Subaru vehicles are super popular in outdoorsy regions such as the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, but other areas have been slow to embrace the brand. Historically, there's been good reason for that: The company's standard all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems took a bite out of fuel economy, so the appeal was limited unless you needed AWD.
But now Subaru has largely closed the miles-per-gallon gap, enabling buyers in all climates to consider its products on equal footing. If you take a closer look, you'll find that these are some of the most well-rounded cars and crossovers on the market, including a number of fresh designs that continue to bring new fans into the fold.
And many new car shoppers agree, while Subaru may not be on everyone's radar, the company has seen record growth over the past few years, the same few years that had other brands in crisis due to slow sales. Even a casual observer has to conclude that Subaru is doing something right. If you're the kind of shopper that believes there's safety in numbers, Subaru needs to be on your list. For certain models, the company has been selling 30, 40 and 50 percent more cars compared to the same time last year.
Subaru's compact car was originally known simply as the Impreza, but then a couple specialty models joined the fold: the off-road-oriented Outback Sport and the high-performance WRX. Today, the Impreza lineup is much the same, except the XV Crosstrek has replaced the Outback Sport -- and all three Impreza models are much improved thanks to a full redesign for 2012.
Headlining the improvements is the Impreza's suddenly competitive fuel economy: Whereas the previous version topped out at 27 mpg on the highway, the new one gets up to 36 mpg hwy with the continuously variable automatic transmission. AWD still comes standard, but now the Impreza gives up little, if anything, to its rivals on the efficiency front. Subaru also jazzed up the interior with higher-quality materials, and the XV Crosstrek hatchback debuted with its lifted crossoverlike ride height. Driving enthusiasts will be particularly interested in the new-for-2015 WRX, which is available in sedan form only, with a 268-horsepower turbocharged engine.
If you haven't driven any Subaru family-size cars in a few years, you may be surprised at how spacious they've become. The Legacy sedan has an enormous back seat with an unusually high and supportive bottom cushion, while the Outback -- a wagon version of the Legacy with some light-duty trail-busting hardware -- can swallow a whopping 71.3 cu ft. of cargo. Although fuel economy is less of a strength for 2014 models, the Legacy still returns up to 32 mpg, with the Outback hitting an even 30 mpg. If you don't need to maximize your mpg, there's an optional 6-cylinder engine that cranks out a healthy 256 hp.
Notably, both the Legacy and Outback will receive complete redesigns for 2015 with sleeker styling, and more importantly, better fuel economy. Expect a highway yield of around 35 mpg from the 4-cylinder Legacy despite its standard AWD, with the Outback following close behind. Another significant upgrade comes in the form of a revised infotainment system with a standard 6.2-inch touchscreen. Graphics and usability are significantly better this time around, and Subaru will also introduce Starlink smartphone integration with support for Pandora Internet Radio and other popular apps.
Yet another recently overhauled Subaru product is the compact-plus Forester crossover. Positioned against stalwarts such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Forester is all new for 2014, boasting a larger back seat, a nicer cabin and up to 75 cu ft. of cargo room, which is on par with some midsize SUVs. In terms of fuel economy, the Forester is another win for Subaru, easily outdoing its predecessor at up to 32 mpg hwy, a mighty impressive number for an off-road-capable utility vehicle. Should you require more oomph under the hood, consider the unique Forester 2.0XT, which comes stuffed with a 250-hp turbocharged motor and still returns a respectable 28 mpg hwy.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Subaru's current lineup is the BRZ. In fact, if you haven't been following automotive news for a few years, you may be shocked to learn that Subaru actually sells a rear-wheel-drive, purpose-built sports car. That's right, you can't even get all-wheel drive as an option, so you know this is one special Subaru. Developed jointly with Toyota, which sells its version as the Scion FR-S, the BRZ features a growly 200-hp engine, a bolt-action manual gearbox (an automatic is also available) and some of the sharpest handling south of $50,000. Remarkably, a base BRZ costs barely half that sum, making it one of the best performance bargains on the planet.
As recently as five years ago, it was easy to write Subaru off as a purveyor of specialty AWD vehicles, but that's an outdated perspective these days. All-season capability is still a Subaru hallmark, but the fuel economy gap is no longer an issue, and the company has made strides in versatility and technology, too. With all of the competitive cars in Subaru's current stable, you might want to reconsider checking out what the automaker has to offer.