2014 Subaru 3.6R Limited Review

Subaru's off-roadable wagon still makes sense.

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March 11, 2014

2014 Subaru 3.6R Limited Review

Because the Outback is a car and not an SUV, it behaves like one. It's maneuverable, it's fast, and even with the faster and far-more-fun 3.6-liter engine, it achieves mileage-per-gallon numbers that won't force you to alter your driving style just so you

Introduction
The Subaru Outback put on a few pounds back in 2010, in what we can only guess was an attempt to make it less of a station wagon and more of a crossover. That's too bad, because, despite what most people seem to think, wagons are actually the perfect blend of utility and sportiness, when done right.

But despite the increased size and the few tweaks that came with this new 2014 model, it's still a wagon at heart, even if it's a rather large one. And that's a good thing, because its wagon-ness is the reason the Outback has remained a popular choice since its introduction 20 years ago.

The standard Outback comes with a 2.5i engine making 173 horsepower and either a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The model we drove was the 3.6R Limited, which adds 83 horsepower and features a standard 5-speed automatic transmission. While that's a step up from the fun-killing CVT, we'd really love this car if it had this engine with a 6-speed manual. But we're reviewing the car we drove, not the car we want to drive.

2014 Subaru Outback On the Road The Outback's added heft isn't felt when it comes to speed, at least not in the 3.6R model. There's still plenty of fun to be had, even if it does occasionally suffer a bit of body roll. The 5-speed automatic transmission is unobtrusive (unlike the CVT in the lower models), and the steering is nimble enough to feel sporty when it needs to, but comfortably low-key around town.

You do notice the extra size, however. Or maybe you just sense it. This will appeal to those looking for a crossover, but it's rather vexing to those of us who actually feel safer in a smaller car (mostly because we are).

For the 2014 model, Subaru re-jiggered the engine in order to lower the center of gravity, which helps give the Outback that 'I'm driving a car' feeling that you want, as opposed to that 'I'm driving a piece of farm machinery' feeling you usually get from SUVs and crossovers.

Because the Outback is a car (we won't use the 'w' word again) and not an SUV, it behaves like one. It's maneuverable, it's fast, and even with the faster and far-more-fun 3.6-liter engine, it achieves mileage-per-gallon numbers that won't force you to alter your driving style just so you can afford groceries.

2014 Subaru Outback Exterior The Outback got a few design tweaks for the 2014 model, but overall it retains the classic Outback look and feel (laugh if you want, but the car sells well, a full 20 years after it was first sold), while clearly trying to make it look a little more crossover, because apparently that's what people want their cars to look like.

To this end, the Outback has a rugged front fascia, to indicate that this car means business, while the rest of the car settles down into the kind of soft, understated simplicity that is Subaru's trademark.

Like all Subarus, the Outback is instantly recognizable, but almost as instantly forgettable. This doesn't mean that it's a bad looking car - far from it - it's just that Subaru is a brand that projects an image of sensibility, which translates into a very minimal approach to styling.

Again, the only issue is the size, although the 2014 Outback does a remarkably good job of somehow looking smaller than it actually is. It definitely feels bigger form behind the wheel than it does from outside the car.

2014 Subaru Outback Interior The interior of the Outback is, like everything about this car, well done, understated, and clearly trying to appeal to suburban sensibilities. The wood grain accents give it a smidgen of comfort-class luxury, and everything else is well placed and utilitarian. The infotainment system works better than most, but is graphically among the most unpleasant we've ever encountered. However, we'll take performance over style any day when it comes to in-car systems, if we are being forced to choose, which it appears we are.

There's ample leg room in back row, but not so much storage room in the back if you have passengers in the rear seat. Put the seats down, however and the Outback is brilliant for hauling just about anything you need to haul. A large family on vacation will probably want to avail themselves of the roof rack, however.

2014 Subaru Outback Conclusion Subaru is among the smartest brands in the industry. They continue to produce cars that are mostly substance, and a little bit of style, which is exactly what you want in a sub-$40K car. We love pretty much everything about the Outback except for the pounds it packed back in 2010. And we suspect that even that wouldn't bother us too much after living with it for a while.

2014 Subaru Outback Specs & Prices Engine:3.6-liter six-cylinder

Transmission: 5-speed automatic (optional)

Power Output: 256 horsepower / 247 lb.-ft. of torque

Fuel Economy: 17 mpg (city) / 25 mpg (hwy)

Price: $32,920 (base)

Features: moon roof, navigation, USB ports, infotainment system featuring 4.3-inch screen, 6 speakers, and SiriusXM radio.

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