Manchester Subaru

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REVIEW: Subaru Outback vs Toyota Venza w/o the Marketing Hype



Recently, Toyota has been targeting Subaru's Outback vs the Toyota Venza.  It's no wonder considering the Subaru Outback outsells the Toyota Venza 3 to 1.

Toyota's tagline is "Versatility Made Stylish". Their TV commercial features two "granola looking hippies" (left) at a recreation area standing beside their brown Outback with a crappy looking old canoe on top vs city yuppies pulling their designer bikes off a "stylish" Venza. The premise is that the Venza is "just like an Outback, only more stylish" and with more room. But is it really? And what about the $2,600+ higher price tag for the Venza? No mention of that in the ad. And finally, Toyota's portrayal of Subaru owners hardly endears them to the Toyota brand.  Based on what we know about Subaru owners (active, highly intelligent, individualists), Toyota got it all wrong. In fact, just the only thing these two vehicles have in common is that they both have four wheels!

On this page, we will compare two comparably equipped vehicles - without hype by looking at:

  • Style and Functionality
  • AWD Systems
  • Safety
  • Size
  • Specs
  • Price
  • Reviews
  • Summary

IMPORTANT NOTE: The standard Venza LE configuration is front wheel drive (FWD) automatic with an all-wheel drive (AWD) version for an additional $1,460. The standard configuration for the Outback Premium model is a 6 speed manual transmission. The automatic (CVT) transmission with paddle-shifters is an additional $1,000. Since Subaru Outbacks are always AWD and the Venza does not offer a manual transmission, we selected the 2014 Outback Premium Package CVT and the 2014 Venza LE AWD (both are common trim levels for New England). No accessories. No add-ons. Let's see how they compare.

Manchester Subaru

764 Second St
Directions Manchester, NH 03102

  • Sales: (866) 992-7097
  • Service: (866) 992-7097
  • Parts: (866) 992-7097


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2014 Subaru Outback Premium

2014 Toyota Venza LE

While Toyota places their marketing emphasis on Venza's "style", it does little to overcome shortcomings in its price, performance and overall versatility. Subaru has always been practical and functional, and the Subaru Outback design is no different - taking full advantage of Subaru's Boxer Engine, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, higher ground clearance (yet with lower center of gravity), safety, handling and performance all working in harmony. That makes an Outback a beautiful thing!

Subaru Symmetrical All Wheel Drive System vs. Toyota On Demand 4WD

80% of New England Subaru owners surveyed [6,693 respondents] revealed that Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive System was a MAJOR factor in their decision to buy a Subaru. Reasons often cited for this were adverse weather conditions, better handling characteristics, safety, and ability to navigate to remote areas. Since this is a core Subaru technology, how does it compare to Toyota's "On Demand 4WD" and what is it that Outback owners know that Venza owners don't?



Subarus are designed and engineered from the start to be all wheel drive. Notice how the components are aligned in a straight line from the boxer engine --> transmission --> drive train and that both sides are symmetrical. This symmetry is incredibly efficient and provides power to all four wheels all the time for maximum traction, balance and control. Other well known examples of symmetry include butterflies, airplanes and the human body.

The Toyota Venza is primarily front wheel drive (FWD) biased that has been re-engineered with a 4WD option package. With a typical transverse engine, output must be rerouted in order to get power to the rear wheels. These AWD/4WD systems often engage AFTER loss of traction is detected. Notice how the drive train is unbalanced, with the axle on the transmission side (L) shorter than the other. Can you imagine an airplane with one wing shorter than the other?



There are clear differences between the 2014 Subaru Outback and 2014 Toyota Venza in terms of safety. Most recently, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) named the 2014 Subaru Outback a 2014 Top Safety Pick + while the 2013 Toyota Venza only received Top Safety Pick (the 2014 Venza is mechanically considered the same by IIHS since there were no structural design changes). Why the difference? IIHS instituted a new, small overlap crash test that represents 25% of serious injuries and fatalities and now requires at least basic level accident avoidance systems.
The 2014 Subaru Outback with the Optional Eyesight collision avoidance system received a Superior Rating and was rated #1 by IIHS, ahead of Cadillac, Mercedes and Volvo.

In both the 12 mph and 25 mph tests, Subaru's Eyesight system sounded an alert and used an autobrake system (designed to help inattentive drivers avoid rear-ending another car) to completely avoid a collision.

For some reason Toyota has not run the Venza through the small overlap front test, however, some of their other models such as the RAV4 have performed poorly. To date, only the Prius and Highlander have received 2014 Top Safety Pick + ratings out of 19 Toyota models listed by IIHS.

2014 Top Safety Pick + requires good performance in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests as well as a good or acceptable performance in the small overlap front test and at least a basic rating for front crash prevention.

While no tests have been conducted on the Venza, perhaps the only two Toyotas to receive a 2014 Top Safety Pick + to date so far can shed some light on Toyota's accident avoidance system:

On the Prius,
In the 12 mph IIHS test, impact speed was reduced by 5 mph.
In the  25 mph IIHS test, impact speed was only reduced by 4 mph.

In the 12 mph IIHS test, impact speed was reduced by 7 mph.
In the 25 mph IIHS test, impact speed was only reduced by 6 mph
  Subaru Outback Premium w/CVT
  Symmetrical AWD
  Toyota Venza LE
  "On Demand" 4WD
 (Including Transportation)
 Driver's Seat/Adjustment
10-way Power w/Lumbar Support
8-way Power w/Lumbar Support
 AM/FM/CD/USB/Blue Tooth/Hands-Free Phone
 Heated Seats
Heated Seats, Wipers, Mirrors
Not available
 Reclining 60/40 Split Rear Seats
 Fog Lights
 Tilt/Telescoping Steering Wheel
 Roof Rails w/Crossbars
+ $599 option

As you can see, the Outback Premium Pkg w/CVT is $2,640 less expensive than the Venza LE. For comparison purposes, neither vehicle has any additional accessories or add-ons and both include manufacturer's transportation costs. At $30,260, the LE is Toyota's base model Venza.  For those who want the same safety, performance and handling characteristics of the Outback Premium without bells and whistles, Subaru offers a base model Outback w/CVT with a MSRP of $25,320 - nearly $5000 less expensive than the Venza.

Both cars come nicely equipped. But if you are looking for heated seats, wipers and side mirrors that we favor here in New England, they come standard in the Outback Premium but are not available in the Venza unless you spring for the more expensive XLE model with leather trim. Roof rails with integrated crossbars come standard with ALL Outbacks. If you want roof rails and crossbars for the Venza, it will cost an additional $599.

  Engine and
    Subaru Outback Premium w/AWP
  Symmetrical AWD
      Toyota Venza LE
  "On Demand" 4WD
2.5L 4 cyl Boxer 173 hp @ 5,600 rpm
174 lb-foot @ 4,100 rpm
2.7L 4 cyl 181 hp @ 5800 rpm
182 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
 Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV)
 EPA (City/Hwy)
20/26 (same for FWD and AWD)
 Fuel Capacity (US Gal)
 Fuel Range (Hwy)
555 mi
460 mi
6 spd Manual or
  CVT Auto w/paddle shifter
No Manual
6 spd Auto Only

NOTE: Compared to the Venza, only the Subaru Outback Premium offers two transmission choices - a 6-spd manual transmission or an automatic w/CVT.  You can't get a  manual transmission on the Toyota Venza. It's simply not offered. All Subarus come with symmetrical all-wheel drive standard vs a $1,460 add on for Venza's "On Demand" 4WD. What's fascinating is that Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive fuel economy is GREATER than the front wheel drive version of the Venza, which has the same fuel economy as their AWD version.

The 2.7L Venza engine delivers 8 more hp and 8 more lb-ft of torque, however, as you can see in the table below, the Venza is 437 lbs heavier than the Outback - which may have some bearing on the lower fuel economy.
  Subaru Outback Premium w/AWP
  Symmetrical AWD
  Toyota Venza LE
"On Demand" 4WD


Headroom (in) F/R
40.8 / 39.3
39.6 / 39.3
Legroom (in) F/R
43.0 / 37.8
40.2 / 39.1
Cargo Volume (cu ft)
Rear Seats Up/Down
34.3 / 71.3
36.2 / 70.2


Wheelbase (in)
Length (in.)
Width (in.)
Height (with Rails)
no rails
Turning Radius (Feet)
Ground Clearance
Curb Weight (Lbs)
Towing Capacity (Lbs)

The 2014 Subaru Outback has more headroom and nearly three extra inches of extra legroom in the front than the Toyota Venza, however; the Venza does have an additional 1.3" of legroom in the rear seat. Subaru compensates for this with concave front seats that provide for more knee room, reclining rear seats and rear doors that open wider and taller than the Venza to allow easy access - especially for children.

As for the cargo volume, the Venza edges out the Outback by 1.9 cu ft of cargo volume with the rear seats up, however, the Outback wins the "space race" when the rear seats are down. It's interesting to note that the Venza rear cargo floor sits directly on the spare tire. In the Subaru Outback, the cargo floor rests on an additional "hidden" storage compartment, which is not factored into the above dimensions. It's an ideal place for jumper cables, emergency supplies or your spouse's birthday present.

Noteworthy from the table above is Outback's 8.7 of ground clearance and shorter turning radius. Here in New England, the higher ground clearance could mean the difference between getting up your driveway or getting stuck in the snow. And who hasn't driven on a dirt road full of ruts or frost heaves around here?

Toyota's decision to market the Venza as "stylish" is highly subjective. What is objective in this comparison is that the 2014 Subaru Outback is significantly less expensive than the Toyota Venza, more versatile, has a better AWD platform, higher safety ratings, better fuel economy, more environmentally friendly, off-road capability and a broader market appeal to those who don't want to be "like the Joneses". It would seem as though the majority of critics would agree.

The Subaru Outback has historically defined the segment as the original SUV alternative. It's the adventurer's choice. Outback owners enjoy variety, personal freedom, environmentally friendly products and a versatile vehicle to accommodate their busy lifestyle. They embrace safety, value and economy. In all these things, the 2014 Subaru Outback delivers.

* Information provided accurate as of 2-14-14


"Altogether, the Outback's value for the money is pretty hard to beat, and for shoppers that value a true all-weather champ, it's the winner here. But that doesn't leave the Venza in the dust in all respects; there will definitely be people who prefer the design and the more relaxed driving feel of the Venza, though for us, the Subaru is a compelling package that's more versatile and can fit a much wider range of needs.." -- The Car Connection

"With its generous cargo capacity and commendable off-road performance, the 2014 Subaru Outback wagon offers far more utility than many competing crossover SUVs. It's a good option for families, especially those who enjoy the great outdoors." -- Edmunds

"The Outback offers a comfortable ride, standard all-wheel-drive and a spacious interior along with better fuel economy than comparably sized crossovers."
-- Left Lane News

"The Venza deserves praise for its comfortable, roomy interior and surprisingly good fuel economy. We are less enamored with the unsettled ride and handling and noisy engines. Pricing is not unreasonable for the class, but a traditional wagon or SUV would be a better place to spend your money." -- Consumer Guide (2013)

"The only notable downside in the Venza's cabin is the abundance of hard plastic in direct contact with the driver's and front passenger's knees, a comfort issue that's surprising in a vehicle that can price out well above the $30,000 mark. Road noise can be an issue on coarse road surfaces. With moderately soft suspension tuning and rather numb steering, it's by no means exciting to drive. Compared to most modern sedans and wagons, the 2014 Toyota Venza isn't a very fuel-efficient vehicle." -- The Car Connection


"Like the Camry and Highlander upon which it is based, Venza isn't an excitement machine." -- Consumer Guide (2012)

"Few vehicles on the market can equal the Subaru Outback's ability to conquer tough terrain while simultaneously delivering carlike fuel economy." -- Kelley Blue Book

"Outbacks are known for their cargo space and dexterity in the dirt, but they've always been held in equal regard for their excellent manners on paved roads." -- Edmunds


"The Venza starts with front-wheel drive and a 2.7-liter inline-4 that's good for 182 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque. We'd be more forgiving of this engine's mediocre acceleration if it delivered exceptional fuel economy, but 21 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway isn't all that great when the 4-cylinder Camry is rated at 35 mpg." -- AutoTrader

"The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers adequate performance and respectable fuel economy with either the six-speed manual or the CVT. It's a good choice if your primary concern is fuel economy. But if you live in the mountains or frequently haul full loads of passengers or cargo in your Outback, you'll be better served by the six-cylinder." -- Edmunds


"If it weren't for the vague feel of its electric-assist steering, the Venza might actually be interesting to drive instead of merely pleasant." -- Edmunds (2013)

"On the road, the Outback demonstrates an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because the low center of gravity of its powertrain more than offsets its tall bodywork. Steering is precise and predictable, and only some slight wind noise intrudes on the reasonably quiet ride." -- Kelley Blue Book


"There is plenty of legroom in the (Venza) reclining backseat, and there is a decent amount of space for three abreast. The driver seat is a little less comfortable, however, and it could use a greater range of adjustability." -- Edmunds (2013)

"Of particular note is (Outback's) rear seat - we were able to fit three 6-foot adults in the rear seat, everybody was comfortable and none had knees touching the backs of the front seats. Equally comfortable are the wide front seats, which clearly are configured for adults, a reclining rear seat further improves comfort, while the upscale Limited and Premium trims offer power driver's-side lumbar support and leather seating." -- Kelley Blue Book