Review: 2023 Subaru Outback


Utility vehicles continue to swallow the market share in North America. The Subaru Outback has been tremendously successful in a market that North Americans mostly steer away from. It is the only mainstream station wagon option currently available in the Canadian market. The 2023 Subaru Outback may not have the traditional station wagon design that you would find in the 1980s, but the raised ride height and rugged looks make it easier to blend in among other SUVs and Crossovers.

The Outback still retains the traditional wagon silhouette, with a lot of changes when it comes to the exterior design. The ride height is so much more, the unpainted claddings and the updated front fascia give the updated Outlook a much more rugged look than before. In typical Subaru fashion, it has 8.7-inch ground clearance, which is more than most off-road-oriented SUVs. The updated front fascia looks more rugged and masculine than the outgoing model, with a much bigger front grille, more plastic cladding in the front bumper, and a sharper front headlight design.

New to 2023, the Onyx trim is the latest addition that offers more off-road features and sportier looks with blacked-out rims and other plastic trims. Although it is more off-road-oriented trim compared to the Touring version, the changes are mostly visual. It does not have the extra ground clearance like the Wilderness model. The Outback is significantly longer than the other SUV offerings like the Forester, but you sit much lower and the window line is narrower, and that’s very appealing to people who want to have a car-like driving position.

The updated front fascia is a huge difference, but the changes are much more minimal in the rear end. For an untrained eye, it is impossible to see the changes for the 2023 model year. The biggest difference is more cladding in the rear bumper, giving the Outback a more rugged look like the rest of the car. The Outback comes standard with blacked-out roof rails, also underlining the outdoorsy aspect of the vehicle.

The interior design is mostly the same with minimal updates, and there is no reason to change something that works well. The current generation Outback was the first Subaru model that came with an 11.6-inch vertical infotainment screen that shows a lot of information, including some essential features like the HVAC controls. There are some physical buttons for easier operation, but at the end of the day, you heavily rely on the center screen located in the middle of the dash.

The screen itself is easy to operate, and it comes with the latest Subaru infotainment system. The only gripe that I’ve had was the AVH (Auto Vehicle Hold) system which you have to disable every time you start up the car. There is no physical button, meaning that you have to go through the infotainment menu to disable it, which is quite inconvenient when you have to do it on a regular basis.

Subaru found the right balance of simplicity, tech and functionality when they designed the Outback’s interior, and that’s even more obvious when you see the center console. There aren’t many buttons, and it still has a traditional shifter column with paddle shifters. The cup holders are located between the armrest and shifter column, and they can take big bottles as well as small coffee cups. Despite having a huge screen, it still does not have a fully digital cluster, but the TFT screen located in the middle shows a lot of information. There are lots of physical buttons in the steering wheel, it looks complicated at first glance, but you get used to the button layout pretty quickly.

In typical Subaru fashion, the seats are pretty comfortable even for large adults. At 6’1″ I had absolutely zero issues in the driver seat, or when I sit in the rear. Like many Subaru models, it also offers great visibility and the seating position makes you feel like you are a part of the driving experience. The Onyx trim comes with All-weather soft-touch seating surfaces as well as a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The passenger seat does not have a power adjustable feature, but it still offers a lot of adjustment including 4-way adjustable headrests.

The rear seats are also quite good for all types of adults, and you don’t have to move the front seat forward even if you have a rear-facing child seat installed. You will have no issues with the overall legroom and headroom space. The Outback comes with a 40/60 rear seat layout, meaning that you have to place the child seat to the driver’s side to be able to utilize the cargo area and I think it should have been at least 60/40 orientation, preferably 40/20/40 for a car prioritizing outdoorsy lifestyle. Even though Onyx trim is considered low-mid trim, it still comes with HVAC vents as well as USB ports and heated seats for the rear seat passengers.

The 2023 Subaru Outback stands out when it comes to overall cargo space. It not only offers more cargo room than any other wagon classmate, but it also challenges the SUV offerings. There is 32.6 cubic feet (923 L) of cargo space behind the second-row seats, and the maximum cargo volume is a massive 75.6 cubic feet (2141 L) when the second-row seats are folded down. The cargo space layout is also different than the traditional SUVs and Crossovers, as it offers much more longitudinal space for taller items. It also has a lower liftover height, making the Outback one of the best choices to load heavy cargo. The Onyx trim comes with a hands-free power liftgate, which is quite surprising for this price range.

The updated Outback still offers two different engine options, one transmission and the standard Symmetrical AWD system. Our tester comes with Subaru’s corporate 4-cylinder 2.5L naturally aspirated boxer engine that generates 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. Although the horizontally-opposed engine has its unique engine note and character, the powerband is still in traditional naturally aspirated fashion where you have to keep the engine revs at high RPM to get a decent amount of torque.

For many people, the naturally aspirated 2.5L engine is more than enough, but if you are planning to carry heavy cargo as well as 5 passengers, you may want to consider the new 2.4L turbocharged engine for extra torque. Either way, both engine options are matched with Subaru’s continuously variable transmission which is used pretty much in all Subaru models. The transmission is a great match for both engines as there is no gear hunting, meaning that you can accelerate efficiently without having actual gear. There is also minimal rubber-band effect, and Subaru’s CVTs are known to be one of the most reliable entries available.

As expected, the Outback still comes with Subaru’s signature Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system. What makes the Outback one of the best values in this segment is; even the base trim comes with one of the most capable AWD systems for the price range. All axles have the same length with the Symmetrical AWD, meaning that there is absolutely zero torque steer on loose surfaces. Unlike the other trims, the Onyx trim offers Dual X-Mode which allows the driver to go off the beaten path further.

Although the Outback isn’t meant to be an off-road vehicle, it does not have locking differentials or fancy off-road features. However, Subaru’s AWD system offers one of the best software implementations with the X-Mode settings. I am quite impressed with how capable it is on snow and muddy surface. You would not be able to fully disable the stability control, but the Deep Snow and Mud setting will give you the maximum wheel slip to go over any terrain.

I always find the Outback a much more appropriate choice for driving enthusiasts, it still offers a great amount of practicality and ground clearance like an SUV, but without the compromises of an SUV. It offers more car-like driving dynamics mainly due to the lower center of gravity, and much better looks. The new Outback still keeps the same golden formula, with the updated looks and the new Onyx trim offering the best price-to-performance ratio.

Engine2498cc naturally aspirated flat-4
Transmission & DrivetrainContinuously variable automatic & Symmetrical AWD
Max power182 hp @ 5800 rpm
Max torque176 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
0-100 km/h8.6 sec
Curb Weight3753 lbs – 1702 kg
Fuel Economy (Observed)21 MPG – 10.3L / 100 km
Price (as tested)$41.071 CAD
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