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Looking back over the last few years, it’s no surprise that Subaru tends to dominate the Brand Image Awards contest, determined by Kelley Blue Book. Every year, KBB recognizes a variety of automaker brands that produce outstanding vehicles in a series of categories.

In terms of ranking the best as a performance brand, Subaru models deliver in a big way. But in 2018, Subaru was surprisingly dethroned by the performance-minded Mazda brand. And Mazda fiercely held its title last year as well. So, it begs the question. Can Subaru reclaim its award for Best Performance Brand for 2020?

Subaru has enjoyed a view from the top

Subaru has always defined its brand as one of reliability, capability, and performance. Long before the consumer crossover popularity exploded, Subaru prioritized its efforts to introduce sporty and road-dominating models.

It’s this design focus that has allowed Subaru to routinely enjoy the view from the top of the critics’ performance lists year after year. As recent as 2017, Subaru models, including the WRX, Crosstrek, Forester, and Legacy, held Kelley Blue Book’s Best Performance Brand title and for a good reason. But then came the upset.

How Mazda upset Subaru in 2018 and 2019

In 2018, Subaru found itself falling behind in the Best Performance Brand ranking. Mazda and its “zoom, zoom” sporty reputation earned top honors in the Kelley Blue Book best brand contest.

The critics loved Mazda’s dedication to style and capability. But also, Mazda proved to dominate in the sporty and fun-to-drive categories as well. With models like the CX-3, CX-5, and CX-9, Mazda proved it was ready for recognition on the SUV stage.

But the sedans and sports cars were also fun. Meaning, as an overall brand, performance has been a primary objective for the automaker. And not to be considered a one-hit-wonder, Mazda held its title for Best Performance Brand again in 2019.

Why some say Mazda deserves the Best Brand title

Both Subaru and Mazda are well known producing top performance contenders in a variety of vehicle categories. However, it’s obvious, especially when scrolling through the car owner threads and auto industry reviews, that Mazda has focused more on performance capabilities in recent years.

Even in a recent Car and Driver comparison review of crossovers, the Mazda CX-5 outperformed the likes of BMW, Audi, and Subaru. This dedication to improving the driving experience is paying off for Mazda as more and more consumers are choosing to park these fun and sporty models in their driveways.

Why these Brand Image Awards are helpful to car buyers

Kelley Blue Book’s annual brand evaluation can be helpful to car buyers in a number of ways. For starters, KBB isn’t just highlighting the best model in one particular class. This contest looks at a brand’s portfolio of vehicles and bases its awards on the automaker with the best rides overall.

The Best Brand winner proves its high-quality design transcends beyond just one car. Award rankings like this can also help competing brands identify areas for improvement, thus launching better cars in the future. When car buyers are ready to trade up, they can rely on award lists like these, to help invest in the best performance brands.

It’s not that Subaru isn’t a top performer or fun to drive. Many Subaru enthusiasts will defend their brand and insist there is no other badge to buy. But according to the Kelley Blue Book, Mazda is the top performer and has been for two years in a row. Only time will tell if Subaru can reclaim its Best Performance Brand title, or if Mazda will continue to dominate.


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