The Subaru Outback finally gets turbo power for 2023, in the form of the XT. Are times changing for the Japanese brand? Is the company turning back to its roots? We hope so as Subarus of late have been a little uninspiring in the powertrain department.
New for the 2023 Outback range is the XT badge. In fact, this is the first time Subaru has applied the badge to the Outback. At least in Australia. You could think of it as the long-coming successor to the 3.6R and 3.0R flat-six models from yesteryear, only the XT features a 2.4-litre turbo four-cylinder, offering similar output.
2023 Subaru Outback Sport XT: What is it?
The 2023 Outback XT comes in as the new flagship model. It’s available in Sport XT and Touring XT, both featuring the 2.4 ‘FA24’ turbo engine. This unit is pretty much lifted from the latest WRX performance icon, only here it is ‘detuned’ slightly to produce 183kW and 350Nm, instead of 202kW in the WRX.
Subaru used to present a turbo engine with the old Liberty/Legacy (remember those?), but it didn’t offer a similar package for the Liberty-based Outback in Australia. Though, there was a turbo-diesel option here a few years ago. Nonetheless, the new XT is not the most powerful Outback ever offered in Australia. That title remains in the hands of the last Outback 3.6R (2020), which generated 191kW.
Engine aside, the 2023 Outback remains as one of the pioneers of the jumped-up, adventurous wagon vehicle style. It boasts, arguably class-leading on-board safety tech, excellent all-terrain capability (for a monocoque platform), and brilliant in-car practicality.
Prices kick off from AU$52,190 for the Sport XT and from $55,990 for the Touring XT. Local buyers can also choose from the existing 2.5i range, with Touring, Sport, and the base no badge, ranging from $50,990, $47,190, and $42,690, respectively (before on-road costs).
Although prices have climbed in recent years, like everything really, the Outback is still a reasonably affordable package. Especially that entry 2.5i from $43k. For the amount of kit that comes standard, and all of its heritage and expertise, it has to be one of the best bargains on the market.
2023 Subaru Outback Sport XT: What does it come with?
Subaru vehicles have always come extensively and impressively equipped compared with their nearest rivals. The Sport XT is just the same. All variants showcase an 11.6-inch touch-screen multimedia system that can run wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, with digital radio, and in-built sat-nav for all but the base model.
The touch-screen is not one of our favourites, but we like the graphics and colour scheme, and it is user-friendly most of the time. What holds it back is smoothness in menu flow and operation. Some options require quite a few selections, and there are some menu items that kind of take you into a deep, dark hole that makes you feel like you’re lost in the wilderness.
We commend Subaru for sticking with proper mechanical dials in the instrument cluster, with almost all competitors switching to digital screens. A dial with a moving needle is so much more wholesome in our view, and actually makes it look more premium – screens are not expensive, despite popular trends and perhaps beliefs.
There’s no need to be concerned about passenger space and comfort. The Outback is made for taking families wherever you need to go. Legroom in the front and back is more than adequate, however, the overall cabin width seems a bit narrower than some rivals. This does not detract from the general practicality as far as we’re concerned.
Down on the centre console are some storage areas and a centre box, complete with an armrest for the lid. A bunch of charging ports are also presented in the Sport XT, with USB-C in the front. Cup holders, bottle holders, grab handles and a six-speaker stereo are part of the mix. The Outback is perfect for weekends away as well, with its 522L boot that’s expandable to 1267L with rear bench folded (or 1783L when packed to the ceiling).
As with all modern Subarus, safety initiatives are plentiful. This model comes with everything, including a handy side-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a comprehensive driver monitoring system that can detect facial expressions to help provide a warning if it detects drowsiness, or distraction. The Outback range has been awarded five stars by ANCAP.
2023 Subaru Outback Sport XT: Fun factor
This is where things get a little hazy. On one hand it is a fun vehicle in that it supports adventurous trips into the countryside or even off the beaten track. Its 213mm of ground clearance and hugely renowned and trusted all-wheel drive system means it can venture off road deeper than you might think.
We had fun exploring its abilities on some rough dirt roads and a bit of slippery mud, and it walked through like a plough through snow. Although they are not all-terrain tyres, the tall 225/60 Bridgestone Alenza hoops do a good job of absorbing impacts and uneven terrain. There’s also an X-mode driving mode to play with which firms up the clutch for front-to-rear torque distribution and signals the CVT auto to remain in a higher-torque ratio.
Look, it’s not as hardcore as a ladder-frame truck or big SUV, but the Outback’s off-road performance is certainly admirable and trustworthy. This, in our view, means it can be a fun vehicle to live with as it helps open up those weekend opportunities.
In terms of handling, it is a bit sloppy when pushed hard if we’re honest, particularly with those tall tyres. The steering feel is solid and mechanical, so that’s good, and feedback is decent. But it’s not as enthusiastic taking on tighter bends as something like the Kia Sorento or VW Passat Alltrack. Does that matter? No, not really. As most buyers are going to appreciate its other skills more than its corner-carving expertise.
As for that new 2.4 turbo engine? With 183kW and 350Nm, this is not really a performance engine so don’t expect it to behave like one. It doesn’t sound especially appetising either, and its character seems to be centred around being strong in the mid range. In fact, maximum torque is available between 2000-4800rpm, which is right in the middle.
However, we did clock some decent 0-100km/h times on a private road with a Vbox. The best 0-100km/h we saw was 7.33 seconds, and the best 1/4 mile was a respectable 15.48 seconds.
Compared with the WRX, this engine uses the same 10.6:1 compression ratio but runs lower turbo boost. We also notice peak power is spread between 5200-6000rpm in this rather than smack on 5600rpm in the WRX. In other words, the Outback has been tuned for versatility.
The CVT auto is not a fun gearbox, whatever way you want to look at it. A dual-clutch auto, a manual, or even a conventional torque converter auto would be more fun, there’s no doubt about it. In a friendly wagon like this though we think there isn’t such a strong reliance on the auto to perform as an engaging unit, unlike the in WRX. We think the Outback can get away with it at least more so than the WRX.
Overall the Outback XT is the most fun spec in the range. Easily. The low-end torque of the FA24 is definitely appreciated compared with the regular 2.5i. It means you can surge up hills without feeling like you’re stressing the engine or pushing it. And then acceleration, as we saw, is actually pretty good for this type of vehicle.
2023 Subaru Outback Sport XT: Should you buy one?
If you’re in the market for this style of vehicle then yes, you should absolutely take a close look at one of these. Aside from the turbo power, the XT is filled with great technology and comes packed with features. We also think the price is attractive compared with ever-increasing figures presented with some rivals.
This is also a smart buy because Subaru has a great reputation for reliability and long-term ownership, so resale value should be good. This feels very well made, too, with quality materials scattered throughout the interior that will no doubt stand the test of time.
In a world where fuel efficiency and electrification is a strong focus, the Outback XT does fall a bit behind. No doubt great for traditional customers but against other vehicles in this class, it’s not so great. The official average consumption rate is 9.0L/100km, and we averaged around 9.5L. We’ve driven some properly powerful performance cars in the past that have returned lower values than this. As such, this is why we gave this 3.5 stars for the powertrain.
Head over to the Subaru Australia website for more info.
How does it rate against its rivals?
Don’t treat it like an SUV with a WRX engine and instead appreciate it for what it is; a dependable and capable family tourer that ticks more boxes than many of its rivals. When it comes to fit for purpose, this passes with flying colours.