Carroll Shelby once said, “Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races,” and while that might be true when it comes to racing, it’s not necessarily true when it comes to selling cars. Case in point, Subaru used to sell Forester XT model that was powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 250 horsepower, but it was discontinued after 2018 and now the Forester is only available with a 2.5-liter engine that puts out far less power. However, the new Subaru Forester has been selling like hotcakes. But why?
It’s not about horsepower
Contrary to popular belief, and Caroll Shelby’s quote, horsepower numbers are really only valuable to car enthusiasts, or at least people that truly care. But for the 90 percent of the overall car-buying population, it’s just another number. In fact, more consumers care more about fuel economy than horsepower, which is most likely why hybrid cars are so popular.
But fuel economy isn’t the only reason that anyone would by a new Subaru Forester either. A Subaru enthusiast would probably say that it’s because Subaru’s have “soul” or at least some kind of character. It starts with the BOXER engine that the brand is known for and the slightly odd rumble that the flat-four engine emits, then it goes onto the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system that the brand is famous for. Starting with the 2019 model year, Subaru made the Forester bigger and wider by basing it off their Subaru Global Platform, which was first incorporated on the Impreza.
The new platform means that the Forester is now stiffer and more crash-resistant, according to Subaru. And unlike the last generation, safety is now of the utmost importance.
Less power, more sales
For reference, the 2018 Subaru Forester XT had 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque while the newer 2019 Subaru Forester has a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated engine that puts out 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. It’s significantly less, however, the 2019 model does achieve 26 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway while the older turbo model was rated at 23 city and 27 on the highway. If you only cared about your long, traffic-filled commute to work every day, which one would you choose? Probably the one that gets better fuel economy, not necessarily the sportier one.
According to Subaru, the car’s sportiness is not about power, it’s about the responsiveness of the engine and the way that the car drives. By using the new global platform, Subaru was able to make the Forester drive more like a car and handle well, which is typically more important every day in comparison to all-out power.
It’s all about the eyes
In addition to upgrading the Forester’s driving dynamics, Subaru also focused on incorporating their Eyesight Driver Assist features on every trim level of the new Forester. This was more of a reason for them to discontinue the more-powerful XT trim as the car’s optional six-speed manual transmission wouldn’t allow for the use of the new technology. Safety is one of Subaru’s core values going forward and making the Forester safer by making Eyesight standard was much more of a priority.
The Forester XT was a unicorn
Ultimately, the Subaru Forester XT was a unicorn, or a “low-volume configuration,” that didn’t sell as much as the lower-trim models so they discontinued it. But with the newer-generation Forester, Subaru is able to market more to the masses that don’t care about shifting their own gears – hence the now-standard, fake-shifting CVT – or care about horsepower, so they will end up selling more Foresters.
That and the newer 2.5-liter Forester engine also makes more power and gets better fuel economy than the outgoing base 2.5-liter in the 2018 model (174 hp/174 torque). So maybe horsepower does sell cars, but not in the way that we normally think it would.