Subaru’s Outback is rugged, capable, comfy and roomy. It’s just a bit wet lettuce on the power front.
A long-established Aussie family favourite it may be, but owners and potential buyers of this large SUV/wagon grumble about deficiencies in the oomph department.
Enter the much-requested turbocharged Subaru Outback XT. The non-turbo 138kW/245Nm versions remain, but its new boosted brethren with dramatically more potent 183kW/350Nm 2.4-litre turbo is yours for an extra $5000.
Its petrol engine – a detuned version of that found in Subaru’s hero WRX – is almost as powerful as the old Outback 3.6R’s silky six-cylinder, while matching its torque. Difference is, this new turbo model’s full 350Nm arrives from 2000rpm, so maximum beans are on tap soon after squeezing the throttle.
In just the first few hundred metres of driving the turbo, the experience feels more athletic, less asthmatic. Performance aside, the turbo’s extra grunt means towing capacity’s up from 2000kg to 2400kg. Welcome news for those hauling a van, boat, camper trailer or other adventurous cargo.
Here’s the buts. Subaru’s regularly upped Outback prices in recent years, so these flagship turbos aren’t cheap. Available in two grades, a Sport XT is $52,190 and Touring XT $55,990 plus on-roads.
Then there’s pump pain. Normal Outbacks return 7.3L/100km drinking regular unleaded. Turbo Outbacks guzzle pricier 95RON at 9.0L/100km, and an alcoholic 12.0L/100km in town. Our test, involving some enthusiastic driving, returned a hefty 12.1L/100km.
Make peace with these extra expenses and the XT’s brawn remedies the Outback’s only obvious weak point. In short, this Subaru’s size, safety and talents on and off road make it a cracking all-rounder for town and country; families and grey nomads.
The Sport and Touring XT’s specifications match regular Outbacks, both boasting massive-feeling cabins with build quality favoured over fripperies.
Power and heated seats are smartly shaped to help you sink-in on longer drives: the Sport grade has water repellent faux leather for you lifestyley lot, while top grade Tourings are trimmed in plush Nappa leather.
Both score a large, vertical iPad-like 11.6-inch touchscreen with built-in sat nav, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and (now full-screen) Android Auto. But you’’ still need the USB-C or USB-A port as – annoyingly – there’s no wireless charging, nor a digital driver display.
Subaru’s retained proper buttons for the stereo and temperature, resisting the urge to digitalise everything. For true old school, lift the padded centre armrest and there’s a CD slot. Try explaining that to your kids.
The offspring score massive rear space with heated and reclining chairs. Being more wagon than SUV, the ample 522L boot is low for easy loading, while an easy-access lever drops the rear seats flat to give cavernous space. It’s simply a damn practical car.
Visually, dual tailpipes, XT badges and fancy fog lamps are the only ways to differentiate the turbo from other Outbacks, but the drive difference is pronounced.
For starters, it really shifts. The turbo engine and CVT gearbox combo take a while to wake up, but as soon as 2000rpm rolls around there’s excellent, hearty shove.
A sport mode improves responses, and paddle shifters give control of the CVT’s ‘steps’ to mimic a proper auto gearbox. A CVT is never the driver’s choice, but it works surprisingly well here.
Front springs and all dampers have been tuned for the extra power and towing, firming things up but retaining the Outback’s easygoing, quite soft ride. Cruising comfort’s been prioritised, and it soaks up even large pot holes and bumps superbly well.
On unsealed stuff it also shines. It’s no WRX, but is fun and safe-feeling to fling around dirt road bends, even if the steering’s a bit light.
Below 40km/h, an X-Mode off-road setting adjusts torque and traction control depending on surface, and the Outback can handle serious climbs and loose surfaces. Do you really need a 4×4 with low range? For most adventurers, the Outback Turbo is talented enough. This is no soft roader.
Safety, too, is strong. Subaru’s excellent Eyesight system helps your lane discipline in the least nannying way I’ve yet tested, but is overzealous at ‘hands on the steering wheel!’ and ‘eyes on the road!’ warnings.
Turbocharging the Outback brings a far more rewarding drive, but its $5000 premium and painful running costs means only towing enthusiasts and spirited drivers need apply.
Three and a half stars
SUBARU OUTBACK TURBO
PRICE About $57,500 – $61,500 drive-away
ENGINE 183kW/350Nm, 2.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, $2673 for five-years/62,500 km
SAFETY Eight airbags, front and rear auto emergency braking, radar cruise, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert
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