A quick peek through the curtains from any suburban home will likely confirm the assumption that nearly everyone is driving SUVs these days.
With many shoppers looking for the security of all-wheel drive and a slightly higher driving position, sport utilities have come to dominate parking lots and driveways across the country and beyond. When it comes to all-wheel drive, Subaru has been on the bandwagon longer than most other automakers, while its offerings are easily identifiable.
For those looking to stand out from the crowd while reaping all the rewards of an SUV, the 2023 Subaru Outback mixes a wagon-like profile with a high ride height and full-time four-wheel traction.
Subaru has never been one to shy away from interesting styling decisions, though the brand has toned it down a bit in recent years. Then there’s the revised styling of the 2023 Outback, which uses oversized black trim to make its statement, including pieces that spear downward from the headlights like the makeup on a member of the rock band Kiss. The effect is muted with dark paint choices such as our tester’s Cosmic Blue Pearl.
Equipped under the hood of this Onyx trim is Subaru’s 2.5L horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that’s good for 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. By chance, this author spent time in a turbocharged Outback just prior to the Onyx, which led to some longing for the added punch of its 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque.
Driving Feel: 6/10
This opinion on power, of course, impacts this author’s impressions on the Outback’s driving feel. The automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) makes unpleasant noises when the driver calls for more power, creating a lot of noise without a whole lot of action. The CVT can be caught napping if the driver tries to suddenly accelerate into a gap in traffic or spurt out of a side road – almost as if it’s been asked to perform an unexpected task. There were no complaints about ride quality, though, and Subaru’s famous all-wheel drive system was sure-footed and confidence-inspiring even during messy winter weather during testing.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The non-turbo version of the 2023 Outback is rated at 9.2 L/100 km in city driving and 7.3 on the highway, with a combined figure of 8.3. After about a 60/40 split of rural exploration and cruise control-enabled highway driving, this tester finished with a consumption rate of 9.5 L/100 km across about 275 km. It runs on regular-grade gas.
New for 2023, the Onyx trim builds upon the Touring by adding the typical styling accoutrements associated with any new package named after a dark hue – be it Nissan’s Midnight, Jeep’s Obsidian, or Subaru’s Onyx. In this case, it means black window surrounds and badges, as well as 18-inch gunmetal alloy wheels. The cloth upholstery has been swapped for an easy-to-clean material, while the rear seats are heated (as are the ones up front, and the steering wheel).
An update to the infotainment system this year means the software makes better use of the car’s 11.6-inch touchscreen. Graphics are easy to understand, and most major functions are easily found. Real buttons for the seat heaters and ventilation fan speed would be appreciated, but at least they’re constantly showing on the display’s lower edge and not buried in an inscrutable submenu. Physical dials and buttons are present for audio controls and temperature selection.
New for this year, wireless device charging is as simple as dropping a smartphone in a slot directly ahead of the gear selector, while a handy storage ledge just ahead of the passenger is a great use of space.
Jaunty green stitching is part of the Onyx trim, livening up what would otherwise be a dour interior. There’s a reasonable amount of headroom, although the sunroof that’s standard across the Outback lineup save the base Convenience trim was troublesome for this 6-foot-6 author. The peanut gallery did not carp about rear-seat legroom whilst enjoying their own heated seats and HVAC vents on the back of the centre console.
It’s tough to find a more practical machine than a quasi-wagon with all-wheel drive. A measured 923 L of cargo space behind the rear seat presents well, with a rubber liner and convenient carrying hooks and tie downs. Handy levers permit easy folding of the rear seats, opening up 2,141 L of room for hockey gear and other random detritus.
Fair warning to overlanders with rooftop tents: while the Outback Wilderness can bear up to 318 kg (700 lb) of static weight on its roof, the rest of the lineup, Onyx included, is only rated for 185 kg (400 lb). Unlike the Wilderness, however, the roof rails have integrated crossbars that can easily be swung into place when needed and stowed when they aren’t.
Subaru’s suite of advanced safety equipment including lane-centring assist and pre-collision braking plus automatic emergency steering is standard. Tucking its array of forward-facing cameras inside the car’s windshield near the base of its rear-view mirror helps prevent expensive equipment getting damaged in a minor front-end collision compared to systems that stow the sensors in the grille.
Other safety features found here include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control, as well as low-speed reverse automatic braking. As for official crash test results, the Outback performed exceptionally well in its exams, earning a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) – the best score possible.
With the average new car price in Canada recently eclipsing $45,000, the $40,690 before tax (but including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,995) Subaru suggests for the 2023 Outback Onyx finds itself slightly south of the median new car transaction. The entry-level Convenience starts at $34,690 before the government’s share, while the Premier XT tops out at $48,390, with plenty of stops in between. The Outback is very well priced compared to rivals like the Toyota RAV4 or the redesigned 2023 Honda CR-V, both of which are more conventionally shaped as far as small sport utilities are concerned.
The more powerful (and slightly higher riding) Outback Wilderness commands a $4,500 price premium compared to the Onyx, bringing with it the turbo engine and an even more rugged appearance. While that’s not exactly chump change, it would be an exceedingly smart plan for shoppers to sample both engines available in the Outback before committing to the less powerful one under the Onyx’s hood. Either way, when taken as a package the 2023 Subaru Outback could be a compelling option for families seeking a sport utility that doesn’t look like every other vehicle parked in the neighbours’ driveways.
|Peak Horsepower||182 hp @ 5,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.2 / 7.3 / 8.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||923 / 2,141 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Subaru Outback Onyx|
|Price as Tested||$40,790|