Subaru is a special company, building nearly half of its global production in Indiana and with a set of morals that respects its diverse customers and ever-growing number of employees. That’s super, but that doesn’t explain the specialness of the company’s iconic Outback, which is as inseparable from Subaru as Mickey from Walt or Beetle from Volkswagen.
It’s a simple concept: Take a well-built station wagon, stir in torque-shifting all-wheel-drive, jack it up to clear snow and trail, and make sure it looks more like a car than a truck. Add some lower body cladding to fend off rocks and muck. It seems simple, but apparently only Subaru can do it at a price peasants can afford.
Taken full-on, the Outback looks like an upscale crossover, but sliding sideways, you see the full station wagon profile. Subaru found the perfect size that provides ample space for people and their stuff while not feeling overwhelming on tight city streets. Those big roof rails can be outfitted for snowboards, skis, bicycles, and other gear. All-surface tires and 17-inch alloys stamp a grippy footprint.
A full troop could tromp inside. We skipped Subaru’s EyeSight crash avoidance system, but loaded up our 3.6R edition with heated leather seats, Harman Kardon speakers, Bluetooth audio/calling, power moonroof, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Thick floormats and rubber liner for the huge cargo area are ready to repel mud, dog fuzz, or messy baby humans. There’s nothing complicated about the design, but it is durable, and acceptably upscale.
As with Porsche, flat horizontally-opposed Boxer engines place weight low in the chassis and kick out performance grins. Base models come with a 173 horsepower 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission, but our uppity test model came with the optional 3.6 litter H6 that delivers 256 horsepower and 17/25 mpg city/hwy. Fuel economy digits like that won’t impress the frugal, especially since Ram pickups can match them, but go H4 and enjoy 24/30 mpg city/hwy.
Bust through snowdrifts or shimmy up slick roads to experience what makes all Subarus (except for BRZ sports car) special—Symmetrical All-wheel-drive. When wheels slip, the system shifts torque to those with grip, letting the wagon plow the fluffy white stuff or put smooth power to pavement. Cruising at 80 mph or clomping over city pot holes prove no more trouble than the other.
My partner and I had a choice between a very nice sport sedan and the Outback for our recent trip to the Detroit auto show. Given all of the snow that has fallen this winter, and the fact we spent a night in a hotel with two cats when the power went out, I chose the Boy Scout’s choice, the Swiss Army Knife of cars, the Indiana-built Subaru Outback. I knew, without doubt, that the wagon could handle anything without compromising comfort or class, including hauling home a crib and high chair from Ikea—and that’s why loyal owners think it is so special.
You can buy other jacked-up all-wheel-drive wagons like the Volvo XC70 or Audi Allroad, but only if you’re willing to spend nearly twice the Outback’s $23,495 base price. Go with the powerful six-cylinder engine and the extras, and you’ll lighten your load by $35,665. At any price, pick one you like because this love will last. It’s pretty special.
2014 Subaru Outback 3.6R
Five-passenger, AWD Wagon
Powertrain: 256hp 3.6L H6, 5-spd auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 17-inch/17-inch alloy f/r
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr with ABS
Must-have features: AWD, Capacity
Fuel economy: 17/25 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Lafayette, IN
Base/as-tested price: $23,495/$35,665