HUNTSVILLE, Ont. – While it may not be the attention-grabber in the family like its Forester sibling, the Outback mid-size wagon / crossover just keeps chopping wood for Subaru, reliably ranking in the company’s top-three selling vehicles year in and year out.
In fact, the Outback, currently ranks as the second best-selling Subaru to date in Canada in 2022, and even though the sixth-generation model has only been around since 2020, a mid-cycle update is already in store for 2023.
While the powertrains carry over unchanged, the Outback receives significant cosmetic and tech updates, along with a re-ordering of the lineup and a new trim.
Most prominent among the changes are a front-end facelift for all models except Wilderness, and includes a new front fascia, new grille, LED headlights and fog lights, and a redesigned front bumper cover. Along the sides is expanded wheel arch cladding designed to provide better protection in addition to jazzing up the car’s looks, while a new rear bumper design updates the car’s back end.
Tech changes include a new version of Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which gets some sprucing up in the form of a wider field of view, updated control software, and an electric brake booster. These changes will help the system work in a broader range of conditions, Subaru says.
The top-level Premier XT grade receives a new third camera, a wide-angle Mono Camera,that works in conjunction with the two EyeSight cameras. The Mono Camera expands the field of view to help detect pedestrians and cyclists sooner, along with vehicles that enter intersections at low speed. EyeSight will now send an alert to the driver and can apply the brakes to avoid a collision. Premier XT models are also equipped with an LCD Smart Rearview Camera with auto-dimming, compass and Homelink.
On the multimedia front, Subaru is adding new functionality to its 11.6-inch touchscreen (standard on all grades above Convenience), which includes new on-screen audio, climate and X-Mode controls. The system also receives a new Valet Mode and, for the first time in a Subaru, what3words, a location technology that has divided the world into three-metre squares and given each one a unique three-word address.
W3W is designed to help users find spaces that are difficult to locate with conventional GPS such as trailheads and scenic overlooks that can be shared with others. W3W is standard on all grades with the 11.6-inch multimedia system with embedded navigation (Limited, Limited XT and Premier XT).
Subaru is also reshuffling the Outback deck for 2023, as the Outdoor XT trim has been discontinued and is being replaced with a new Onyx grade.
The Onyx, which slots into the Outback mid-range between Touring and Limited, features some unique exterior cosmetics, including 18-inch gunmetal alloy wheels, black badging, and rear bumper step pad. On the inside, the Onyx boasts an exclusive two-tone grey colour scheme, with synthetic all-weather seating material. It also comes standard with heated rear outboard seats, alloy pedals, and dual-function X-Mode.
As mentioned, there are no powertrain changes for the 2023 Outback. All models, apart from the upper-range Wilderness and XT grades, are powered by a 2.5-litre flat four-cylinder engine (182 hp / 176 lb-ft), and paired with a CVT and Subaru’s symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive.
The Wilderness and XT models are powered by a 2.4-litre turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine (260 hp / 277 lb-ft), paired with a CVT and full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive.
To christen the 2023 Outback, Subaru invited a group of journalists to Huntsville, Ontario, where two trims, Onyx and Premier XT, were available for sampling on a variety of Muskoka roads.
On the drive, I was in an Onyx tester first and switched to the Premier XT after lunch. The Onyx, with its distinct monochromatic looks, durable (and wipeable) synthetic all-weather seating and big 11.6-inch multimedia touchscreen is a pleasing car to ride around in, due in large measure to its long list of standard equipment. And, because it’s a Subaru, it retains a high degree of utility, such as 220 mm (8.6 inches) of ground clearance, 2,141 litres of maximum cargo space, and a towing capacity of up to 1,588 kg (3,500 pounds).
As for the drive, and this is true of both cars, the ’23 Outback offers a composed, quiet, and comfortable ride. The 2.4 turbo in the Premier XT is noticeably faster, both from rest and at speed, than the 2.5 in the Onyx, but knife-edged handling, seat-pressing acceleration and variable weighty steering really isn’t the Outback’s game regardless of trim.
But, for treks to cottage and everyday commuting and tackling mud, snow and slush-covered roads, this Subaru wagon is up to the task. And to drive the point home, Subaru set up an off-road course that featured grassy and bumpy terrain with a long and deep muddy trench near the end. This is the sort of foraging exercise where if you don’t stay in the tracks, you’re going to get stuck.
Fortunately for yours truly, I stayed in the tracks, and the dual-function X-Mode, which was dialled to Deep Snow / Mud, took care of the rest, pulling my tester through with relative ease. Incidentally, the Deep Snow / Mud setting disengages the traction control while the ECU allows the engine to generate maximum torque to escape treacherous conditions, such as foot-deep mud ruts.
Subaru, in its briefing materials for the media drive, summarized the 2023 Outback’s enhancements as an expression of duality: more capable and more versatile, with improved comfort and improved safety. Looking at the 2023 updates in their totality, duality fits well as a descriptor for what the Outback was when it first launched in 1995 and what it is now, a full generation later.
2023 Subaru Outback pricing
Convenience – $32,695
Touring – $36,995
Onyx – $38,695
Limited – $40,995
Wilderness – $43,195
Limited XT – $43,995
Premier XT – $46,395
The 2023 Subaru Outback is on sale now.
2023 Subaru Outback Onyx
Mid-size crossover / wagon
Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, CVT
2.5-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder (182 hp / 176 lb-ft)
(Regular 87) 9.2 / 7.3 / 8.3 L / 100 km city / highway / combined
2,141 / 923 litres (75.6 / 32.5 cu-ft) (behind first / second row)
$38,695 base / as tested, excl. freight, taxes & fees