Subaru gives Australians what they’ve been asking for: a turbocharged Subaru Outback. We test the new XT Sport and XT Touring grades to see if they’re worth the $5000 premium
The new turbocharged Subaru Outback XT is a lesson in compromise.
The ever-popular Outback is one of the most practical, capable, safe and comfortable family wagon/SUVs available, but performance-wise it’s decidedly bowls club.
Pictured in autumn green: the Outback Sport XT
Hence this new turbo version, satiating potential buyers who believe the naturally-aspirated version’s 138kW/245Nm flat-four is an unsuitable pairing for such a rugged Subaru – a verdict Chasing Cars also drew after six months and 10,000km of long-term testing an Outback in MY21 Touring spec.
These new boosted Outback XTs deliver handsomely on the performance front: the turbo 2.4-litre four-cylinder brings 183kW/350Nm, the latter arriving from just 2000rpm.
But here’s the compromise. Subaru asks a $5000 premium over equivalent-grade NA Outbacks, while fuel bills could get awkward.
While your garden variety Outback returns a reasonable 7.3L/100km combined and 9.3L/100km in town, the XTs gulp down 9L/100km and 12L/100km respectively.
Pictured in sapphire blue: the Outback Touring XT
For families on a budget, serious thought must be given to how badly they want the zestier performance.
Brawnier engine aside, a jump in towing capacity from 2000kg to 2400kg ups the XT’s appeal. Suspension’s been revised to suit, while visually, you can differentiate the turbo cars by their dual tailpipes, six-LED fog lights and XT badging.
The turbo Outback’s arrival’s been tardy. A boosted version has sold in North America for the last couple of years, but Australians haven’t had a feisty Outback since the previous generation’s range hero 3.6R six-cylinder.
The new turbo four-cylinder almost matches the silky 3.6R’s power and ties its torque, but as discussed, does join it at the heavy drinking table.
Two turbo grades are available. A Sport XT is $52,190 and the flagship Touring XT $55,990 before on-roads. These join the non-turbo Outback ($42,690), Sport ($47,190) and Touring ($50,990), which have all seen $1200 price rises for the new year.
All MY23 Outbacks have a few new features over old – wireless smartphone mirroring the highlight – but a new wheel design’s the extent of exterior changes.
North American Outbacks have had distinctive facelifts for the MY23 cars – more plastic cladding to the front end in particular – but Australian cars miss out for now.
The Outback XTs enter an arena to square up to its obvious rival Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 162TSI. The German starts cheaper at $48,990, but is a mile off the Outback XT’s ground clearance (173mm vs 213mm), and offers just 162kW.
Its 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder has the same 350Nm, is slightly more economical and is mated to a dual-clutch auto rather than Subaru’s CVT auto.
Another option can be found in the Volvo V60 Cross Country with its 183kW/350kW 2.0-litre turbo AWD setup but that’s another step up again in terms of price, kicking off at $69,490 before on-road costs.
The Outback’s not to be confused with soft roader SUVs: Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive and excellent X-Mode (to assist on snow, mud and dirt) offers rare versatility.
All MY23 Outbacks get a new-design 18-inch alloy – dark metallic for Sports and gloss for Tourings – shod in 225/60R18 Bridgestone rubber. Daytime running lights, fogs and rear lights are all LED, as are the steering responsive headlights.
There’s a full-size spare wheel, rear spoiler, reverse camera washer and hands-free power tailgate. Both Outback XTs get roof rails, but only Tourings add integrated cross bars. The latter also gets an electric sunroof.
The cabin’s showpiece is an iPad-like vertical 11.6-inch infotainment screen. It runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (now full screen), but no wireless phone charging reduces its usefulness. At least a single USB-C port joins a USB-A below the screen.
Bucking the modern trend there’s no digital dashboard either; a 4.2-inch LCD information display screen with digital speedo is found between traditional analogue gauges. There’s no head-up display to be found throughout the range.
Both Outback XTs get paddle gear shifters, sports pedals, dual zone climate control, rain sensing wipers and smart key and start.
All XTs score heated seats for four (a rare inclusion), and eight-way power adjustability for the driver’s chair. Move into the Touring and there’s ventilated seats up front, the passenger’s goes electric and the driver’s gets memory settings. Tourings also get Harman Kardon audio.
When compared to its Passat Alltrack rival, the Outback doesn’t have the VW’s adaptive chassis control (which includes adaptive dampers). You can also get a Premium Alltrack ($60,990) with goodies lacking in the top-spec Outback: a 360-degree camera, ambient lighting and panoramic glass sunroof.
Despite the $5000 premium and expensive fuel use, pin the turbo Outback’s throttle and it makes a convincing argument.
The performance difference is pronounced over a normal Outback – to be expected when power’s up 32 percent (45kW) and torque a mighty 42 percent (105Nm).
Much as we’ve seen with Mazda’s turbocharged 2.5-litre engine, once these brawnier forced-induction motors are introduced, it reinforces how lukewarm the naturally aspirated option feels.
The XT’s engine doesn’t burble away menacingly or launch you towards the horizon – this motor may be a de-tuned version of the donk found in the WRX and WRX Sportwagon, but it’s not there to be a sporting hero.
Instead, the CVT auto/turbo engine combo take a little while to wake up, but by 2000rpm there’s surge for days, and the confident, linear acceleration typical of large displacement turbo petrols.
A ‘sport’ mode ups the urgency, and as much I typically bag CVT auto gearboxes, Subaru’s done a cracking job of this one.
It barely drones at all. The artificial steps make it feel more like a proper auto, and if you take charge of the paddles it’s easy to keep the engine in a more responsive, higher-revving guise.
On a back road when you really feel like pushing on, there’s not the frustrating wait for performance experienced in the non-turbo. It’s job well done here by Subaru.
We now have a totally different type of Outback, the XT’s boosted motor filling the only glaring weak spot in this talented family all-rounder.
Underneath, the dampers have a different damping force tune – it feels slightly stiffer, but not markedly so, and never erring on the side of proper sportiness. The front coil springs are also tuned differently to normal Outbacks, all there for the extra performance and the increased towing capacity.
As expected of the model, the ride is still quite soft, so body lean in tighter turns and a bit of tyre squeal can be expected. Cruising comfort’s been the priority – it excels here – and steering’s overly light, but its AWD setup helps it feel controlled and safe on twists or sketchy bits of bitumen.
Our test was over some seriously flood-damaged roads and tracks, and good grief the Outback soaks these hits and bumps up so very well. On unsealed stuff too you can sense a smidge of rally DNA. It’s balanced and quite responsive, but again, the sense of safety is its strongest point.
It has the same X-Mode as other Outbacks. This alters traction control, throttle response and torque, and quite frankly, unless you plan seriously challenging off-road terrain, is good enough to take you adventuring almost everywhere.
Many lifestylers rush out and buy SUVs or utes with low-range transfer cases, but an Outback may suit instead.
The X-Mode settings are easily accessed through the touchscreen, and even with a wheel in the air on an off-road climb, a touch of a button had the raised wheel being braked and its opposing one spinning us out of trouble. Excellent 213mm ground clearance too.
While not as tall as rival large SUVs, the Outback’s cabin is very spacious and with an overriding feeling of robustness and quality finish. It isn’t a showcase for the spectacular – there’s no sea of panoramic screens here – but does the practical and user-friendly impressively well.
Both turbo grades have a sense of quality, but the Sport is the pick for the adventurous types; the Touring for the luxe-favouring.
Pictured: Outback Sport interior
Sport seats are of a water-repellent synthetic leather – it feels of decent quality and to be hard-wearing – but the Touring’s Nappa leather accented trim is by far the plusher.
Visibility – as we expect of these large Subarus – is strong with a big glasshouse; Subaru correctly noting that many accidents are prevented if the driver can quickly identify potential hazards.
In a similar vein, and despite that giant screen, proper buttons have been retained for the stereo and temperature. This means you don’t have to ferret through screen menus with eyes off the road.
Plastics are generally soft to the touch, while under a padded central armrest lies a CD player (really). Move to the rear and the kids score a huge rear space, with the outboard seats reclining as well as heating their bums.
As it’s more wagon-backed than SUV, boot space is 522L – a good chunk down on the 800L+ found in something like a Mazda CX-9 or Kia Sorento. If you need more, the rear seats split-fold flat rapidly with the pull of handy levers in the boot.
A couple of clever tech upgrades have been introduced for this MY23. In the screen’s ‘Phone’ tab you can select and switch connected smartphones should your passenger want to take charge, while better voice control means you can ask it to disable the likes of auto stop/start or lane departure, set cruise control or adjust temperature. On initial tries it worked effectively, but not seamlessly.
The eight-airbag-equipped Outback was awarded a maximum 5 stars with ANCAP on its May 2021 test.
It scored a fair 88 percent for adult occupant safety, a good 91 percent for child occupant safety, 84 percent for vulnerable road user and superb 96 percent for safety assist.
That latter score shows the comprehensiveness of Subaru’s collision avoidance and EyeSight driver assist tech. It may be a bit Big Brother – the driver monitor system is always keeping a watchful eye on your eyes – but for the most part it works well.
While many lane keep and centring systems from rivals are overly-aggressive, Subaru has calibrated its effort very well. Importantly, it rarely distracts from the drive, with a gentle steering wheel vibration should you stray out of lane, rather than the car going into maximum panic mode.
Warning beeps are more distracting, especially due to the facial scanning. I’ve had ‘eyes on the road’ warnings when looking both ways at a junction, or just looking out the side window when stopping at traffic lights.
With active cruise control and steering assist selected, over-zealous ‘hands on the steering wheel!’ warnings kept popping up despite my hands very much being in place.
The full safety features list is below, with special mention to aspects sometimes missing from rivals, such as reverse auto emergency braking, speed sign recognition, and front and side view monitors.
Our test over some 500km of sealed and unsealed roads – including some highway and off-road trails – returned a chunky 12.1L/100km. There’s no escaping this thing likes a drink, but at least when cruising at 110km/h the fuel use figure settled at just under 8.0L/100km.
Adding to your costs, turbo Outbacks need pricier 95RON unleaded; regular Outbacks are happy with cheaper 91. There’s no diesel-powered Outback for better economy, and while other Subarus such as the XV/Crosstrek and Forester are available as hybrids, there’s still no word on when an Outback hybrid could land.
The 12.0L/100km urban fuel economy feels more akin to a supercar rather than a family SUV these days. If you’re an urbanite and want an Outback, it’s probably wise to swerve these XTs unless you really need that extra tow capacity.
Services are every 12 months/12,500km – much better than the short six months Subaru used to demand between visits. Those travelling long distances will get frustrated at the 12,500km limit – 15,000km is typical of rivals.
Services are pricey next to many rivals too: $2673 for those five years/62,500km. Warranty is five years/unlimited-kilometres – the industry average today.
The turbocharged Outback XT brings a far more rewarding drive, simply by addressing the normal Outback’s shortcomings in the power and torque departments.
It makes a brilliant, popular all-rounder a strong consideration for those who would discount it simply due to the tardy powerplant.
It’s ideal to have the turbo option, but it doesn’t mean it’s the correct choice for everyone. There’s no hiding the $5000 premium and ongoing high running costs. Turbo or not, a 9.0L/100km combined average on 95RON fuel is very high.
If you pine for proper poke from your adventuring Outback, and will make use of that extra towing capacity, the XT’s hard to look past. The Touring’s plusher, but the Sport model looks best value.
The Alltrack version of the Volkswagen Passat wagon promises a lifted ride height for gravel-road travel, and greater comfort everywhere – let’s see if this raised wagon lives up to its promises.
Key specs (as tested)
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