Do your friends call you practical? You make reasoned decisions. You don’t waste money, but you don’t go cheap. You’re cautious at all the right times. If that’s the case, I have the perfect car for you. It’s the 2014 Subaru Outlook.
The Outback isn’t trying to impress anyone. Oh sure, it looks just fine. Nothing ostentatious, of course, but nice. It’s underneath that counts, and the Outback delivers. Let’s start with safety. Subaru has built its reputation on cars that stay on the road thanks to all wheel drive. And if something should go wrong, it’s built to survive. Last year the Outback won the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award (TSP). Subaru even sang the Outback’s praises in a commercial titled “They Lived” (watch it here). Living in Phoenix, I don’t get much chance to appreciate the AWD glory (except on monsoon days). If I lived any place where it rained or snowed on a regular basis, the Outback would be an immediate contender.
Inside, it’s practical in a big sort of way. Flip the back seat down and you’ll find 71.3 cubic feet of cargo space. That is great for this size of car. One small touch I especially love is the plastic mat in the rear cargo section. Everyone knows that sooner or later you’re going to put something back there that will mess up the carpet. Might as well start with the proper protection. The rest of the interior is nice. My test car was the Limited edition with leather seats and faux wood. Good reasonable choices. It has a 10 way adjustable seat, better than some, but no need for more.
You get your choice of two engines. My test car had the 2.5 liter four-cylinder “boxer” motor. The “boxer” configuration means that two pistons are laying flat on the right side of the crankshaft, and two are flat on the left side. The “boxer” nickname comes from the fight they’re having as they constantly thrust at each other or the outward imaginary opponents. It allows for a lower center of gravity which makes the car more stable. (You can watch a video describing the engine here.)
The 2.5 liter won’t thrill you with its 176 horsepower. Mated up to the Lineartronic (not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive) continuously variable transmission makes it efficient, but not exciting. Getting up to freeway speed was an odd experience as the RPMs went up to about 5,000 and just stayed there. I actually tried using the paddle shifters a few times to get a little more speed, with marginal results. But when you check out the mileage you’ll be impressed. 24 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. Again, practical. There is a 3.6 liter 6 cylinder with 256 horsepower, but mileage suffers (17 city/20 mpg highway).
The 2.5i is also practical if you’re into protecting the planet. The engine has the Partial Zero Emission Vehicle rating. According to Subaru that means in some cities the exhaust coming out of your tailpipe is cleaner than the air you’re breathing. Ouch.
The Outback also has the Subaru’s EyeSight® Driver Assist system. It uses two cameras mounted by the rear view mirror to figure out if you’re staying in your lane or getting too close to the car ahead of you. It slows you down if something is in your way. After all, a practical person does not hit things.
So what didn’t I like about the Outback? On a practical level, the only things that annoyed me were the navigation system that actually gave me wrong directions and an odd crease in the hood. Something about the crease caused it to reflect the road in such a way that I found it distracting. Of course, that could just be me. After all, practical people would never design a car like that.
The Outback base prices starts out just right at $23,495. Even my test car, fully loaded with everything except the six cylinder motor still only cost $33,030. Very reasonable in a practical sort of way.
I have to give Subaru credit. It’s one car company that truly understands its niche. And the 2014 Subaru Outback is yet another model that hits the mark squarely. Of course if you’re looking for something exciting, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But then that’s what practical people do.