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Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 review


Subaru’s finally given its Outback the 2.4-litre turbocharged engine it deserved. We test the Sport grade to see how it handles Australian family life

Good points

  • Proper family wagon cabin space
  • Gutsy turbo engine pull
  • Striking, rugged good looks
  • Proper off-roading credentials
  • CVT gearbox steps work well
  • Tows up to 2400kg

Needs work

  • $5000 premium over normal Outback
  • A thirsty thing in town
  • No wireless phone charging
  • Rear seats don’t slide
  • Chassis not as sporty as the engine
  • Dashboard could use modernising

The turbocharged Subaru Outback XT does a decent impression of Australia’s best all-round family car.

Big call, I know. But once you’re with offspring you must deal with their constant demands for entertainment, adventures, lugging sports equipment and accommodating their mates.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 front 3/4 2

Said family haulier should be comfortable when cruising, manageable in the urban snarl and safe in the event of an accident.

Spoiler alert, the Outback Sport XT covers all bases. Added bonuses are a decent 2400kg towing capacity, all-wheel-drive and smart X-Mode for off-piste off-roading… and this big Subaru doesn’t look bad either.

I drove the new turbocharged Outback XT variants at launch back in February, but this was my first chance to test one over an extended period. Crucially, this test included our two kids (eight and 11) to properly evaluate its family hauler credentials.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 rear 3/4 off set

Positives set aside a moment, its price is a sticking point. Subaru asks $52,190 for our Sport XT, while the higher-specification Touring XT is $55,990. You’re looking at roughly $57,500 and $61,500 drive-away respectively.

Both use a turbocharged 183kW/350Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, which is a hefty leap over non-turbo 138kW/245Nm Outback models. But so is the price: the XT turbo grades are $5000 dearer, and thirstier.

Thing is, non-turbo Outbacks are impressive units, albeit sluggish in the power department. If you couldn’t care less about this, save your dollars and ignore the pricier turbo grades.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 engine

Then there’s quality-rich opposition. This sixth-generation Outback was introduced in early 2021, so some rivals have more cutting-edge kit, and more chairs.

This grandest of Subarus may be a large SUV, but it comes with only five seats across two rows. This does mean it isn’t a bulbous bruiser – its obvious wagon vibes appeal to many, myself included.

But look at what else you could get. A Mazda 6 Atenza wagon is luxury-packed and a solid SUV alternative but a bit ancient these days, while the slightly smaller (but still with ample seating for five) Skoda Octavia RS Wagon ($53,890) is a much more performance-orientated family wagon.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 rear 3/4 far

Peering into the popular large SUV segment, the $50-60,000 range includes the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-8, Toyota Kluger and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace – all these offer seven seats. Alas, none of the above would trouble the Outback off-road.

The latter is key. Many Aussies need their SUVs to perform well off the sealed stuff, or simply like the knowledge it’ll do so. Wild camping areas, sandy road surf spots and the snowfields are happy Outback hunting grounds.

Sales reward this versatility. Year-to-date, the Subaru Outback continues as our third best-selling large SUV, eclipsed only by the less on-road friendly Toyota Prado and Isuzu MU-X.

What are the Subaru Outback Sport XT’s features and options for the price?

The Outback range is simple to understand. Grades and features are identical, it’s basically just the powerplant that changes – anything badged ‘XT’ has a 2.4-litre turbo engine.

The XTs feature minor suspension damping and spring tuning over non-turbos, a 2400kg tow limit (normal Outbacks are 2000kg), dual tailpipes, six-LED fog lights and XT badges.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 interior

Non-turbo versions are 2.5-litre four-cylinders, opening with the base Outback for $42,690, moving to Sport at $47,190 then Touring at $50,990.

There’s no base model Outback XT, only the Sport XT at $52,190 and the Touring XT at $55,990. A recently-introduced Touring XT 50 Years Edition (to celebrate Subaru’s 50 years in Australia) is a few hundred more at $56,490. All prices are before on-roads.

All Outbacks have off-road talents, but without a full low range transfer case for serious bush and beach work. Range-wide there’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive, 213mm ground clearance and excellent X-Mode with specific settings for best traction on snow, mud and dirt.

Showing its age somewhat, Outbacks miss out on the now ubiquitous digital dashboard, although some may prefer its analogue gauges. And nowhere in the range will you find a head-up display, 360-degree birds-eye camera, ambient lighting or full panoramic glass roof.

As standard, the base model Outback AWD includes:

  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • LED daytime running lights, fogs and rear lights
  • Steering responsive LED headlights
  • Roof rails with integrated roof racks
  • Rear spoiler
  • Two-mode X-Mode
  • 11.6-inch tablet-style infotainment screen
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Push button start
  • Digital radio
  • EyeSight Driver Assist technology
  • Paddle shifters
  • Smart key and push-start ignition
  • Eight-way front power seats 
  • Front USB-A and USB-C ports
  • Two x rear USB-A ports
  • Subaru’s Vision Assist
  • Reverse camera washer
  • Power tailgate
  • Full-size spare wheel

The Sport and Sport XT grade adds:

  • 18-inch dark metallic alloys
  • Black highlights for the mirrors, grille and body trim
  • Ladder-type roof rails
  • Two-mode X-Mode
  • Water repellent sports seat trim
  • Heated front seats
  • Heated rear seats
  • Sports pedals
  • Navigation
  • Front view and side view monitor
  • Hands-free powered tailgate

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 side down

Touring and Touring XT grades add:

  • Nappa leather accented seat trim
  • Nine speaker Harman Kardon audio
  • Electric sunroof
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Auto driver seat and mirror adjust
  • Driver memory seat
  • Heated steering wheel
  • 18-inch gloss finish alloy wheels
  • Silver finish door mirrors
  • CD player (!)

Touring XT 50 Years Edition adds:

  • Exclusive Geyser Blue exterior paint
  • Sport model exterior styling
  • 18-inch dark metallic alloys
  • Crystal black rear garnish and rear spoiler
  • 50 Years Edition badge

How does the Subaru Outback Sport XT drive?

It’s got some shove. As you’d expect for your extra $5000 and the strapped-on turbo.

It’s a detuned WRX motor so there’s performance breeding here, although we can lament the fact US Outback XTs get 194kW/350Nm while we make do with 183kW/350Nm.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 driving rear

With a hefty 32 percent more power and 42 percent more torque over lesser Outbacks, there’s a marked step up in eagerness and guts. Even so, don’t go expect proper WRX thrills or a soulful noise.

It has characteristics of a larger displacement engine, rather than a highly-strung turbo screamer. But once on-song (it can feel a bit sluggish off the mark) there’s lovely, muscled pull. And it’s a gift that keeps giving, high into the rev range.

This will be music to the ears of those who loved the previous generation Outback 3.6R performance hero. Its 191kW/350Nm 3.6-litre flat-six served as inspiration for this turbo four-cylinder’s Australian tuning – an appreciated nod to the past.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 driving front

A CVT or ‘continuously variable transmission’ is never going to add driving joy, but Subaru’s effort is at least a good one. It’s a bit tardy and whiny if you leave it in normal mode, but move into Sport and it’s appreciably sharper.

There are artificial gear ‘steps’ built in, and you can jab steering wheel paddles to give the feel of more engagement. It works well on a fun backroad.

The chassis isn’t a match for the engine. I think Subaru’s missed a trick by not giving lower, stiffer suspension to this Sport model, even if it would sacrifice some ground clearance.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 rear

The top spec Touring could keep things ‘traditional’ Outback, leaving this Sport model to those wanting a bit more dynamism on twisty sealed roads.

It’s a very soft, easy car to drive. Steering’s particularly light, there’s body lean in turns and the ride comfort is unquestionably good over crummy surfaces. It’s a job well done on the safety and control fronts – all-wheel-drive coming into its own on unsealed roads – but there’s room for a sportier model in the line-up.

But it shines on adventurous family expeditions. We loaded the Sport XT to the gills will bikes and day-tripping kit, then navigated seriously challenging mud and sand off-road terrain. Its 213mm clearance came into its own, easily crawling over some significant climbs and gravel road washouts.

The X-Mode – a touch of a button – alters traction control, throttle response and torque depending on surface, and it’s truly effortless. Seriously, don’t fork out on a low-range equipped 4×4 until you see what an Outback can handle.

These Subarus – the Forester included – are in a bit of a class of their own in the car industry in this regard.

Highway cruising and town life are lush affairs, with good noise suppression, excellent visibility through huge windows and again, serious ease to drive. The big Outback hides its size well in the city.

It’s a vehicle that just clicks with family life. Incredibly easy to live with in suburbia, but you’ve such confidence it’ll embrace some deep adventures in the bush.

What is the Subaru Outback Sport XT’s interior and tech like?

Let’s cover family life stuff first. It’s mightily spacious, robust-feeling and in this Sport grade, seemingly ready for the kid tsunami.

Seats in this Sport grade are water-repellent synthetic leather, easy to clean of mud, spills and whatever else the little darlings can throw up.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 interior front seats

The front seats are well-bolstered, heated and power multi-adjustable, while the outboard rear seats also score heating. Genuinely spoiling the kids for a trip to the snowfields or after a long night in a chilly tent.

We can grumble there’s no option of third row seating in the Outback, but trade-off is the second row is huge, these seats reclining and offering excellent head and leg room. So much so I can forgive Subaru for not fitting a sliding function back here.

If you’re a family planning lengthy road trip odysseys, these Outbacks are well sorted with two rear USB ports, air vents, padded doors and large central arm rest. Our two kids are harsh critics, but heaped praise on Subaru getting such fundamentals and comfort right.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 interior back seats

What you don’t get is much cabin razzle dazzle. Sure, there’s lime stitching for the seats, doors and dash for a bit of jazz, but otherwise the Outback shows its age.

Okay, the giant vertical iPad-like 11.6-inch monitor’s a win, but you must go unnecessarily menu diving for things like air recirculation – something you want in a hurry. At least you can setup shortcut buttons to remedy this.

Proper physical buttons for the dual-zone climate control and stereo remain – well done Subaru – but the amount of information in the screen for everything else means eyes are off the road for too long.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 interior dash

Wireless Apple CarPlay worked very well (and I’m told full-screen Android Auto is now included for you non-Applers), but no wireless charging’s an oversight. A clever function is a Manage Devices setting, where you can quickly switch between connected smartphones.

The hole behind the gear shifter’s also a bit small for phones, and while I’m grumbling, a head-up display would be a good addition.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 boot

Subaru screws its cars together well, and most plastic surfaces are soft-touch. If you aren’t fussed by modern mind-blowers like digital dashboards and ambient lighting everywhere, the Outback’s a winner.

On paper, its 522L boot is small. A Kia Sorento has over 800L (with the third row down), for example. But it’s more like a proper wagon boot with incredible length, something rare in SUVs. And living up to its lifestyle credentials, there’s a proper full-size spare under the floor.

Is the Subaru Outback Sport XT a safe car?

It was awarded the maximum five stars in its May 2021 ANCAP test and, at the time, was the safest car the group had ever tested.

Results show a reasonable 88 per cent for adult occupant safety, 91 per cent for child occupant safety, 84 per cent for vulnerable road user, and an excellent 96 per cent for safety assist.

The latter’s down to Subaru’s comprehensive collision avoidance and EyeSight driver assist technology. There’s a driver monitoring system, which basically scans your face and watches your eyes, and will alert you if it decides you’re distracted.

It mainly works well, but will scold you if you do something brash like looking both ways at a junction before coming to a complete stop.

Lane straying is mopped up with a gentle steering wheel vibration, which is far less harsh than efforts from some rivals. It makes for a more pleasing drive, only ruined when using radar cruise control and ‘hands on the steering wheel!’ warning fires up, despite my hands being in place.

Pleasingly, Subaru has democratised advanced safety across the entire Outback range, which means even the base model Outback AWD scores the really useful safety features like reverse auto emergency braking and speed sign recognition.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 front 3/4 off set

The Subaru Outback’s safety features include:

  • Adaptive driving beam
  • Blind spot monitoring 
  • EyeSight Assist Monitor
  • Lane change assist 
  • Rear cross-traffic alert 
  • Reverse autonomous emergency braking 
  • Adaptive cruise control 
  • Side view monitor
  • Front view monitor 
  • Emergency lane keep assist 
  • Lane centring function 
  • Lane departure prevention 
  • Lane departure warning 
  • Lane sway warning
  • Pre-collision brake assist 
  • Pre-collision throttle management
  • Autonomous emergency steering 
  • Brake light recognition
  • Intelligent speed limiter
  • Speed limiter
  • Speed sign recognition

What are the Subaru Outback Sport XT’s ownership costs?

It’s not going to be cheap, sadly. My extended 800km+ test did see fuel economy improvements over my shorter launch review – my right foot was obviously too eager that day.

Previously I’d seen a chunky 12.1L/100km, but my average this time was a more palatable 9.6L/100km, thanks to plenty of highway use. The fact it needs 95RON (non-turbo Outbacks handle 91) adds to your expenses.

Official figures are 9.0L/100km combined, but a nauseating 12.0L/100km in town. The XT really isn’t the car for Outback owners with short, suburban runs. Not until a clearly needed hybrid engine is offered by Subaru head office, anyway.

How does it compare against the non-turbo Outback?

Similar figures were also seen in a previous test conducted by Chasing Cars, where we pit the turbo versus non-turbo models against each other on the same driving loop.

In that test, the XT used 10L/100km in urban environments, though the n/a Outback actually used more at 11.7L/100km – perhaps due to the latter’s absence of any real grunt, and thus needing to rev more.

On the highway, the Outback XT used 8.1L/100km and the non-turbo was slightly more frugal, using 7.6L/100km.

Subaru Australia offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, while services are pricey when compared to many rivals. Subaru asks $2673 for five years/62,500k, with visits required annually or every 12,500km.

The honest verdict on the Subaru Outback Sport XT

A proper litmus test comes when handing a car back after a week’s test. Truth is, I really didn’t want to.

Having used the Outback Sport XT for the school run, highway commute and then a weekend packed with dirt and sand roads, it fitted out family life damn near perfectly. It’s roomy, very capable off-road and comfortable on road.

Subaru Outback Sport XT 2023 rear 3/4 2

But I’m not sure I’d spend the extra $5000 on this turbo model, unless I really needed the 2400kg towing capacity. The price hit and still fairly average fuel economy would see me stick with a regular Outback, and stomach its drab performance.

If this XT Sport grade had been given a sportier suspension tune I’d be more convinced, as the turbo engine could be better exploited.

Regardless, this is a standout performer and attractively rugged offering in the large SUV class. Running costs aside, a tremendous family car too.

Overall rating
Overall rating
Running costs
Overall rating
Running costs

Variant tested AWD SPORT XT

Approximate on‑road price Including registration and government charges

Key specs (as tested)

2387 cc
183kW at 5200rpm
350Nm at 2000rpm
Power to weight ratio
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
63 litres
9L/100km (claimed)
Average Range
700km (claimed)
All Wheel Drive
Single gear
4870 mm
1875 mm
1670 mm
Unoccupied weight
1703 kg

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