Traffic can be a jailer, confining you to your automobile, granting freedom of movement only as it pleases. The romance of driving succumbs to boredom and tension under the circumstance. It matters not whether you have 500 or 100 horsepower, you are moving at the same pace as everyone else, assuming you are moving at all.
In horrific traffic jams, much the norm on roads in and out of the Washington region, my view of driving turns inward, specifically toward the passenger cabin enclosing me at the moment.
Is it attractive, comfortable, well organized and safe? Does it make me feel like a pauper, prince or king? Do I look forward to sitting inside of it again, if only to move an inch a minute in traffic going nowhere fast?
For years, my answer was a resounding “No” to those questions, especially to the last one, for almost any interior put together by Subaru of Japan. The company seemed to know nothing about interior design, to care nothing about it, either.
Happily, that Subaru seems to have been replaced by one that does not confuse good interior design with Lenten sacrifice. The proof is in the 2014 Subaru Outback wagon, Limited edition. It is one of the best automobile interiors I have sat in at any price, which makes it all the more attractive.
The Outback line includes four equipment/trim levels — 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, and 3.6R Limited. The numbers refer to engine sizes — 2.5i for the direct-injection 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed “boxer”-type four-cylinder engine (173 horsepower, 174 pound-feet of torque), and 3.6R for the horizontally opposed six-cylinder model (256 horsepower, 247 pound-feet of torque).
The 2.5i Limited is plush. But it is the kind of plush I’d be willing to live with at an out-the-door price south of $33,000, nearly $7,000 less than some more prestigious nameplates offering less equipment.
The 2.5i Limited gives you high-quality, exceptionally well-designed, well-crafted equipment at a price that is statistically affordable (according to Interest.com, a consumer affordability research firm) for many gainfully employed households.
Step inside this wagon. There are supple, leather-covered seats with contrast stitching. The instrument panel, including a 7.5-inch center-console screen, flows easily into the rest of the wagon’s interior. It makes sense. It belongs there. Brushed aluminum and wood-grain accents blend well. There is nothing forced, strained or overdone. It is a comfortable, welcoming place. You want to be here even if the crazy driver in front of you is holding up traffic in two lanes by trying to cut in front of an 18-wheel truck.
I know. We don’t buy cars, wagons, trucks just to sit in them. But the reality is that we sit in them, whether we want to or not, almost as much as we sit anywhere else. The traffic isn’t moving! What are you going to do — jump out of your vehicle and make zoom-zoom noises as you run between congested lanes? Probably not. You are going to sit.
There’s no need to worry. When the traffic starts moving — and in the off chance that it actually starts moving at certifiable highway speeds — the new Outback Limited will have no problems keeping up. The wagon’s standard 2.5-liter gasoline, four-cylinder “boxer” engine is something of a wonder. It is relatively quiet, powerful enough, wonderfully well balanced. It is one of the smoothest four-cylinder engines I’ve ever driven.
Snow and ice aren’t problems with this one. The chassis of the all-wheel-drive Outback clears the ground by 8.7 inches. Subaru’s legendary asymmetrical all-wheel-drive system, instantly sending extra traction to wheels that need it when they need it, is more than enough to keep you going in bad weather on the road and in moderate off-road (grass, gravel, shallow mud) driving. Those capabilities, plus an interior finally worthy of the name, make this Outback a winner.
Nuts and Bolts: 2014 Subaru Outback
Bottom line: Anyone in the market for a compact wagon or crossover utility vehicle should put the new Subaru Outback on the shopping list. It inarguably is one of the best of the genre.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good marks in all three. People needing more oomph — for light to moderate towing, for example — might want to consider the more powerful 3.6R six-cylinder version of the new Outback.
Head-turning quotient: The exterior has some sport-utility pretensions, which I personally can do without. But the interior is top-notch design and quality. Way to go, Subaru!
Body style/layout: The 2014 Subaru Outback is a front-engine, all-wheel-drive wagon with four side doors and a rear hatch. It is offered in four equipment/trim levels_2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, and 3.6R Limited.
Engines/transmissions: It comes with a standard 2.5-liter, 16-valve, horizontally opposed (“boxer” or “flat”) gasoline four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (173 horsepower, 174 pound-feet of torque). The engine is linked to a standard six-speed manual transmission. The wagon driven for this column came with an optional, continuously variable (no fixed gears) automatic transmission. A 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine is available.
Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity with rear seats up is 34.3 cubic feet. It is 71.3 cubic feet with rear seats folded. The fuel tank holds 18.5 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is recommended.
Mileage: I averaged 27 miles per gallon in highway travel carrying a light load (approximately 125 pounds) and one adult passenger.
Safety: The 2014 Subaru Outback gets top crash safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated front/solid rear; four-wheel antilock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; front and rear head air bags.
Pricing: The Price of the 2014 Subaru Outback Limited wagon starts at $29,395 with a dealer’s invoice price of $27,589. Price as tested is $32,094 including $1,874 in options (panoramic glass roof and other items) and a $825 factory-to-dealer transportation charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $29,938.