Subaru may not be the flashiest brand on the market. That honor goes to BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus, and other luxury automakers. But Subaru has quietly developed a devoted following among SUV owners.
Indeed, a recent Consumer Reports study shows consumers rank three Subaru SUVs at the top of the list. That’s quite a distinction for the brand, which has staked its success on its vehicles’ reliability, marketing efforts’ inclusiveness, and rally racing history.
The Subaru models owners love
Each year, Consumer Reports assesses data from surveys soliciting information about owners’ experiences with a whopping 369,000 vehicles. Crunching the numbers from its 2020 surveys, Consumer Reports found the highest owner satisfaction levels in the subcompact SUV segment came from Subaru Crosstrek owners. And the highest satisfaction levels in the compact SUV and two-row midsize SUV segments came from Forester and Outback owners. It’s no surprise these models please their drivers.
The Subaru Crosstrek starts at an affordable $22,245 and performs well with its standard all-wheel drive. The base model comes with a 2.0-liter flat-four engine producing 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, but a 2.5-liter flat-four harnessing 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque is available on higher trim levels. Both engines provide excellent fuel economy: The former, paired with a continuously variable transmission, gets 28/33 mpg city/highway, while the latter gets 27/34 mpg city/highway.
The base model also has a 6.5-inch touchscreen and various advanced safety features like lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. Higher trims come with even more driver aids, plus an 8.0-inch touchscreen, built-in navigation, and other amenities. You can get all the bells and whistles for under $30,000.
The Subaru Forester is similarly impressive. It comes standard with the same 2.5-liter flat-four, CVT transmission, and AWD. Fuel economy is 26/33 mpg city/highway.
Touchscreen sizes are also similar to the Crosstrek (6.5 inches on the base and 8.0 inches on higher trims levels). And all Subaru models come with EyeSight, a suite of advanced safety features, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and forward-collision control.
For its structure and safety features, the Forester earned a Top Safety Pick+ distinction from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also scored five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Rounding out Subaru’s three crossovers is the Outback, a popular two-row midsized SUV that adds off-road chops to the mix. It boasts a higher ground clearance and handles well on dirt and pavement. Though the base model has the same engine as the Crosstrek and Forester, a more heavily powered 2.4-liter engine option generates 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. And it gets 26/33 mpg city/highway.
Interior features are also generous. A four-speaker sound system and a 7.0-inch touchscreen come standard on the base model, and 11.6-inch touchscreen and 12-speaker audio system come with higher-level trims.
As for safety, Subaru EyeSight comes standard. The Outback also garnered IIHS Top Safety Pick+ honors.
Connecting with a diverse audience
Subaru is connecting, in part, because its vehicles are a value play. High safety ratings and excellent fuel economy reduce total ownership costs over the life of the vehicle. All three Subaru SUVs mentioned above have fared well in Consumer Reports‘ reliability surveys as well.
But while reliability and low total ownership costs may be the driving force behind Subaru’s loyal fan base, those aren’t the only reasons. The automaker has also made headlines for its inclusive marketing practices, notably its advertising geared toward LGBTQ consumers since the ’90s, NPR reports. After learning that some Subaru models were popular among lesbians, the company began extensive marketing research about how best to reach this demographic.
And after this research, Subaru developed a print ad campaign that reflected the LGBTQ community’s interests and values. This openly inclusive marketing was utterly new back then and helped Subaru significantly improve its bottom line through the 2000s. It also prompted the industry to be more inclusive as well.
The Subaru rally car crowd
Subarus continue to be broadly popular, and not just among lesbian and gay consumers. Buyers get more bang for their buck over the life of their vehicle ownership. And Subarus also appeal to outdoorsy consumers, in part, because of their AWD systems and towing and hauling capabilities.
Another key demographic? Rally car fans. Subaru has a long and storied history of participating in (and winning) World Rally Car events since 1980. The company used early competitions to showcase its all-wheel-drive technology on models like the WRX and Impreza. Notching multiple World Rally and Rally America Championships has helped reinforce its ability to produce rugged, dependable vehicles and bolstered its popularity among racing enthusiasts.
Subaru has built a loyal following over the years with affordable and reliable vehicles that appeal to a broad swath of consumers. Buoyed by this base, the brand is well-positioned to increase market share in multiple segments and weather the current and future economic downturns.