- Agile, capable on all roads
- Generous head and leg room
- All-wheel drive standard
- Decent gas mileage
- EyeSIght safety package
- Styling verging on truck-like
- Lousy gas mileage for flat six engine
- Radio controls are clumsy
- Infotainment system slow, laggy
Above all else, the 2014 Subaru Outback remains an eminently practical and capable vehicle, with generous interior space both for people and their gear.
The 2014 Subaru Outback is a poster child for the Japanese carmaker. It's a capable, sturdy, pragmatic family wagon that is more carlike than SUV-inflected. More than just a Legacy wagon, the Outback's added ground clearance doesn't interfere with its on-road goodness, it just amplifies its all-weather appeal.
Although the 2014 Outback is still a strong entry in the market, there's a new-generation 2015 Subaru Outback on the way, with some important infotainment upgrades and what promises to be a more refined driving experience.
As it stands for 2014, the Outback is still nowhere as luxurious at the high end as comparable models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, Toyota Venza, or Volvo XC60. But it's also far less expensive than most of those vehicles, and it continues to be what it was 20 years ago: a reliable, safe, and very capable all-wheel-drive vehicle for adventurous souls who don't need bells, whistles, or victory in the stoplight drag races. Outback buyers, whether they keep their cars for four years or 14, could often afford much fancier vehicles--but they remain remarkably loyal to the Outback's traditional virtues. Low-mileage used Outbacks are almost impossible to find, and more than 90 percent of Subarus sold in the last 10 years remain on the road.
The 2014 Outback has a slab-sided and chunky look, with exaggerated wheel arches and tall SUV proportions. It got a new grille and headlamps last year, but that was a very minor tweak, and it looks all but identical to the 2010 model. New upholstery fabrics and available woodgrain on the dash are the only interior updates of note.
Last year, the Outback got a new 2.5-liter flat-four engine that returns higher gas-mileage ratings, especially when paired with the CVT. Its 173 horsepower gives it marginally better performance than earlier engines, and the torque is spread across a broader range of engine speeds, making the latest Outback more responsive. Unusually for a mid-size utility vehicle, you can order the four with a six-speed manual gearbox, but that's only available on base models. Most buyers opt for the CVT, which includes paddle shifters behind the wheel to simulate "gear shifting" for better performance. Subaru has produced one of the better CVTs on the market, tuning it to be responsive and unobtrusive under full-throttle acceleration without making the engine rev up to its maximum and stay there. The most fuel-efficient Outback model this year is rated at 26 mpg combined--and remember it has all-wheel drive as standard. The high-end engine, available only on 3.6R models with Limited trim, is a 256-hp 3.6-liter flat-six paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. The combination is smooth, quiet, and considerably faster than the four, but at the cost of much worse gas mileage--only 20 mpg combined.
Many people think of all-wheel-drive cars as tall and tippy, but while the Subaru looks tall, its center of gravity is low in the chassis, and it's a relatively light vehicle for its size. That makes its handling far more car-like than most crossovers, and it can be hustled predictably through turns in a surprisingly sporty manner--especially the four, which is lighter and better balanced than the nose-heavy six. Updates last year to the suspension made it more comfortable on the road while reducing body roll in turns. The steering is good, but not exceptional, and all-weather tires trade off sports-car stickiness for ease over rocks and ruts once you leave the asphalt.
And it's off road that the Outback's 8.7 inches of ground clearance make it uniquely suited to a huge variety of terrain, from paved highways to rutted mountain trails. You wouldn't take an Outback rock-climbing next to Jeeps, but it'll do almost anything else--and along with the huge variety of roof carriers, ski and surfboard racks, and more, that's what makes it a favorite of buyers who favor active sports like kayaking, rock-climbing, hiking, and snowboarding.
This iteration of the Outback has a great deal of interior space for five adults. The rear seats are particularly spacious, with excellent head and leg room, and the seat back reclines as well as folding down to expand the cargo space from 34 to a voluminous 71 cubic feet. No third-row seat is offered.
Safety features start with standard all-wheel drive, and a new Brake Override system added last year that cuts engine power if both the brake and accelerator are pressed simultaneously. Another new feature last year was the optional EyeSight driver-assistance, which bundles adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and pre-collision braking. Each of those capabilities uses data provided by a front-facing stereo camera system.
The four-cylinder 2014 Subaru Outback 2.5i model comes in three trim levels, but the six-cylinder 3.6R is offered only with the top-of-the-line Limited trim. All Outbacks come standard with audio and cruise control switches on the steering wheel, automatic headlights, a Hill Holder feature that prevents the car from rolling when stopped on a sloping road, and a reclining rear seat with a seatback split 60/40. The base trim level includes an AM/FM/CD audio system with four speakers, including an auxiliary input jack for digital music. Bluetooth pairing, a USB charging port, audio streaming, and iPod control are also standard even on the base stereo. The mid-level Premium trim, the most popular among Outback buyers, adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-way power driver's seat, leather covering on the shift knob and steering wheel, and an All-Weather Package that bundles heated mirrors and front seats with de-icing windshield wipers. That package, popular in snowy climates, is optional on the base Outback. The high-end Outback 2.5i Limited adds still more features, including dual-zone climate control (with rear air-conditioning outlets), perforated leather upholstery, a four-way power adjustable passenger seat, and a nine-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo premium 440-Watt audio package with its own color 4.3-inch display, a 440-Watt amplifier, and standard satellite radio (with four months free). Limited models also include electroluminescent instruments that's integrated with a 3.5-inch display screen that shows EyeSight functions (if that feature is fitted) plus an Appearance Package that bundles keyless start with a two-position memory function for the power driver's seat.
Options include a GPS navigation system wtih a 7-inch LCD screen and voice control, plus real-time satellite traffic data. Finally, a Power Moonroof Package includes not only the moonroof itself but an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a rear-vision camera to assist reversing (which can also be ordered separately).