Subaru Outback Vs. Toyota VenzaEnlarge Photo
Going just by their specs, these two models look pretty closely aligned. They're both about the length of a mid-size sedan, but with some added height; and they both offer a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines. But the truth is that in driving personality, in image, and in purpose, the Subaru Outback and Toyota Venza are really quite different vehicles, appealing in most cases to a different type of buyer altogether.
First off, the Subaru Outback--if the name isn't enough of a hint--aims to look somewhat rugged. While it's essentially a wagon version of the Legacy sedan, Subaru has in recent years worked to make it look brawnier than ever on the outside, resorting to exaggerated wheel arches, thick roof pillars, and a taller stance that brings it a more butch look, including a new grille this year and some other minor detail refinements. The Venza is different in that it's a unique body style--sort of wagon, sort of a five-door hatchback--with some height built in. Design-wise, it's smooth and sleek, but there's nothing daring, brash, or rugged about it and the model makes no claim to the off-road trail. Inside, these models go in different directions, with the Outback's interior somewhat simple and restrained with new woodgrain trim, while the Venza's interior has broad curves and more overt styling that reminds us of modern minivan or crossover cabins.
In performance, these two models also occupy very different spaces. The Venza, quite simply, drives like a somewhat taller Camry; it's a very competent performer, but the driving experience is seldom exciting--even with the strong, smooth 268-hp V-6 that's available. Meanwhile the Outback feels--and is--lighter than the Venza, and it steers and handles with more agility and engagement. The four-cylinder and CVT setup isn't our favorite (the six is much smoother, but thirstier), but it performs well while delivering impressive fuel economy. While off-roading isn't even on the Venza's map (the Toyota does offer an on-road AWD system), the Subaru really shines when you leave the pavement; its stiff structure, high ground clearance, and sophisticated all-wheel-drive system all help to give it more capability than some trucky-looking SUVs. And if you want a manual transmission, you'll need to go for the Outback; there's no such thing in the Venza.
If the Subaru is the clear winner for those who want to drive, or take to the backwoods, it's more of a tossup inside. The Venza has an upright, high seating position, which a lot of shoppers will like, as they can get in and out easier. Its seating is also comfortable for adults in front and in back--although we don't think the Venza is as versatile for cargo. On the other hand, the Outback's interior feels like it was designed for a spaciousness, and there's plenty of cargo capability, although we have noted that it's a bit behind the curve in cabin refinement.
Both of these models have great ratings safety ratings from the IIHS, and both have been Top Safety Picks, but each has failed to make top marks in federal crash tests. The Outback has achieved four-star results in multiple categories, while the Venza previously got a worrisome three-star rating for frontal impact (for 2013 it was boosted to four stars on a retest). Rearward visibility can be an issue in either model, but both are available with a rearview camera system.