The brand for those alive with the spirit of adventure.
Once thekings of rally, Subaru has always relied on staple sales courtesy of ratherhumdrum models. Yet it remains a brand that seems todo adventure better than anyone else. Even Jeep. Jeep mightstrike you immediately as adventure focused – as it comes across as rugged andoutdoorsy. But in reality it’s onlyreally the Wrangler that’s a true adventure vehicle. For the most part, its vehicles arecity-slicking crossovers and semi-luxury SUVs that, while ‘trail rated’ arebest kept on the pavement.
Every model Subaru releases now, with the exception of two strictly commuter editions, signifies adventure in some way, shape, or form. It hasn’t always been so. The brand that started in Japan in the mid-50s started with the release of Kei cars – the Japanese equivalent of micro cars – and compact commuters.But that all changed in 1972 with the release of the Subaru BRAT. The name stood for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, and the model itself was built specifically for the United States to compete with small trucks from mainstream brands like Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda.
Unlike those, the BRAT was four-wheel drive – something that would shape the future of Subaru forever. The BRATalso showed off Subaru’s innovative thinking – coming in cheaper than rivals through a sneaky way of avoiding the 25% chicken tax that affectedlight trucks. Those of you old enough toremember pre-1985 BRATs will remember the two rear-facing ‘jump seats’ boltedto the back of the cabin – placed inside the load bin. These plastic seats in the load bin enabledSubaru to classify the BRAT as a passenger car, meaning the import tariff itwas subject to was just 2.5%. The BRATenjoyed a long period of success, selling for 9 years in the US, and a further7 years elsewhere in the world.
It wouldglobally overlap the introduction of what is currently the oldest Subarunameplate still in production: the Legacy.The Legacy was a completely new avenue for Subaru – it moved the brandfrom compact vehicles with interesting quirks to the realm of luxury, and italso introduced a new series of Boxer 4-cylinder engines called the EJ-series. Available all-wheel drive, 4-channel ABS brakes, and air suspension with height control meant the Legacy was a hugely innovative product for Subaru.
The air suspension also enabled the Legacy to drop in height at speeds above 50 mph, while also being able to lift at low speeds, and at the driver’s request to enable it to manage mild off-road situations. The Legacyboasted turbocharged engines in unique USA-only models dubbed the Legacy SportSedan and Legacy Touring Wagon that gave Americans their first look atperformance Subarus. These modelsfeatures different pistons, oil coolers, and other enhancements, but theirperformance adventures were the last turbocharged Subarus the US would seeuntil the WRX arrived in 2002.
However,the Legacy’s adventure-orientation would arrive in a lifted crossover versioncalled the Outback in 1994 – equipped with chunky body cladding and raisedsuspension. It was the brand’s firstcrossover type model, and introduced buyers to a world of go-almost-anywhereadventure that would become synonymous with the brand.
It wasn’tuntil the turn of the millennium though that Subaru fully emerged as theadventure brand – in all facets, both on-road and off. The 2000s were the years in which we wouldsee the off-road success of models such as the Forester and the Baja, and theon-road success of the Impreza WRX and WRX STi. From 2002, the US was introduced to the Impreza WRX – supposedly standing for “World Rally Experimental” – which was a warmed over version of a fairly humdrum commuter sedan with all-wheel drive, stiffened suspension, and turbocharged engines.
STI editions followed with more power, more aggressive suspension, and famously, big, big wings attached to the back of sedan variants. Whereasmost performance cars were engineered for on-road prowess, the WRX and WRX STIwere built as rally machines, and were as capable – if not more so – off roadthan they were on it. If you wantedrev-blooded adventure, the WRX and WRX STi were the perfect vehicles in whichto get your kicks. Off-road, the Baja and Forester were proper utility vehicles. The Baja was in theory a successor to the BRAT, but largely based on the Outback.
It possessed some practicality with the small load bin out back, but therally-truck styling and turbocharged engines gave the Baja impressiveperformance and an ‘uncategorizable’ nature. For those that wanted something that could fit into predefined boxes ofclassification, the Forester provided competent off-road ability with space fora full family, along with whatever adventure gear they might take with themwherever they went.
It wasn’tjust the WRX and STI variants of the Impreza that would receive Subaru’s magictouch of turning bland into brilliant.By the late 2000s, every model in Subaru’s line-up was exclusivelyall-wheel drive, but most of them were fairly plain and ordinary. The Outback and Forester gave you off-roadkicks when you wanted them, but Subaru applied sprinkles of performance to theForester to give it a little more spice – and it played into Subaru fanatics’fantasies perfectly. Though never themost mainstream vehicles, these performance derivatives were raved about bythose involved in the Scooby branch of society.
The abilityto turn boring into brilliant wasn’t limited to just performance models. In much the same way as the Legacy evolvedinto the Outback, the Impreza would evolve too – spawning the Subaru Crosstrek. Despite humble origins, the Crosstrek hasproven itself to be immensely capable off-road and exceptional to driveon-road. It’s becomea staple theme to modern Subarus – vehicles that are both capable and brillianton all surfaces – and it’s this ethos that has established Subaru as not justone of, but as the adventure brand.
A simplelook through their portfolio displays this. Out of 8 available model lines on sale, only two of these are ‘commutercars’ in the traditional sense – the Impreza and the Legacy. The remaining 6 are all models that offerexcitement and adventure in some way, shape, or form. From the traditional off-road experience inthe likes of the go-anywhere Outback to the hikers’ and mountain bikers’favorite, the Forester, with the Crosstrek slotting in neatly as an entry-leveladventurer, off-road excursions for the whole family are taken care of, whilstthe BRZ, WRX, and WRX STi inject pure adrenaline into the hearts of sports carenthusiasts and track day aficionados.
Subaru hasplaced immense effort into producing safe cars – with a range of forwardthinking safety features and crumple zones to pass crash tests with flyingcolors, and yet it’s the spirit of the adventurer in every single one of themthat gives them their essence. Whetherintentionally or inadvertently, Subaru has become the brand synonymous withadventure – and adventurers, those with an outdoor spirit of any sort, areinexplicably attracted to Subaru by some gravitational pull. When it comes to buying an adventure car –one with which you can enjoy quality time with the whole family, and yet spendevery weekend exploring the great outdoors, or the nearest raceway – there’sonly one brand that really caters to all your needs.