2023 Subaru Outback Onyx: Meet the Out-Black

Published on December 15, 2022 in Test Drives by Guillaume Rivard

The refreshed 2023 Subaru Outback builds on a winning recipe that has earned the Japanese crossover multiple Best Buy awards from The Car Guide in the midsize SUV segment. A few styling revisions, enhanced EyeSight safety system and some new technologies are in store.

Also, because every other manufacturer is doing it now, Subaru is adding a new, darker-looking model called Onyx that slots right in the middle of the range. Is it a good pick? Read on. 

More Character

Designers aimed to give the 2023 Outback more character through this mid-cycle update. How? They revised the front fascia to incorporate a larger grille, new-look LED headlights and fog lights along with a more rugged-looking bumper cover. The changes apply across the line except for the adventurous Outback Wilderness that debuted last year.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Extra cladding connects the lower body and the headlights while adding protection around the wheel arches. These design elements are not unlike what we see on the brand new Solterra electric SUV and next-generation WRX sports sedan, respectively. Maybe Subaru has gone a bit over the top here, trying to do too much. A darker body colour like our tester’s Cosmic Blue Pearl somewhat makes it easier to swallow.

What about the Onyx? Other than the unique 18-inch wheels in a gunmetal finish, the black treatment for the headlights/taillights, grille trim, window surround, rear spoiler and badges is not worth calling your mother about.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

More Features

Life inside the 2023 Subaru Outback is quite pleasant. Visibility is great as always, and there’s no shortage of room in both rows. The seats prove equally supportive and comfortable, although the front seatbacks are a bit tight in the shoulder area, which will be a problem for larger drivers after more than an hour behind the wheel. The Onyx model sports handsome two-tone upholstery in soft-touch, all-weather material with green contrast stitching and offers heated rear seats. The interior remains generally quiet except for wind noise generated by the massive roof rails.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

The 11.6-inch multimedia system now comes with standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a good thing. On the other hand, adjusting ventilation and the heated seats is not as intuitive as it would be with physical buttons. Also, you always have to go back to the home screen to switch between vehicle functions. One more complaint: the vertically arranged display makes for a smaller rear-view camera image, which is not super-sharp in the first place.

Subaru has improved safety for 2023 by adding a wide-angle mono camera that works together with the dual-camera EyeSight system, expanding the field of view to recognize pedestrians and bicycles sooner when you enter an intersection at low speed. There’s a new digital rear-view mirror with auto-dimming, compass and Homelink, as well, but only in top-line trim.

On navigation-equipped models, the 2023 Outback is also the first Subaru vehicle to integrate what3words (W3W), a location technology that provides a way to communicate precise geographical addresses anywhere in the world using just three words. But honestly, who will ever use it?

Photo: Dominic Boucher

More Power, Please!

Don’t look for any surprises under the hood. The 2023 Subaru Outback features a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre BOXER engine producing 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque in Convenience, Touring, Onyx and Limited trim. This is fine if you’re never in a hurry, if you don’t want/need sporty performance, or when you’re not carrying multiple passengers and cargo.

Acceleration is slow and you must apply serious pressure on the throttle to get things going at a faster clip. But then the engine becomes rather loud, and the CVT only makes it worse. Combined fuel consumption is officially rated at 8.3 L/100 km in ideal conditions. Despite spending most of our time on the highway, we recorded an average of 9.3 L/100 km with temperatures ranging from about minus 5 to 10 degrees Celsius.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

The turbocharged 2.4-litre BOXER engine delivering 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque is much more convincing and better suited to this big, high-riding wagon. It also increases maximum towing capacity from 2,700 pounds to 3,500 pounds. Alas, the cheapest way to get it is with the Wilderness model, priced from $45,503 including freight and PDI. That’s a real bummer. By the way, the turbo-four achieves a combined 9.5-10 L/100 km and Subaru doesn’t require premium gasoline.

In terms of ride and handling, the Outback is a joy to drive as it always inspires confidence with a proven AWD system and smartly calibrated suspension. Off the road, the dual-mode X-MODE function included on the Onyx model provides an extra layer of surefootedness while effectively controlling speed in descents. During the week, we faced all sorts of weather and terrain conditions ranging from muddy trails to a snowstorm. Except for a roundabout that we attacked with too much zest to kind of test the car’s limits (and those of the Gislaved Nord*Frost 200 winter tires it rode on), the Outback took it all in stride.

Photo: Dominic Boucher

Our Verdict

In any trim level, the 2023 Subaru Outback boasts great versatility, a very accommodating interior and confident handling. It’s also more pleasant to drive than many conventional midsize SUVs. The base price is attractive at $35,003 (freight and PDI included), while Subaru’s interest rates are now more in line with the industry average.

The Wilderness remains our favourite Outback, but of course few people actually need a vehicle like that. If you can’t afford one of the other turbocharged Outbacks, you should at least skip the base model and instead turn to an Onyx or Limited, which offer a lot more content at a reasonable price.

Test drive report
Test model 2023 Subaru Outback
Trim level Onyx
Price range $32,695 – $46,395
Price as tested CA$38,695
Warranty (basic) 3 years/60,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 9.2 / 7.3 / 9.3 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models 2023 Mazda CX-50, 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe, 2023 Kia Sorento, 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2023 Honda Passport, 2023 Nissan Murano, 2023 Chevrolet Blazer, 2023 Ford Edge
Strong points
  • Solid and surefooted
  • Proven AWD system
  • Great versatility
  • Very accommodating interior
Weak points
  • Base engine lacks power
  • Questionable design cues
  • Some issues with the centre display
  • No hybrid variant (a few rivals have one)
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 4.0/5 A reasonably efficient midsize SUV.
Comfort 4.0/5 Comfort is generally good but the seatbacks are a bit too tight for the shoulders.
Performance 3.0/5 Forget the base engine if you want any kind of sporty performance.
Infotainment 3.5/5 The centre display is clear and attractive but not without a few issues.
Driving 4.0/5 The Outback continues to inspire confidence on an off the road.
Overall 4.0/5 An excellent purchase for pragmatic drivers and their families.
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