A big boost for the popular SUV

Subaru's long-running and popular Outback is now available with a turbo kick. Here are five things you need to know about the Sport XT.

This Outback Sport has already been to the gym

weak. That's a good word for the Subaru Outback's performance. But now, at long last, there's a turbocharged 2.4-litre flathead petrol engine to deliver the performance Australians demand. This boosted Outback XT delivers 32 percent more power and 42 percent more torque than regular 2.5-liter non-turbo Outbacks. The towing rating jumps from 2000kg to 2400kg.

Such numbers are better suited to the Outback Sport's rugged appearance. Look out for the adventure-ready roof rails, sporty color flashes, black alloys and gorgeous all-round styling, a welcome antidote to the squeamishness of SUVs. The new engine adds a bite to the crust, but also a $5,000 asking price. This Sport XT costs $52,190 plus on-road, while the fancier, leather Touring XT is $55,990 plus tax.

The driving experience is more powerful but hurts the wallet

The engine is a detuned version of Subaru's WRX turbo engine – nice bragging rights when your friends laugh about your ‘sensible' family car. There's 183kW of power and an impressive 350Nm of torque, the latter at 2000rpm for a nice low-end punch.

The character of this new turbo engine is said to have been inspired by the previous generation Outback 3.6R – the hero of Subaru. The 3.6R's flat-six isn't exactly easy power, but the Outback XT isn't far behind. There is a serious pull on the steppe. Its CVT automatic gearbox – like the one in the WRX – is good, but doesn't contribute to the joy of driving. The paddle shifters with artificial gear “steps” spice things up and feel sharp in Sport mode. But prepare for a shock on Sagittarius. The Turbo Outback needs 95 fuel and drinks for a combined 9.0L/100km. In the city that goes up to 12.1L/100km. Throw in $2673 for a five-year/62,500km service and it's not a cheap run.

It's a five-seater that's well-suited to Austrian family life

The Outback XT is the Swiss Army Knife of motoring: all-out competition to Pat Cummins. It has strong performance, a spacious, well-positioned, well-equipped cabin and is comfortable both on and off the road.

Highlights include an 11.6-inch tablet-style infotainment screen that works with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, power heated seats and water-resistant faux leather trim. Useful safety features include radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Kudos to Subaru for calibrating the lane-keeping system so I don't have to immediately struggle to turn it off.

Rather than compromise cabin space by installing third-row seats (rarely used), Subaru prioritized a long wagon-like boot, a full-size spare and ample rear passenger space. Kids get heated reclining seats in the back, endless leg and head room, USB ports, fans and elbow rests.

are you complaining The dashboard is very simple, no wireless phone charging and no sliding back seats.

Despite the lack of low range, it will take you deep into the scrub

Adventurous Aussies often dismiss the Outback because it's not a low-range 4WD. Instead, they overbuy lumbering, uncomfortable two-cab rigs for two-year camping trips. But the sandy road surf spots, snowfields and wild camping spots are happy Outback hunting grounds.

There's competence with Subaru's clever X-Mode, which handles traction control and torque, while 213mm of ground clearance lets you glide over gravel climbs and washouts. I put it through soft sand, wet mud, and some tough, undulating climbs and it never floated. But such ability means it handles on the road more powerfully than many competing five-seater SUVs. This is the “Sport” XT model, it could have a slightly stiffer suspension and a lower ride height.

With a sane hat, just buy a non-turbo Outback instead

This Outback XT has a problem, and it's friendly fire. The non-turbo Outback Sport has an otherwise identical specification (twin exhaust pipes) for $5000 less and drinks a cheaper, normally unleaded 7.3L/100km. The turbo premium is high here, especially if most of your driving is urban. And while the leap in performance is marked, the turbo is still not overtly thrilling with a soulful soundtrack. So the Outback XT is a comfortable commuter, a safe family hauler and a keen adventurer, but so is a regular and cheap Outback. It just does it at a more leisurely pace. And for many buyers, that will be fine.