possible to install a Thule WingBar Evo system on the rails, which is good, but also somewhat defeats the purpose of the smart rails.
Some owners have also noted that the open outlets you plug the rods into can fill up with gunk over time. Otherwise, there are many more positives here than negatives. Considering that this is now the third Outback generation to have them, she points out that owners appreciate their functionality. That said, one wonders why they haven’t migrated to Subaru’s other vehicles.