The current-generation Subaru Outback has been on sale locally now for over two years, with sales continuing to pick up.
The Outback has been among the top-selling large SUVs for a while now, though it’s unlike the other top sellers in its segment as it’s not a body-on-frame seven-seat SUV. It’s instead a lifted wagon of sorts riding on a unibody platform.
Its rivals are also drying up locally, following the recent announcement that Volkswagen is axing the entire Passat range in Australia, which includes the higher-riding Passat Alltrack.
Subaru first announced the latest update to the Outback last year, which included the addition of the 2.4-litre turbocharged flat-four engine to the local line-up that brought more power and torque.
The tester we have here doesn’t have this engine, but instead is the mid-range 2023 Subaru Outback AWD Sport variant with the tried-and-tested 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated flat-four, which is also used in the Forester.
The Outback AWD Sport can be visually identified by its array of green exterior highlights, as well as the black alloy wheels. It also has heavy-duty roof rails instead of the nifty ones on the other variants that fold into the roof rails.
Is the Subaru Outback still as appealing without its newer turbocharged engine?
The 2023 Subaru Outback AWD Sport is priced from $47,190 before on-road costs, or $52,703 drive-away for Victorian buyers (each state has slightly different taxes).
This makes it $4500 more expensive than the entry-level Outback AWD, and $3800 cheaper than the non-turbo AWD Touring variant. The Subaru Outback range also now comes with turbocharged engine option, which in equivalent AWD Sport XT trim is an extra $5000.
Our tester came was finished in Magnetite Grey metallic exterior paint which is a no-cost option. In fact, all the exterior paint colours are a no-cost option.
In terms of similarly priced rivals, there are seemingly fewer and fewer by the month. There’s the Volkswagen Passat 162TSI ($51,390) but you can no longer order a new one and instead have to find a vehicle in dealer stock.
Walking up to and hopping into the 2023 Subaru Outback feels similar to the way it has for over a decade now. The high-riding wagon’s elevated ride height makes it easy to get in and out, and the doors make a familiar thwacking sound.
Looking around the cabin the majority of the finishes are softer-touch plastics. You have to search pretty hard to find scratchy plastics but they are there. There’s also an annoying bit of piano black where the gear selector is which gets scratched, grimy and riddled with fingerprints very easily.
The Outback AWD Sport comes with so-called “water repellent” seat upholstery that sounds very odd on paper but feels absolutely glorious in person. It’s somewhat similar to neoprene and feels buttery soft to touch.
The seats themselves have a grey two-tone finish with green accent stitching that complements the range of green highlights dotted around the car’s exterior.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is the closest that I’ve ever been in a modern vehicle to sitting on a couch. It’s absolutely fantastic and so squishy, though I could tell even after a week the seat bolstering would get creased and rippled from careless ingress and egress.
The front seats have eight ways of electric adjustability, along with electric lumbar support for the driver. The front pews are also heated, though if you want ventilation you’ll need to step up to the flagship Touring variant.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel isn’t anything too flash, yet feels very nice to hold. People may get a little overwhelmed with the amount of buttons and knobs, though they are all logically placed and have tactile, clicky action.
There are paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel, however I didn’t use these at all as the car has a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and it feels weird to shuffle between eight pre-programmed steps or ratios.
One of the elements that heavily dates the Outback in Australia is the set of analogue dials that sandwich a small 4.2-inch LCD multi-information display. There’s a fully digital instrument cluster available in Japan but it’s not available on any Outback variant locally as yet.
Although they do make the car seem dated, the analogue dials are very clear and easy to read. The 4.2-inch screen also shows a digital speedometer and plenty of information that can be cycled through to your heart’s content. I liked to have the screen display on the average fuel economy and remaining range page.
Moving across the portrait-oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system that debuted for Subaru with this generation of Outback that dates back to 2020. It’s an interesting unit that conjoins what was previously separate screens into one giant slab.
The touchscreen itself appears to be high-resolution and feels quite snappy, which means it turns on quickly upon startup and new pages load quickly.
A new feature introduced for the 2023 model year is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Using the former with my iPhone 12 Pro Max was fine on shorter drives, but on longer trips there’s no wireless phone charger to keep my phone topped up.
What I ended up doing instead was plugging in my phone with a USB cable which defeats the whole purpose of having wireless smartphone mirroring.
Something else to note with Apple CarPlay in the Outback is, due to the portrait-oriented touchscreen, the CarPlay window is an awkward square-like shape that takes a little bit to get used to. You experience a very similar thing in the Ford Ranger and Everest.
The Outback AWD Sport gets a built-in TomTom-based satellite navigation system which is a bit of a throwback. Despite this, the system is extremely intuitive with searching for point of interests made very easy.
There’s sometimes a slight lag when typing in your intended destination of the touchscreen, but it doesn’t take the system too long to figure out what’s going on.
A number of vehicle settings are tucked away in the touchscreen, including the auto-hold function. Thankfully you can create shortcut buttons for key functions that can be added to the home screen. Certain features can’t be tampered with you’re on the move, however.
Controversially, the majority of the Outback’s climate control functions are part of the touchscreen as well. I appreciate there are physical buttons on both sides touchscreen for changing the desired temperature, as well as the front and rear defoggers.
You’re able turn the climate control system and the air-conditioning on and off, as well as adjust the fan speed from the default page, though if you want to activate the automatic mode or change the air direction you need to click to open a separate page that takes over the entire screen. I found I didn’t have to do this that often so it didn’t bother me too much.
The Outback AWD Sport comes with a six-speaker sound system that’s surprisingly decent given the lack of a subwoofer and amplifier. There’s a ‘Virtual Bass’ function that really gets things shaking, but you need to be mindful as it’s still quite strong even in its lowest setting.
Moving to the second row there’s no noticeable step down in quality. In fact, it’s arguably the better place to be.
There’s absolutely oodles of spare in the second row. At a leggy 182cm tall, I have plenty of legroom behind my own driving position, as well as generous head and shoulder room.
The rear bench is extremely comfortable with the backrests reclining to a point where I can feel myself drifting off to sleep at the thought. The headrests are just as squishy as the ones in the first row.
In terms of second-row amenities, there are air vents mounted on the back of the centre console, USB-A ports, heated outboard seats, and a flip-down armrest with cupholders.
One downside about the second row is the middle seat has one of those awkward roof-mounted seatbelts. This is a bit of an archaic feature to be a brand-new car in 2023.
Lastly, the boot is one of the Outback’s best features. The AWD Sport variant adds a standard hands-free power tailgate. It took me a little while to figure out how the hands-free function worked exactly, but after a quick YouTube session I found out you need to hover your hand near the Subaru badge for a few seconds for it to work.
The boot is absolutely cavernous with 522 litres of space with the second row upright, and 1267 litres with the second row folded. There are hooks for bags, levers to fold the seats down, a netted section off to the side, a 12V socket, as well as a retractable cargo cover.
I appreciate the Outback comes with a proper full-size spare tyre which is absolutely critical in a vehicle that’s aimed at long-haul driving and touring.
One of my favourite parts about the Outback is the boot floor has a built-in hook that attaches to the roof and allows for easy access to the spare tyre.
The Outback is powered by a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated flat-four ‘Boxer’ engine producing 138kW of power and 245Nm of torque.
This is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with drive sent through an all-wheel drive system.
The Outback has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 7.3 litres per 100km. During our time with the tester we achieved an average of 7.8 litres per 100km over 1250km of urban and highway driving.
All Outback variants come with an engine idle stop-start system. Our tester noted during the time we had it that almost 3.0 litres of petrol was saved thanks to the system.
Naturally-aspirated versions of the Outback require a minimum of 91 RON regular unleaded petrol. It has a 63-litre fuel tank.
When you start up the Outback it’s instantly recognisable as a Subaru. The engine revs up to an awkwardly high 2000rpm for the first bit before it starts to warm up. Thankfully after this point the engine decides to give it a rest and idle down a tad.
The way the Outback’s 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated flat-four delivers its power and torque is linear and sufficient. It’s by no means push-you-back-into-the-seat quick, but rather completely adequate.
You’ll be able to keep up traffic at the lights with no troubles whatsoever, though if you’re feeling devilish and push the throttle a little harder you’ll likely pull ahead. If you do the latter though, be prepared to experience a mighty racket from the engine.
Something I like about the Outback is the engine is willing to rev to get to speed, which makes it feel agile, although the engine isn’t particularly exciting. The drony nature of the Outback’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) doesn’t give it any extra brownie points.
Another gripe I had with the CVT was when travelling downhill the Outback liked to run away and pick up speed. It’s like there’s a lack of engine braking. This is a bit of a common trait with most CVT-equipped vehicles.
In low-speed scenarios the Outback does a good job of disguising its size with the light steering. You do notice that it though when parking.
Something I was looking for in this particular variant was front parking sensors, which it’s notably lacking. The Outback AWD Sport has a rear-, front-, and left-hand side-facing cameras, as well as reversing sensors.
Once you’re at speed the Outback settles down, becoming really quiet inside the cabin. This is helped by how easily it soaks up virtually every urban road imperfection you can throw at it.
The Outback feels even better out on the open road. All its suspension movements are perfectly controlled, balanced and compliant. It’s honestly one of the most comfortable freeway and rural highway cruisers I’ve ever driven.
At speeds above 60km/h the Outback takes a bit more coaxing in order to pick up speed, especially in the regular ‘Intelligent’ drive mode. It gets there but has to worked a bit.
This is even more evident at highway speeds, where the Outback has to rev around 3000rpm in order to get up hills.
On the safety front the Outback is fully loaded, though I found a couple of things to be a little frustrating. The first is the driver monitoring system can be very annoying.
Sometimes when I drove the car it would detect my face, and then other times it would not. The times it did the car would bong quite loudly when I would change the air-conditioning, for example, saying it couldn’t detect my face.
The adaptive cruise control system works well, but can get a little lazy when hills get involved. During these times the set speed can vary by up to 4km/h above or below the set speed, which is just a bit too much in my eyes.
The lane-keep assist system does a satisfactory job in urban settings, but can get a little lost on rural roads with faded lane markings. The same goes for the lane centring function which is very forceful with how it steers the car.
I’m going to finish off this section by praising the LED headlights. They are absolutely great!
The entire Subaru Outback range gets self-levelling automatic LED headlights with a function that physically turns the headlight unit when you turn. It’s such a fascinating feature that I wish more cars would adopt.
All Outback models also have an adaptive driving beam which is essentially Subaru-speak for adaptive high-beam.
This works particularly well on rural and regional highways late at night where you want to have your high-beams on as much as possible in order to detect wildlife.
Subaru Outback AWD Sport highlights:
- Dark metallic 18-inch alloy wheels
- Full-size spare tyre
- Black side mirrors
- Heated, power-folding side mirrors
- Hands-free power tailgate
- Black heavy-duty roof rails
- Automatic LED headlights
- Steering Responsive Headlights
- Adaptive high-beam
- LED fog lights
- LED tail lights
- Rain-sensing window wipers
- 4.2-inch trip computer
- 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- DAB+ digital radio
- Satellite navigation
- Six-speaker sound system
- 6-zone climate control
- Paddle shifters
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Keyless entry and push-button start
- Premium leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Leather-wrapped gear selector
- Electric park brake
- Water-repellent upholstery
- Heated front seats
- Heated outboard rear seats
- 8-way power front seats
- Driver electric lumbar support
The Subaru Outback has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on testing conducted in 2021.
It received an adult occupant protection score of 88 per cent, a child occupant protection score of 91 per cent, a vulnerable road user protection score of 84 per cent, and a safety assist score of 96 per cent.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Rear AEB
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Driver attention monitoring
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Autonomous emergency steering
- Traffic sign recognition
- Reversing camera
- Rear parking sensors
Outback AWD Sport adds:
- Front-view monitor
- Side-view monitor
The Outback is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, like the rest of the Subaru range.
Logbook servicing is required every 12 months or 12,500km, whichever occurs first, which is notably shorter than the 12 month or 15,000km intervals on the turbocharged XT models.
Subaru currently offers a three- and five-year service plan on the Outback. They are priced at $1387.25 and $2674.64 respectively.
The Subaru Outback is a pioneer of its segment and has stuck around to see virtually all of its competition get the axe.
Subaru has made incremental changes to the Outback over the years, and the latest update keeps it fresh enough among its flashy and high-tech rivals.
The way the Outback rides is arguably the closest you’ll get to a couch on wheels. It’s extremely compliant on urban roads, and even more so once you get it on the open road. There’s nothing else like it at its price point.
This is helped by the ultra-comfy water-repellent neoprene-like seats that come as standard on the mid-range Outback AWD Sport.
There are a couple of sticking points, however, including the uninspiring 2.5-litre atmo engine’s lack of power and torque, as well as the shorter service intervals.
Both of these gripes are fixed with the turbocharged Outback XT, which comes at an extra cost – an extra $5000 to be exact.
For the majority of punters the regular Outback will likely cover all the needs, but it’s the additional power and torque that is a definite want. I know I definitely would want it.
If you opt for the Outback XT though, be prepared to spend some more time and money at the petrol bowser.
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