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Wheels: Subaru Outback Sitting Pretty at Long Last

Subaru, long known for producing stylish exteriors, has figured out good interior design with the 2014 Subaru Outback wagon. Illustrates WHEELS-SUBARU (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, March 21, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Subaru)

Subaru, long known for producing stylish exteriors, has figured out good interior design with the 2014 Subaru Outback wagon. Illustrates WHEELS-SUBARU (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, March 21, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Subaru)

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Happily, that Subaru seems to have been replaced by one that does not confuse good interior design with Lenten sacrifice.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.