It goes without saying that with a population that’s hot on adventure sports, the Subaru Outback has a place in the heart of many weekend warriors, heading off with mountain bikes strapped to the back, the car totally loaded up for a weekend of hard-out slogging it in the hills and valleys.

That’s not to say the Outback is faultless. Alistair last reviewed the Outback X in 2021, and very much enjoyed it, but as has been the thorn in its side the powertrain doesn’t seem up to the task. It may be 2.5 litres, but a CVT transmission mated to a sometimes noisy and somewhat underpowered engine stopped the car from being near-on perfect for its intended role.

Back in 2018, you had the option of either the 2.5-litre 4-cylinder or the 3.3-litre boxer 6. We tested both of them, and found the 6-cylinder used only a little more fuel but was a far smoother and more powerful car. It was a no-brainer – just buy the 6-cylinder Outback. But Subaru killed it off.

Then the Levorg came along, loitering around in the background; a smaller wagon sure, but one with a turbo motor that made it fly. Then Subaru killed that model off too but at least it’s been replaced with the WRX Wagon.

So the Outback has been ambling along with the 138kW 2.5-litre four for a while now until Subaru finally decided to do something about it, so they’ve stuck in a tuned-down version of the 2.4-litre turbo motor from the WRX.

At last, could this give the Outback the power it deserves? Come with us as we spend two weeks and 1,000km in the 2023 Subaru Outback XT.

What We Like and Dislike About The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo

What we likeWhat we don’t like
Now has the power it needs
Space
Rear legroom
Performance
Off-road reputation
Infotainment speed and resolution
Wind, tyre, road noise
Engine noise, smoothness
Speed limiter functionality
Headlights
Indicators
A lot of beeping
Eyesight system false positives

What’s In The 2023 Subaru Outback Range?

With the addition of two turbo models, we now have a range of 5 Outbacks to choose from:

  • Outback
  • Outback X
  • Outback Touring
  • Outback XT (tested)
  • Outback XT Touring

The non-XT models are all powered by a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine that manages 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque. The transmission is a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) which has an 8-speed stepped mode. This transmission is also used in the XT models. This engine is rated for fuel consumption at 7.3L/100km.

Both XT models have a 2.4-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine that makes 183kW of power and 350Nm of torque. 

All Outback models are all-wheel-drive (AWD).

2023 Subaru Outback Standard Equipment Highlights

Interior

  • Air-conditioning – dual-zone climate control & rear vents
  • Seat trim cloth 
  • 10-way power front seat – driver
  • Steering wheel controls
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Electronic parking brake
  • Rear view reverse camera
  • Push-button start with smart key
  • EyeSight Clever Crash Avoidance Technology
  • X-Mode with deep snow/mud function

Exterior

  • 213mm ground clearance
  • 18″ alloy wheels – Grey finish
  • Chrome front grille
  • Dusk sensing headlights
  • Steering responsive headlights
  • Rain-sensing windscreen wipers
  • Roof rails with integrated cross bars
  • Full-size spare alloy wheel
  • Wheel arch cladding

Technology

  • Driver Monitoring System with facial recognition:
    • Driver distraction warning
    • Driver drowsiness warning
  • Blind spot detection
  • Lane change assist
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB)
  • Integrated infotainment system featuring:
    • 11.6″ tablet-like HD touchscreen
    • MP3/WMA/iPod compatible
    • 6 speakers
    • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
    • Satellite Navigation with Traffic
  • Bluetooth wireless technology
  • EyeSight technology featuring:
    • Pre-collision brake, brake assist and throttle management 
    • Adaptive cruise control
    • Lead vehicle start alert
    • Lane sway and lane departure warning
    • Brake light recognition
    • Lane keep assist
    • Autonomous emergency steering
    • Lane centering function
    • Speed sign recognition

The Outback X model adds:

  • Water-repellent synthetic leather seat fabric
  • Green interior stitching
  • Roof rails with green tie-down points
  • Steering responsive headlights
  • Rear powered tailgate with hands-free sensor
  • Front and side view cameras
  • Black and green exterior accents
  • Heated seats – driver, front passenger, rear outbound seats

The Outback Touring adds:

  • Leather steering wheel
  • Nappa leather seat trim – black, ivory or tan
  • 10-way power driver’s seat with dual memory seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Electric sunroof
  • Auto dipping passenger door mirror

The Outback XT is equipped the same as the Outback X, while the Outback XT Touring is equipped the same as the Outback Touring.

2023 Subaru Outback Pricing

  • Outback: $53,490
  • Outback X: $58,490
  • Outback Touring: $63,490
  • Outback XT: $67,990
  • Outback XT Touring: $72,990

You get to pick from 9 colours for your Outback, and very nicely there is no extra cost for any colour. Note, not all models are available in all colours.

  • Crimson Red Pearl
  • Sapphire Blue Pearl
  • Ice Silver Metallic
  • Storm Grey Metallic
  • Crystal White Pearl
  • Brilliant Bronze Metallic
  • Magnetite Grey Metallic
  • Autumn Green Metallic
  • Crystal Black Silica

For a full list of specs and options available for the Subaru Outback XT head on over to the Subaru New Zealand website.

How Does The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo Compare To Its Competition?

While Outback pricing includes it, all other prices below exclude the refund or additional cost of the New Zealand Clean Car Programme.

Make/ ModelEnginePower/
Torque
kW/Nm
SeatsFuel L/100kmTowing
Capacity
Boot
Space,
litres
Price
(excl CCP)
Skoda Superb Scout AWD2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol206/40059.0750/2,200660$73,990
VW T-Roc R (AWD)2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol221/40059.3750/1,700392$71,990
Subaru Outback XT Turbo2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol-turbo183/35059.0750/2,400522$65,990
Cupra Ateca2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol221/40059.0750/2,100485$66,900
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol162/35057.9750/2,200639$63,990
Ford Escape ST Line X AWD2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol183/38758.6750/1,800556$55,590

First Impressions Of The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo

One day I was driving alongside a ten-year-old Outback and that really hit home just how much this model has grown in size. It’s a big wagon but the proportions are nice, and while there’s a lot of detail in the front end, it all sort of works.

For 2023, the Outback still looks brutish, like it could handle whatever you throw at it. Side on, some of that is down to the obligatory plastic wheel-arch guards, and of course, there’s that huge 213mm ground clearance, perhaps ideal for driving over zombies in an apocalypse.

Finished in Crystal Black Silica, our test car’s green trim made it pop a little bit, but the green drew mixed reactions. 

What’s The Interior Like In The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo?

We won’t get too carried away with the interior here, as Alastair went through it pretty well in his review

Overall, it’s a great place to spend a few weeks commuting during the week and as a general runabout on the weekends. There’s plenty of space for everyone, and rear legroom is a highlight. 

First up, I went hunting for the 12-volt socket to plug in my dash cam, eventually finding it inside the large glovebox. Above the glovebox is a small but usable shelf that I expect is going to be the home for cell phones for most passengers.

Hooking up my phone via Bluetooth was painless, and it was nice to see even the ‘base’ Outback XT has wireless Apple CarPlay as well as heated front and rear seats.

Up front, passengers get both USB-A and USB-C ports, along with an aux port for those over 70 years old.

The seats themselves are extremely comfortable and are finished with green contrasting stitching. That stitching is carried over to the doors and dash, and it helps to break the interior up some. It’s a nice touch. The headlining and pillars are finished in beige, and this, along with the size of the car, helps make the car feel extremely spacious inside.

The huge 11.6” centre touchscreen is a focal point for any passengers that jump into the Outback XT, and it’s a great system. Very, very simple to follow and use, with little lag between screens. It’s clear too, with relatively high resolution. There’s some good customisation of that centre screen too; you can drag and drop icons around the screen, or add new widgets where you want them.

The bottom of the centre screen includes touch controls for some aircon functions, and if you need more, you can touch a button to bring up more options on the main screen. Thankfully, Subaru has included physical buttons for front or rear screen defrost and temperature adjustment for driver and passenger. It all works very well together.

As well as plenty of room, rear-seat passengers get two USB ports and plenty of headroom. A nice but almost unnoticed feature is the rear doors; they open very wide, making for easy entry/exit.

The boot is long and wide, with a relatively low loading height. There is an excellent 522 litres of space in the boot with the rear seats up, plenty for most weekends away. There is a 12-volt socket back there, remote seat-release levers, and true to Subaru, under the floor there is a very welcome full-sized spare.

What’s The 2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo Like To Drive?

Straight after picking up the Outback XT, I knew it was going to be a good couple of weeks. Performance off the line is a huge improvement over the non-turbo model, and instantly I can feel the engine is far more refined. 

After a run of sexy-looking cars with associated terrible visibility, it was a pleasure to punt the Outback XT around town and the suburbs. The view out at almost any angle is excellent, the huge side windows helping things along. Lane changes on the motorway are easy and safe since you can see everything around you. If there’s one drawback here, it’s the rear headrests. If you don’t flick them down when you have no rear-seat passengers, they suck up most of your vision out of the rearview mirror.

The Outback still uses Subaru’s mirror-body blind spot monitoring system; this means that instead of having a warning on the glass, it’s on the mirror body. The orange light is still too bright for my eyes, and at night it can be a little blinding. It certainly catches your attention and that’s what it’s designed for, but I wish there was an adjustment for this so it could be dimmed down a little.

Along with the engine, as per other Outback models, the ride is an absolute highlight; it glides beautifully over Wellington’s terrible road surfaces and is rarely upset by even the largest of potholes. This ride quality was transferred to some light off-roading when I went to take photos of the car. Ruts, corrugations, bumps – whatever you throw at the Outback XT, it eats them up. There’s no skipping even on the worst of rutted corners. Great stuff.

But really we’re here to see what the ‘new’ motor is like. Simply put, it’s excellent. A world away from the 2.5-litre motor, it’s extremely peppy, and you’ll find that you need to push that gas pedal only the slightest amount to get the car moving and to keep it at a steady speed. For that reason, I was surprised that for my first 50km of driving (which was all commuting) the fuel consumption was an alarmingly high 12.5L/100km. Obviously, I was being a bit heavy-footed. After that first 50km, I was a lot more conscious of driving more carefully, and my fuel consumption went down accordingly. In the end, after 1,000km of driving I got it down to 9.0L/100km, exactly the same as Subaru’s suggested rating. It was an effort though, and the desire to use the car’s performance always tempted me.

Like so many other cars, the Outback has an engine shut-off feature, so if you are at the lights on a red or at a stop sign waiting, the engine turns off to save petrol. The Outback gives you a guide here, and every time the engine goes into auto shut-off, it tells you how much fuel you’ve saved and how long the engine has been off. Over our 1,000km of combined driving, a litre of fuel was saved and 40 minutes of engine run-time. It’s up to you if this is a good number or not, but we also need to take into account that is 40 minutes of zero carbon emissions while sitting. Our first tank of gas in the Outback XT gave an effective range of 600km. That’s not too bad for what is really a performance car motor in a heavy wagon.

I’ve always loved the Outback – especially that 6-cylinder model – but if it has one Achilles’ heel, it’s the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT). It has improved over the years, but never to the point of being as good as a standard automatic transmission. We did find that in the 6-cylinder Outback, the extra performance masked the CVT’s shortcomings, and this has translated to the turbo model as well. At most times just tootling around town or on the motorway, the CVT feels just fine. Planting your foot past the 70% accelerator pedal mark will see the car move into an 8-speed stepped mode, and this mostly works, giving the driver a better feeling of what the car is doing. Without the stepped mode, you simply get lots of ‘CVT flaring’ where there is lots of engine noise and seemingly not much else.

So yes, this is the model to get if you enjoy driving. The CVT functions better in this model and I could live with it. Acceleration is greatly improved with a time of 7.5 seconds to 100km/h, 2.1 seconds faster than the non-turbo.

With 138kW in a relatively heavy (1,675kg) car, the standard non-turbo Outback struggles some when loaded up. The 1,736kg XT model with 183kW does not have this issue. Anytime, anywhere, plant your foot and the car will respond instantly. It makes for far safer overtaking manoeuvres, and much more pleasurable driving. It’s very smooth too, right out to the redline. Along with smoothness comes quietness; it’s a thing of civility, almost silent at motorway speeds and yet if you do need to wind it out, it sounds great at the redline.

As per other Subaru models, you can select from two drive modes; I or S. I (Intelligent) is the default and it works just fine, with ample performance. S (Sport) mode is just a button click away, but I rarely used it. Yes, it makes the car go faster and it’s more responsive, but there’s so much performance available in I mode, it really doesn’t need it. Well, except to show off to your mates, maybe. The XT has paddle shifters for ‘gear’ changes, and you can use these at any time. Flicking the gear lever to the right will see the car switch into Manual mode, and you’ll need to use the paddles to change gears at this point – you can’t change gears with the gear lever.

Along with a quiet motor, there’s not much wind or road noise coming into the cabin, and on the whole tyre noise is nicely subdued – even on coarse chip seal. In this respect, the Subaru Outback XT would be an excellent car for a Wellington-Auckland trip. Quiet, plenty of room, plenty of power. What’s not to like?

Well, there are a couple of things to not like. In my notes on the car, I simply wrote, “Indicators argh”. The Outback employs an annoying way of using the indicators, where it will stay on until you turn it off. Then you flick the stalk to turn it off, and accidentally go too far and put the other indicator on. I did this far too many times, and I see Alistair had the same ‘fun’ I did with them. It might sound trivial but on a daily basis, it got annoying very quickly.

There’s not much else that was seriously annoying about the Outback XT. On the list of only slightly annoying is a tendency to shunt into gear when the car is cold. Not serious, but it doesn’t feel great. The adaptive cruise control, while very smooth, still beeps far too often. Every time a car comes into your lane, you get a beep. Car moves out of your lane? Beep. It’s beep city inside the Outback, and it all turns to white noise which surely isn’t the point of having warning systems. Adaptive cruise on the Outback will bring you to a stop, and as mentioned, it is very smooth to operate.

All Outbacks have Lane Centering, operated by a button on the steering wheel. While I enjoy using self-steering systems, the one in our test car favoured the centre line a little too much for my liking. Instead of assisting me, I felt like I was fighting it when it was on, so stopped using it. Subaru isn’t alone here; it feels like half the cars we test with this feature make it feel like you are fighting the system instead of it assisting you.

Like other Subarus, the Outback XT has the Driver Monitoring System which is a safety feature that combines a number of items. One of these things is a Wandering Gaze Warning. Cameras will watch the driver’s eyes, checking if they are looking down at their phone, for example. If this happens, there is a beep and a warning message on the dashboard to keep your eyes on the road. This sounds great in practice, but it still needs refining. There were times I was checking my speed and I’d get warned to keep my eyes on the road. Even looking out the window to check oncoming intersections and I’d get a warning. That doesn’t happen all the time, but enough to be a little irritating.

On to more positive aspects of the Outback XT, as well as adaptive cruise, it has a speed limiter. This is not a revelation in itself, but the Outback XT’s speed limiter is one of the very few that will actually slow the car, as well as limit your speed to whatever you set. Around town is not the time to use adaptive cruise, but setting the speed limiter will help you to not exceed the speed limit. Most systems will not slow the car down a hill, so even with the speed limiter on, the car will simply speed up, potentially getting you a ticket. So it was a huge bonus that the Outback’s speed limiter will slow the car down. Well done, Subaru. Let’s hope other manufacturers follow suit.

Other aspects of the Outback XT are the same as the 2.5-litre model; The audio quality is average, it’s great to have physical buttons for volume and track/station select, and the gauges are superbly clear – although there isn’t a 50km/h marking on the speedo. There is a digital speedo on the dash at all times, although it’s a little small.

The steering wheel controls are the same as other Outback models too, and this is mostly good. They are easy to learn and simple to use. If there was one change here I’d like to make, it would be to change the functionality of the left-hand toggle switch. Currently, this changes the display on the dashboard but honestly, once most people have set this they rarely change it again. It would be an improvement to change that button to be volume up/down. Here’s hoping a future release changes this, but it’s a minor point.

Since we’re out of Daylight Saving time, that means more night driving and the headlights on the Outback XT are simply excellent. They are LED and adaptive, with a broad spread of light. 

2023 Subaru Outback XT Turbo – Specifications

Vehicle TypeMedium SUV
Starting Price$67,990(includes Clean Car Fee)
Price as Tested$67,990
Engine2.4-litre, horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
183/350
Transmission8-speed Lineartronic™ SLT with manual mode
Spare WheelFull-size spare
Kerb Weight, Kg1,736
Length x Width x Height
mm
4870x1875x1670
Boot Space / Cargo Capacity,
Litres
(seats up/seats down)
522/1,783
Fuel tank capacity,
litres
63
Fuel Economy,
L/100km
Advertised Spec – Combined – 9.0
Real-World Test – Combined – 9.0
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
750/2,400
Turning circle
metres
11.0
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
Warranty3 Years, 100,000km
Safety informationANCAP Rating – 5 stars – Link
Rightcar.govt.nz – 5 Stars – PSC544

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Driver Tech
8
Economy
8
Handling
8
Infotainment
9
Interior
9
Performance
8
Ride
9
Safety
9
Styling
8
Value
8
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.
2023-subaru-outback-xt-turbo-car-reviewI’m happy to report that with the release of the Outback XT turbo, the Outback has got its mojo back. It’s a far, far better car than the 2.5-litre model, and I would move mountains to find the extra cash to get the turbo.<br><br> On a daily basis, this model is so much easier to live with; it’s a better commuter and undoubtedly would be better on a long trip, loaded up. It would be better still if Subaru dumped the indicators and made them work as they do in every other car, and we live in hope that this happens.<br><br> But regardless of that, it nails the job it is intended for and almost every other part of having and using a car as transport. The 2023 Subaru Outback XT is brilliant.

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