Subaru owners tend to swear by their car's no-nonsense capabilities, especially when it comes to inclement-weather driving and cargo hauling. Function dominates the design of the 2014 Subaru Outback. For instance, its 4-cylinder engine is configured to lower the center of gravity and enable more nimble handling. Its long, low shape adheres to the traditional wagon layout, which isn't as popular as the typical SUV-like crossover silhouette. Long considered the go-to choice for practically minded snowbelt drivers, the 2014 Outback gains incremental updates while continuing to serve a particular, if enthusiastically supported, niche.
What's New for 2014?
The Cold Weather Package is now standard on the Premium model, which can also be equipped with navigation and EyeSight driver assist. Premium models also receive a new 4.3-inch LCD display radio, but the Harman/Kardon radio option is no longer available. The 3.6R base trim is dropped. Fuel economy is up by 1 mile per gallon on the 2.5i manual models.
What We Like
Advanced safety features; strong 6-cylinder engine, excellent fuel economy; solid off-the-beaten-path choice for rugged individualists
What We Don't
The 2.5i model is somewhat underpowered; better options excluded from manual transmission models; navigation radio is not very user friendly; high-end audio limited to Limited models
The Outback's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine produces a mellow 173 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, and can be mated to a 6-speed manual transmission or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The 6-speed manual delivers 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway for a combined figure of 25 mpg. Coupled with a CVT, fuel economy jumps to 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy, with a combined number of 26 mpg. Opt for the 3.6i model and you'll get a notable bump to 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. Along with a 5-speed automatic, the 3.6i delivers 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy, with a combined figure of 20 mpg. Both powerplants run on 87-octane gas, which helps cut down on fuel expenses.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Subaru Outback is offered in three trim levels and two models: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited and 3.6R Limited
The base 2.5i ($24,320) includes a 2.5-liter engine, 6-speed manual transmission, AM/FM stereo with single CD and USB port, power windows, locks and mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio control, remote keyless entry, roof rack and 16-in plastic wheel covers.
The 2.5i Premium ($26,620) adds 17-in alloy wheels, the Cold Weather Package (heated seats, side mirrors and windshield defrosters), upgraded audio with 4.3-in LCD display, fog lights, 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support and a retractable cargo cover.
The 2.5i Limited ($29,920) adds leather seating, a Harman/Kardon 440-watt audio system, a power passenger seat, automatic climate controls, the CVT automatic transmission, rear seat vents, electroluminescent gauge package and wood trim.
The 3.6R Limited ($32,920) adds a 3.6-liter engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Options for the base 2.5i include a new 17-in wheel and fog light package, while the Premium trim can be equipped with a new navigation radio and Eyesight driver assist (but not together). Other options for the Premium include a rear seat DVD system, a power sunroof with rear backup camera, a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot and the CVT automatic transmission. The Limited also can be equipped with navigation, a sunroof, the EyeSight system and a Special Appearance Package that includes a choice of brown or white exterior colors, a brown leather interior, EyeSight, navigation, memory for the driver's seat and keyless access with push-button start.
The Subaru Outback's big news for 2014 is the expanded availability of its new EyeSight system, which uses stereoscopic "eyes" mounted behind the rearview mirror to detect obstacles and provide automatic pre-collision braking when necessary.
We tested the system by driving toward a mocked up image of a person at around 20 miles per hour. The car managed to recognize the shape and gradually start braking on its own before escalating the rate of deceleration and coming to an abrupt halt. Above 20 mph, the system will do its best to avoid a collision using the pre-brake function, but this does not guarantee that contact will be avoided entirely. EyeSight technology also monitors lane markers to detect when the car is veering from its intended path. If the driver applies his turn signals, the system recognizes that the turn is intentional and doesn't emit a warning beep. The system also offers adaptive cruise control.
The 2014 Subaru Outback earns excellent marks for safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Outback five out of five stars in its overall crash-test ratings, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awards the 2014 Subaru Outback a Top Safety Pick.
Behind the Wheel
The Outback might not win any personality awards, especially when compared to Subaru's resident wild child, the rally-bred Impreza WRX STi. But it delivered comfortable, capable performance during our test at North Carolina's Outer Banks. Though it saw a broader torque curve improvement last year, the 2.5i still feels somewhat stressed hustling its 3,400-lb curb mass with only 173 hp at hand. The 3.6i model's power-to-weight ratio makes it more manageable in day-to-day passing and acceleration duties. But the 2.5i model's CVT deserves props for its smooth operation and uninterrupted flow of power. And on a similar note, it's a shame the 3.6i is only available with a 5-speed, as an extra gear would help optimize its acceleration and take advantage of everything the engine has to offer. We put the wagon through its paces at the area's famed sand dunes, and the Outback's 8.7-in clearance and all-wheel-drive system helped it negotiate several challenging sections with ease. The Outback offers a tall seating position for its occupants and excellent visibility all around.
Other Cars to Consider
Mazda CX-5 -- More of a crossover than a wagon, the CX-5 nonetheless targets the Outback with its back-to-basics aesthetic and emphasis on functionality. Driving enthusiasts might find more to love with the Mazda, as its 2-liter 4-cylinder engine and available manual transmission make it the most fun car in its class, hands down. Interestingly, it also boasts the highest fuel economy with 35 mpg.
Toyota Venza -- With its higher starting price close to $28,000, the Venza also offers all-wheel drive but without the rugged personality of the Outback. Think of this as a road-biased alternative to the do-it-all, Swiss Army Knife attitude of the Subaru.
Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen -- Coming in at a lower price point, the Jetta SportWagen's smaller size makes it easier to achieve better fuel economy than the 4-cylinder Outback 2.5i. In this case, the Jetta returns 33 mpg on the highway, while the pricier 2-liter TDI clean diesel achieves up to 42 mpg. But wet-weather dwellers should note that the Volkswagen doesn't offer all-wheel drive.
Volvo XC60 -- A more upmarket take on the wagon paradigm, Volvo's XC60 starts around $35,000 and offers more luxurious accommodations, along with its renowned reputation for safety.
The Subaru Outback delivers a rather specific style of wagon. (Incidentally, the manufacturer has taken to calling it a crossover.) The improvements for 2014 bolster its competitive position in the market, but with the top-of-the-line 3.6R Limited version starting over $32,000, the Outback starts reaching into a territory replete with plush, capable options. At least in the case of the Outback, we're guessing brand loyalists will continue to flock to Subaru and revel in the fact that the object of their cult crush doesn't sacrifice utility for refinements.