Subaru Outback Vs. Toyota Venza: Compare Cars

March 19, 2015
2015 Subaru Outback

2015 Subaru Outback

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If you're looking for a vehicle that's a little taller and more versatile than a sedan or a wagon, but more carlike than most crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, look no further than the Subaru Outback and Toyota Venza.

Both blend a tall-wagon body with all-wheel drive in a mid-size package. But which one's better suited to tackling all kinds of terrain--urban and otherwise?

Of the two, the Outback's the one that still tries to look a little rugged. New for the 2015 model year, the Outback has ripened into a vehicle that manages to look more like an SUV and to look more aero-smooth at the same time. It has a tall stance that plays up the butch angle, and a restrained interior that has a squared-off, high-end-audio look.

The Venza? It's the AMC Eagle all over again, with a sort-of-wagon style that borders on big hatchback. It's smooth and sleek, but it makes no visual claims about off-road capability. The cockpit reminds us of modern minivan or crossover cabins.

Behind the wheel, the Venza drives like a somewhat taller Camry; it's a very competent performer, but the driving experience is seldom exciting, especially with the base four-cylinder. Even the strong, smooth 268-hp V-6 doesn't lend it any energetic feel. The Outback is more agile and engaging. Its base four-cylinder is smooth and performs well enough, and delivers impressive gas mileage through its CVT; it's strong enough that we'd skip the more expensive flat six option.

The Outback is more versatile, too. Off-roading isn't even on the Venza's map, though Toyota does offer an all-wheel-drive 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.

The Subaru is the clear winner for those who want to drive, but this match-up is more of a toss-up inside. The Venza has a lovely, high seating position, perfect for drivers of a certain age to get in and out. 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.

An older design, the Venza fares worse in safety than the Outback. The Outback is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, and has an inexpensive, sophisticated forward-collision warning and braking system. The Venza's crash-test scores are above average, but it lacks a lot of advanced safety technology available on newer SUVs, like surround-view cameras.

The well-equipped Outback also scores a major victory in value. A base Outback starts at about $25,000, while a base Venza is more than $29,000--and with the Subaru, you get all-wheel drive for that price. Upgrade to the top-of-the-line trims, like the Venza Limited or the Outback Limited, and both models can feel a lot like luxury vehicles--with high-end audio, navigation, leather seats, and back-seat video entertainment systems. At this level, though, the Venza still costs about $5k more--and it starts to feel a lot like the Lexus RX 350, which only costs a few thousand more. 

The Outback is our winner here. For shoppers that value a true all-weather champ, it's an easy choice, too, though the Venza still has a more handsome design and a more relaxed driving feel. Unfortunately, the Venza's not long for this world: Toyota says it will discontinue sales in the U.S. after the 2015 model year as it focuses on its RAV4 compact and Highlander large SUVs. 

Summary

8.4
Expert Rating
The 2015 Subaru Outback is as much of a tough, safe family wagon as ever; but this year, its brawn doesn't come with as much compromise in comfort and quiet.
7.6
Expert Rating
The Toyota Venza gives up all SUV styling pretenses in favor of big-hatchback utility and a truly carlike atmosphere.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2015 Outback has evolved in subtle ways and is ubiquitous on the outside—although its interior looks and feels better detailed and more stylish than before.
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7.0
Expert Rating
We like the Venza's nifty hatchback shape: it's not awkward, and forgoes the faux-SUV cues.
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Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2015 Subaru Outback has more depth of character than other crossovers or its predecessor; on one side, it feels somewhat livelier on the road, while on the other side it gets improved off-pavement performance with a new X-Mode.
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7.0
Expert Rating
Excitement isn't a key player here, but the Venza's predictable handling and strong V-6 give us plenty to recommend.
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Comfort & Quality

9.0
Expert Rating
As rugged as the 2015 Subaru Outback is, it manages to offer great on-the-road comfort—and cabin comfort—for all the time that you spend on pavement.
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8.0
Expert Rating
Refined and roomy, the Venza has ample space for five and a usefully shaped cargo hold.
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Safety

10
Expert Rating
The Subaru Outback has been a safety standout for many years, and the 2015 model steps it up with a new generation of Eyesight active safety features—plus the safety of X-Mode when the going gets tough.
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8.0
Expert Rating
Crash-test scores have been good, and the Venza now has a standard rearview camera.
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Features

9.0
Expert Rating
The 2015 Subaru Outback offers a lot of value in 2.5i and 2.5i Premium forms; Limited models offer even more, although they push the Outback up against rival models from Audi and Volvo.
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8.0
Expert Rating
The value-laden Venza comes with standard Bluetooth and available smartphone connectivity.
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Fuel Economy

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2015 Subaru Outback remains either an exceptionally fuel-efficient SUV or a relatively efficient wagon—depending on how you see it.
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6.0
Expert Rating
Gas mileage bests bigger crossovers, but the Venza isn't a fuel-economy leader in its size class.
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MSRP

from $24,895
from $29,065

Invoice

from $23,407
from $26,594

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

28
23

Engine

Regular Unleaded H-4, 2.5 L
Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.7 L

Drivetrain

All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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