Subaru Outback XT Reviews | Overview

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Overview

 

IF YOU were once a loyal owner of one of Subaru’s flagship SUVs – the six-cylinder Outback (2000-21) or turbocharged Forester GT/XT (1998-2018) – then the last few years haven’t been kind.

 

Following the disappearance of the smooth, lusty Outback 3.6R and torquey turbo-petrol Forester XT in recent times, you can understand why the Subaru faithful may have seemed disillusioned, as if the brand they’ve hung their hats on – often for generations – had somehow abandoned them in its quest for mainstream acceptance. Yet here lies proof that Subaru knows it’s lucky to have such passionate owners and is willing to reward them.

 

While the turbocharged Outback XT served as a direct replacement for the six-cylinder 3.6R in North America back in 2020, Australian buyers weren’t so lucky when the current Outback launched here in March 2021. Our Japanese production source was only producing the 138kW 2.5-litre naturally aspirated flat-four – not the 183kW 2.4-litre turbocharged version exclusive to left-hand-drive markets – so Subaru Australia began the task of lobbying its Japanese parent to make a right-hook Outback XT a reality. And over two years later, here it is.

 

Grouped together with range-wide enhancements to the MY23 Outback line-up, the ‘XT’ treatment will only be available on the mid-spec Outback Sport and top-dog Outback Touring variants for a $5000 premium. But this is a performance-focused variant that doesn’t shout its credentials – the only obvious differences being an XT tailgate badge, dual exhaust pipes and rather cute ‘six-star’ LED front fog lights. Instead, the Outback XT prefers to let its under-bonnet muscle quietly do the talking.

 

Aside from the new XT, the MY23 Outback range is differentiated by new-design 18-inch alloys, a 3.0-amp USB-C port at the base of the centre console, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (now with a full-screen Android Auto display), a redesigned 11.6-inch portrait infotainment touchscreen with new shortcut buttons and updated climate-control buttons, redesigned steering-wheel switchgear, expanded voice-command recognition and altered navigation functions (to allow address/point-of-interest searches with a single input field).

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Even ignoring the new XT, the fact that Subaru has consistently honed the fifth-generation Outback’s functionality since launch two years deserves praise itself.

 

The XT Sport (from $52,190 plus on-road costs) and XT Touring (from $55,990 plus ORCs) will sit atop the Outback model range, complementing the existing 138kW/245Nm 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.

  

Driving Impressions

 

With around 20 per cent of Australian buyers expected to fork out the $5K premium for a turbocharged XT, the path to procuring a suitable flagship for our right-hand-drive Outback was far from a vanity exercise for Subaru Australia.

 

While the external changes to the XT are minimal (and invisible from inside the cabin unless you’re driving), the mechanical alterations are significant.

 

In lieu of the direct-injection 2498cc flat-four that continues in the regular three-variant Outback line-up – producing a solid 138kW at 5600rpm and 245Nm from 3400-4600rpm – the XT scores a shorter-stroke 2387cc version featuring a turbocharger for 183kW at 5200-6000rpm and 350Nm from 2000-4800rpm, tuned for 95RON premium fuel.

 

The ‘Lineartronic’ CVT automatic also features completely revised ratios and Subaru claims the Outback XT’s 0-100km/h acceleration time has improved by around 22 per cent, despite hauling an additional 70kg in overall weight.

 

On the move, the XT’s engine transplant isn’t immediately obvious. Flatten the accelerator and there’s noticeable lag before the turbo 2.4 gathers its thoughts and smoothly starts to build. Once it’s into the mid-range, the XT’s performance is unrelenting – particularly during country-road overtaking manoeuvres – which is why it’s so much more effective than the marginal 2.5 at towing, despite only being rated 400kg higher (at 2400kg braked). But if you think the Outback XT is going to be a traffic-light dark horse, then you’ll be disappointed. And winding it up on the brake makes initial step-off even tardier.

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The best way to view the Outback XT is by understanding that its additional badge work signifies ‘Xtra Torque’ or ‘Xtra Towing’. And when appreciated from that context, the XT’s advancement over the well-calibrated but merely adequate 2.5-litre version is considerable.

 

Combined with retuned front and rear dampers, and a revised spring-rate for the front coil springs, the improvement in the Outback XT’s body control perfectly suits its longer legs and stronger weight-lifting potential. It retains a ride suppleness that’s also a highlight of the regular Outback, without becoming as ragged when it approaches its handling limit, and it stays flatter in corners, with some additional weight to its steering, despite no changes being made in that department.

 

In regular driving, the difference between atmo’ and turbo isn’t huge. But the moment you call on any extra reserves, the Outback XT will satisfy you with its smooth elasticity, superior refinement and impressive band-width whereas the regular Outback reminds you that it doesn’t really have much left to give.

 

For all its likeability, the non-turbo MY23 Outback is often right at the limit of its performance envelope – especially on hilly freeways, even with only a driver on board – whereas the muscular XT has effortless reserves in abundance. 

 

Even the fuel-consumption difference between the two isn’t as vast as what the ADR81/02 combined figures imply. Official testing says the 2.5-litre Outback drinks 7.3L/100km of 91RON regular whereas the turbo XT ups that to 9.0L/100km of premium, yet on the launch through Sydney’s hilly Blue Mountains, the difference between the two was barely a litre (low 9s versus low 10s), favouring the non-turbo.

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Interestingly, the XT’s recommended service intervals are slightly longer than the regular 2.5’s – 12 months/15,000km compared to 12 months/12,500km – meaning the five-year capped-price servicing covers 75,000km, not 62,500km. And XT owners will pay slightly less overall, with the turbo’s five-year total being $2579 compared to $2675 for the non-turbo.

 

So who is the Outback XT best suited to?

 

Definitely anyone who tows anything substantial, or values effortlessly calming performance, or traverses hilly terrain on a regular basis. While the regular 2.5 can be surprisingly effective, the XT adds a degree of flexibility and capability that seems to satisfy more over time, rather than smacking you in the face with its newfound muscle.

 

Anyone looking for a stealthy performance wagon may come away disappointed – a revived Liberty GT this most certainly is not. It’s too subdued off-the-line, and too blunt in challenging dynamic situations to replicate that car’s finest attributes. But a Liberty GT wearing gumboots and fishing gear?

 

That’s more like it.

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Mark Dylan
Mark Dylan
My name is Mark Dylan, I am an adventurous, pleasant, handsome person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.

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