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Looking for a wagon? Subaru just may have what you want

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2014 Subaru Outback

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Subaru may produce some of the most-fun cars to drive, like the new WRX and WRX STI sedans and the BRZ coupe, but it also rates high when it comes to producing vehicles for family use.

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Its Impreza and Legacy offer competitive choices for sedan shoppers who like to “think out of the box,” and the Forester earned recognition as Motor Trend’s 2014 SUV of the Year with the magazine praising the Japanese automaker for having “a “knack for making the right size vehicles for the marketplace.”

And then there’s the Outback, one of the pioneer vehicles in the evolving crossover segment. Introduced the mid-1990s, it ranks as the No. 2 pick in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of family wagons for 2014.

Yes, it’s a small category with only nine wagons listed, but still, it comes in ahead of such competitors as the Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Toyota Prius V, and even the more expensive Audi Allroad.

The Outback, a top safety pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), combines the best of both worlds. It has the space to handle the routine stuff like hauling passengers and cargo, and it also has the capability of tackling milder off-road challenges.

No, it’s not a Jeep Wrangler when it comes to hitting the trails, but with its all-wheel drive (standard across the line) and 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback is not afraid to get its wheels muddy in off-the-pavement excursions.

The Outback comes in three trim levels -- base, Premium and Limited -- with a 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder engine powering 2.5i models and a 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine under the hood of 3.6R Limited models.

The 173 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque in the 2.5i Outbacks get to the wheels via either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that can be operated as an automatic or gear ratios may be selected manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The 3.6R Limited with its 256 hp and 247 lb.-ft. of torque comes only with a five-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

Not surprisingly, fuel economy is much better in the 2.5i models than the 3.6R. EPA figures for the former are 21 miles-per-gallon city, 38 highway with the manual and 24/30 with the CVT. Figures for the 3.6R are a pedestrian 18/25.

The Outback of today is bigger than the earlier generations with 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space available behind the back seats and just over 71 cubic feet with that second row folded.

Thus if you’re headed out for a weekend road trip, you’ll find the Outback an ideal choice with its ability to handle extra stuff in the back without compromising its smooth, quiet ride.

For the adventurous, items such as bikes, snowboards, kayaks, canoes, etc. can be strapped on the roof by taking advantage of the build-in roof rails.

As for technological features, the Outback has such options as navigation and Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system, the latter now available on the 2.5i Premium model as well as the 3.6R trim.

Subaru calls Eyesight an extra pair of eyes on the road and, if needed, an extra foot on the brake because under certain conditions it can bring the car to a complete stop and, in other situations, apply the brakes to at least slow the vehicle.

Not sure what the company calls its navigation system, but it’s kind finicky to operate. It’s a nice-size display, however.

MSRP for the Outback starts at $24,320, including destination and delivery, for the base 2.5i with a manual transmission and runs up to $32,920 for the 3.6R Limited with four price points in between. There also are five versions rated PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicles) that run from $24,620 to $30,220.

For a look and more details on the Outback, check the slide show.

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