Discover what still makes Subarus unique in the car world
While small, and regarded as a niche manufacturer by many, there is quite a surprising number of Subaru models on the market, from sensible hatchbacks to midsize SUVs. The automaker has been reorganized and restructured many times over the past century, most recently being part of Fuji Heavy Industries and known as Subaru Corporation since 2017. In 2020, Toyota increased its shareholding in Subaru Corporation to 20 percent and Subaru officially joined the Toyota group. Toyota is likely to increase its share in the future with the purpose of eventually making Subaru a fully affiliated Toyota company. Hopefully, it will retain its unique character.
Over the years, Subaru has continued to play to its strengths, developing niche vehicles with horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engines and all-wheel drive. This drivetrain layout has attracted a loyal band of followers and Subaru markets the boxer engine as a smooth, balanced, power plant with a low center of gravity to improve their cars’ handling. Additionally, they market their ‘symmetrical AWD’ system as another of their standard tech features in the vast majority of their cars, making them very appealing as lifestyle vehicles, and popular in countries that experience snow in winter.
Subaru has been slow with the adoption of hybrid cars and the Crosstrek Hybrid they sell in the USA is a compliance car and their only hybrid in that market. However, this should soon change; under Toyota, the number of Subaru hybrids is likely to increase in the future from this current sole offering, which is only available in some countries.
In most international markets, the Subaru range comprises the following vehicles:
- Outback. Originally created as a high-riding version of the Legacy station wagon, the new Outback is now a unique model in its own right. This spacious station wagon/crossover has a greater ground clearance than a normal car and can do mild off-roading thanks to its all-wheel-drive traction and flat underbody. It is marketed as an SUV alternative to people who want a crossover with car-like handling and economy.
- Forester. Competing in the popular compact crossover SUV market, the Forester is similar to rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail/Rogue, and Volkswagen Tiguan – currently one of the most popular vehicle segments in the world and niche to several manufacturers’ top-selling models.
- XV/Crosstrek. Punted as the XV and Crosstrek in different markets, this is the basic Outback concept applied to a normal hatchback to create a high-riding car similar to a smaller crossover, half a class below the Forester.
- Legacy. Subaru’s traditional mid-size sedan that competes with rivals such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The once-popular sedan class has been mostly displaced by modern-day SUVs, and American automakers don’t produce them anymore. However, the sedan format is still popular in countries such as China.
- Impreza. The smaller Impreza, traditionally offered in sedan and hatchback configurations, competes in the compact sedan class against cars such as the Toyota Corolla and is the base model of the modern Subaru range, available with an entry-level 152-hp 2.0-liter engine.
- WRX/WRX STI. These are Subaru’s sports brands and confined to performance Imprezas nowadays, with WRX being the mid-tier and WRX STI as the top-performing models. WRX stands for World Rally eXperimental, because the first model in 1992 was created in response to the World Rally Championship. STI stands for Subaru Technica International, Subaru’s motorsport division, whose branding appears on their fastest road cars. The WRX has 268 hp on tap, while the STI ups this to 310 hp for a sub-six-second 0-60 mph sprint.
- BRZ. Subaru’s rear-wheel-drive sports coupe developed in parallel with Toyota’s GT86 is one of the most accessible sports cars in the segment. For the price, it offers superb driving dynamics, some practicality, and daily drivability in one package.
- Ascent. The mid-size, three-row SUV with seven or even eight seats (the small third-row back seat is meant for smaller adults and children) and plenty of cargo space (when used as a five-seater) is manufactured in the US for North America. It is the largest Subaru model and is powered by a 260-horsepower turbocharged engine.
Which To Buy
Which Subaru will be best for you will very much depend on your needs. Subaru caters to most needs and their high-riding crossovers such as the Outback and XV/Crosstrek will appeal to people who want rough-road ability and AWD, but without the poor fuel economy of full-size SUVs. Subaru has this market properly covered with the small XV, the compact Forester, and the station wagon Outback. Unfortunately, buyers looking for a proper SUV outside North America will have to look elsewhere, as the Ascent is not available internationally. The Forester is probably the best all-round Subaru in terms of size and practicality.
The key Subaru selling points are the following:
- Horizontally opposed engines
- Symmetrical all-wheel drive in most models
- Lifestyle/crossover focus
- Rugged construction and good quality
- Long-travel suspension with a comfortable ride
- Superb performance and handling of WRX and WRX STI derivatives
Small manufacturers such as Subaru sometimes struggle to succeed, but this automaker’s future is assured for its intrinsic excellence, and even more so now as part of the Toyota Group. It will undoubtedly continue to develop quirky cars with horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engines for the foreseeable future. Subaru is one of the last truly individualistic automobile manufacturers that still design and manufacture their vehicles to a different template, but whether they will find enough buyers to survive in their current form remains to be seen. Most enthusiasts would lament if they abandon their boxer engines, but with the EV era looming, that USP will also fall away, leaving little to differentiate Subaru.