The 2014 Subaru Outback is somewhat like a wagon and perhaps more like an SUV. To practical buyers it offers the spacious interior and versatility of a more-or-less traditional midsize SUV, with driving attributes and fuel efficiency more in line with a wagon. But perhaps its strongest virtue is the all-weather capability delivered by its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. If Subarus are known for anything, it's their well-deserved reputation for dealing with just about any weather condition Mother Nature can toss their way. Other vehicles might offer most of what the Outback delivers, and may be more engaging to drive or present more stylish faces, but the Subaru's all-around proficiency on good days and bad gives it a unique spot among its competition.
You'll Like This Car If...
Need a lot of interior room? Reasonable fuel economy? Rugged durability? All-weather capability? Good results on crash tests? And all that at an affordable price? The 2014 Outback should be high on your list.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Just because it's an SUV doesn't mean the Outback can deal with a trailer over 3,000 pounds or more than five occupants; if those are your requirements you need something bigger, a Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot. And if you don't need all-wheel drive, there are less-expensive, although smaller, choices.
In 2013, the Outback received significant updates, and for 2014 the changes are minimal. The 2.5i Premium models now include, as standard, the All-Weather Package (heated front seats, heated side mirrors and windshield de-icer) and the display audio system (4.3-inch screen, six speakers, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
Driving the Outback
If fuel economy takes precedent over quick acceleration, the 2013 Subaru Outback's 2.5-liter four with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is your best bet. The 173-horsepower engine has to work...
... a bit but, once up to speed, the CVT finds and holds the engine's peak torque, providing a good balance of response and efficiency. The CVT does take some getting used to, as there are no discernible gearshifts, as with a traditional automatic. The standard steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, however, allow the driver to simulate manual gearshifts, for quicker passing and merging. With an estimated 30 mpg highway and an 18-gallon fuel tank, the Outback can cruise well over 500 miles before refueling. On the road, the Outback demonstrates an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because the low center of gravity of its powertrain more than offsets its tall bodywork. Steering is precise and predictable, and only some slight wind noise intrudes on the reasonably quiet ride.
CONTINUOUSLY VARIABLE AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION (CVT) Subaru's take on the popular, fuel-saving transmission-without-gears features a paddle-shifted manual mode that mimics the shift points of a manual transmission without needing a clutch pedal. Best of all, the Outback CVT's estimated 24 city/30 highway mpg is better than with the 6-speed manual.
SYMMETRICAL ALL-WHEEL DRIVE Perhaps Subaru's biggest claim to fame is its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, which continually sends power to all four wheels for optimum traction. If you live where the weather can turn foul and the roads slick, this could be reason enough to consider the Outback.
2014 Subaru Outback Details
The roomy, versatile Outback cabin is stylishly functional and remarkably roomy. Of particular note is the rear seat – we were able to fit three 6-foot adults in the rear seat, everybody was comfortable and none had knees touching the backs of the front seats. Equally comfortable are the wide front seats, which clearly are configured for adults, a reclining rear seat further improves comfort, while the upscale Limited and Premium trims offer power driver's-side lumbar support and leather seating. A dash-mounted electronic parking brake frees up console space for water bottles and latte cups. Automatic-transmission models also feature steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The Subaru Outback is admittedly not the most stylish thing on the road, but it is clean and purposeful. The high roofline promises (and delivers) ample interior space, the generous ride height (with 8.7 inches of ground clearance) announces its off-road and bad-weather capabilities, while the sturdy black roof rails provide secure mounting when carrying extra stuff on the roof (and the roof-rail crossbars stow away when not in use, to reduce aerodynamic drag and wind noise). Up front, the headlights, front bumper and prominent grille give a sleek appearance that blends well with the overall rugged character.
For 2014, the Outback is offered in four trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited. Base 2.5i models feature all-wheel drive, a 6-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails and a 4-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and a USB port. The Premium trim adds alloy wheels, fog lights, a 10-way power driver's seat, the All-Weather Package and the display audio system, while Limited versions include leather seating, dual-zone climate control and a 440-watt harman/kardon sound system. Safety features include six airbags, electronic stability control, and Subaru's EyeSight driver-assistance system (includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-departure warning).
Most options for the Outback are dependent upon trim level. The CVT automatic transmission is the lone option on the base 2.5i, with Premium and Limited models offering a Power Moonroof Package with a power moonroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror and rear backup camera. Limited models offer voice-activated navigation, the EyeSight safety system and a Special Appearance Package with metallic gray exterior adornments, wood-grain-style interior trim and keyless access with push-button start. The standard sound system has been upgraded for 2014, but audiophiles may want to choose the optional 9-speaker harman/kardon setup.
Under the Hood
The Outback is available with a choice of two "boxer" engines. "Boxer" means the cylinders are horizontal and opposed to each other, so the pistons go back forth somewhat like a boxer's fists, and the engine is low and flat, which reduces the height of the center of gravity – which in turn aids handling. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder delivers 173 horsepower, not best-in-class but enough muscle for satisfactory performance. Matching this engine with the CVT automatic will produce the best fuel economy, but the 6-speed manual offers sportier performance. The most refined choice for the Outback is the 3.6-liter 6-cylinder and its conventional 5-speed automatic, whose strong acceleration and passing power come at the expense of fuel efficiency: An estimated 18/25 mpg city/highway (versus the 4-cylinder CVT's 24/30).
For 2014 Subaru is holding the Outback pricing to 2013 levels for most models. The Outback starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just over $24,000 for the 2.5i and tops out north of $36,000 for a loaded 3.6R Limited. Pricing is on par with the majority of compact SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, and undercuts the Toyota Venza by roughly $3,000. Everyone wants a great deal on a new car, and KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price can help by revealing what buyers in your area are actually paying for the 2014 Outback. The Outback is expected to retain higher-than-average residual values over a 5-year period, besting the Ford Escape and the Nissan Rogue, but falling just shy of the Venza, CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox.
Pros: "Reliable, handles great, terrific utility and mpg"
Cons: "Not as plush as the competition"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My subarus keep getting better with each model year. They aren't as plush and luxurious as a lot of other models for the money, but I love the responsive handling, sure-footed tracking, sturdiness, reliability, and practicality. Good for road trips or around town to the hardware or garden store. Improvements still could be made in the area of road noise and quality components for the interior. I picked this over the forester because of better balance for mixed use - very comfortable for road trips and also very practical. The forester was less comfortable for a long drive for me. This vehicle has a terrific sound system, in dash rear view cam, satellite radio, good storage, excellent cargo space, and I just love how it feels on the road. No complaints, and I'm averaging about 28 mpg combined city and highway in my 4 cylinder non-turbo."
Pros: "Great value compared to other small/mid sized suvs"
Cons: "Few interior color options."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This is my 4th Subaru. Safety, reliability and versatility of the brand has been consistent (I drove a small Ford for 11 years between 3rd & 4th Subaru). Mileage is very good: spring through fall, I'm getting 33mpg, sometimes better, at 65-70 mph. The car hauls everything from 6' friends, bikes and kayaks to yard waste and tree limbs. No effort flat folding rear seats allow that versatility. It's a great riding vehicle."