When you’re an automotive journalist, you’re constantly asked for recommendations on cars. And one that we find ourselves often offering up is the Subaru Outback. Comfortable, capable and a nice alternative to the everyday SUV.
So, when we heard that the 2023 model was getting some updates, including a freshened look, we were excited to put the latest version through Its paces.
Familiar yet Fresh
It’s been interesting year or so within the Subaru ranks. The all-new BRZ has received rave reviews for its sporty looks, while the all-new WRX sedan has been challenged by many of the faithful not liking the sedan’s lines.
No need to worry Outback fans – the revisions here are subtle and tasteful. Up front, there’s a new, more prominent grille, new LED headlights that look a little meaner, and a more rugged bumper cover. The changes are subtle, but the overall look is cleaner and more integrated.
The profile adds a little beef with expanded wheel arch claddings, which add some shoulder width and enhances the Outback’s capable vibe.
The Outback’s out back (sorry) is mostly unchanged, but continues the chunky, capable look with wide LED taillights, a rugged lower fascia with skid plate, and rear spoiler over the back window.
Finishing off our tester was a handsome Cosmic Blue Pearl paint job that looked rich and upscale – very suitable for our luxurious Touring edition.
Inside, the Outback gives a nice blend of sensible capability with a healthy ladle of luxury served up on top. The Touring greets you with the stylish looks and rich smell of the perforated Nappa leather upholstery.
Settle into the comfy front seats – heated and cooled – and soak in the ambience that’s positively Volvo-like. We loved the Java Brown interior color, adding a two-tone richness and playing off the blue exterior nicely. Black leather is offered as well if you want to be low key.
There’s no bad seat in the house, the fronts giving you an SUV-style high riding position and excellent outward visibility, while the rear seats are adult-friendly for three across. With the rear seats up, the cargo area is quite spacious, and it’s easy to fold them and create a flat loading floor and loads of room. While an SUV might give you a bit more space, we’d guess that 99% of the time, an Outback has all the space you could possibly want.
The sensible side comes through with large analog speedometer and tach and a convenient digital driver display in between. The center stack serves up a massive vertical 11.6-inch multi-media navigation touchscreen that divvies up items in separate area for easy multi-tasking.
With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – both of which are standard wireless now on the Touring – you feel like you’re getting the full screen experience.
Bonus points go to Subaru for providing actual knobs for volume and tuning, and with a tablet-style swipe, info is easily accessed. The climate control system is at the bottom of the display and is intuitive, including controls for the heated and ventilated seats. (Insider tip – the switch for the heated steering wheel is a flip lever at the bottom of the wheel)
And no matter what kind of music you like, with the standard 576-watt, 12-speaker Harmon Kardon premium audio system, it sounds fantastic.
The Touring model also has a new LCD smart rearview mirror that gives you a clear view behind even if you’ve got things in the way, like passenger’s, balloons, Great Danes, etc. The wider angle of view, and low-light capability make it a really useful tool that will spoil you for the old mirror in no time!
Driving the Outback is another reminder why we recommend it so highly – although some of that does come with a caveat. When we recently tested the Outback Wilderness edition, it was powered by the 260-horsepower, turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, and it felt quick and powerful.
This time, our tester was motivated by the 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and we’d say for most drivers, the power is adequate, but if you are an enthusiast, tend to tow or carry big loads, you’ll want that turbo. It’s optional on our Touring trim and is reasonably priced.
Which is not to say the non-turbo 4 is without charms. It’s impressively quiet – at cruise it almost feels EV silent, and it glides along with the CVT slurring gears and basically feeling exceptionally refined and relaxed.
One advantage of the Outback’s wagon body style versus the blockier SUV’s – little or no wind noise. This is a wonderful vehicle to roll up the miles on a long road trip.
The ride is right there in the luxury zone. With nearly nine inches of ground clearance and a supple suspension, little upsets the Outback’s demeanor – even on less-than-ideal roads. There’s plenty of grip thanks to the Subaru’s famous AWD system, and whether it’s pressing on a curvy road, or trekking through snow, sleet, or mud, nothing seems to bother it much.
If you are planning a more aggressive off-road adventure, we’d look into the upgraded Wilderness model, but for most of the “soft-roading” that people ask us about, any Outback has got your back. (Sorry, again).
Those travelling off the beaten path should know that 2023 Outback is the first vehicle in the Subaru model line up to integrate what3words (W3W), an innovative location technology that provides a simple way to communicate precise locations using just three simple words.
W3W has divided the world into a grid of 10-foot squares and given each square a unique combination of three words — a what3words address. Customers can navigate to and share trailheads, scenic overlooks and other hard to find places with precise accuracy using just three words. The feature is standard on models equipped with the STARLINK 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation system. Cool!
There have been some other notable improvements on the 2023 Outbacks, including an improved version of EyeSight Driver Assist that operates more smoothly and under a greater range of conditions. On the Touring model we tested, there’s a new Wide-Angle Mono Camera that expands the field of view to recognize pedestrians and bicycles sooner when you’re entering an intersection at low speed.
We’d have to say that overall, EyeSight system is one of the best, and the adaptive cruise control and lane centering is excellent and a real stress reducer on the road.
How Much Up Front for the Outback?
The Outback has a nice range of models, starting at just $28,895. For a capable all-weather wagon with great rugged looks and standard EyeSight safety tech, a bargain.
The Touring is really loaded and starts at $39,845. Add in Destination at $1,225 and we rang the bell at $41,070. You know 40 large used to seem like a lot of money for a new car, but with today’s crazy prices, it seems quite reasonable. As mentioned before, you can upgrade to the turbo-powered Touring XT for about $2,500 more.
Finding competitors is kind of tough. Subaru has a nice niche in the off-roady wagon stakes. You’ll have to look at crossovers and SUVs, but if you love the unique Subaru vibe, It’s greatest competitor will be its sibling, the more SUV-like Forester. Starting around $36,795 for a Touring model, it’s a little less expensive, but just as capable.
Rugged looks, capability, comfort and value. The 2023 Subaru Outback is a great, do-it-all vehicle! We highly recommend it!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.