Subaru logoUp until the last few years, Subaru could have been defined in one word: quirky. By design, by engineering or simply by taking risks no other manufacturer would, Subaru distinguished it itself with vehicles and features that no one else offered. That has changed as the brand is concentrating on more mainstream products, and now, it’s being more and more recognized for the capabilities of its vehicles.

2023 Subaru Outback Wilderness

All-wheel drive has been a Subaru trademark since what seems like forever, but the introduction of its Symmetrical AWD system allowed the deployment of all-wheel traction in almost all the models of its North American lineup. The recent adoption of a continuously variable automatic transmission also allowed the brand to drastically lower the fuel consumption of its vehicles. Since safety is more than ever a purchase criterion for new-car shoppers, Subaru vehicles instantly come to mind. Drive through Vermont or the Province of Quebec, where the winter months are generally harsh, and you’ll notice a disproportionately high amount of Subaru vehicles on the road.

2024 Subaru WRX

Back in the mid-1990s, Subaru also had the clever idea to dress up its midsize Legacy Wagon and compact Impreza Hatchback with body cladding and install raised suspensions, creating the rugged-looking Outback and Outback Sport. Sales picked up, Subaru’s brand awareness rapidly grew, and other manufacturers copied the idea of active lifestyle vehicles. Subaru recently retaliated with its Wilderness variants that are appearing across its utility vehicle portfolio.

2023 Subaru Solterra

Like many Japanese automakers, the road to electrification is a challenging one, and although Subaru tinkered with fully electric prototypes and low-volume models in the past, it recently collaborated on an EV project with Toyota. The result is the Subaru Solterra, the company’s first mass-production BEV in North America.

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness

The brand is also facing stiff competition as it loses ground in a key aspect it dominated, and that’s AWD. Other manufacturers launched very capable systems over the past few years, which match Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system in real-world testing. However, Subaru can still ride on its well-deserved reputation of all-weather capability for a while.

2024 Subaru BRZ tS

Current Subaru Model Lineup

The brand’s North American lineup currently consists of the Subaru Impreza and Subaru Legacy passenger cars, the Subaru Crosstrek, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Subaru Solterra and Subaru Ascent crossovers as well as the Subaru WRX and Subaru BRZ sports cars.

Subaru History

The Subaru brand was established in the 1950s by Fuji Heavy Industries, following the merger of six companies in Japan, hence the brand logo’s six-star constellation. Led by CEO Kenji Kita, the company developed its very first automobile in 1954 called the Subaru 1500 four-door compact sedan, of which only 20 units were manufactured.

1958 Subaru 360

The first production vehicle was the Subaru 360 city car launched in 1958 and was produced up until 1971. The name was derived from its engine displacement, a 356-cc two-stroke twin-cylinder mill to be precise. The two-door sedan weighed just 1,000 pounds, while a convertible and a wagon were also produced. Almost 400,000 units of the 360 were built, about 10,000 of which were exported to the United States in 1968 by American businessman Malcolm Bricklin. The Subaru 450/Maia with a 423-cc engine was also introduced for a few years for other export markets.

1961 Subaru Sambar Pickup Truck

The 360 was quickly followed by the Subaru Sambar in 1961, a microvan that also spawned a commercial truck variant. The subcompact Subaru 1000 in sedan and wagon body styles appeared in 1966, equipped with the company’s first production Boxer engine with a horizontally opposed cylinder layout. The Subaru 1000 was also the brand’s first model to feature four-wheel drive, although only eight wagon units were built with the drivetrain that would become Subaru’s trademark feature. The Subaru R-2 city car launched in 1969 as a replacement for the 360, available in two-door sedan and three-door van body styles.

1966 Subaru 1000

The Subaru Leone was introduced in 1971 in a plethora of configurations, including a two-door pickup truck dubbed the Subaru Brat which launched for the 1978 model year, while four-wheel drive was now a widespread option. The Leone went on sale in the United States in 1972. The R-2 was then replaced in 1972 by the Subaru Rex which adopted several different names for export markets. The Rex was available in two-door sedan, four-door sedan, three-door hatchback and three-door wagon configurations. Subaru Canada set up its dealer network in 1978.

1973 Subaru Leone/DL/GL

The second-generation Subaru Leone arrived for the 1980 model year, which was largely known by its trim level designations such as Subaru DL and Subaru GL. Once again, the model was offered in a variety of body styles, including a three-door liftback, a coupe, a sedan, a wagon and the Brat pickup. The 1980 to 1982 models included a third headlight that was cleverly hidden behind the grille logo, which would rotate upwards when the high beams were activated. A turbocharged engine appeared in the second-gen Leone for 1983, with the variant equipped with it called the GL-10.

1985 Subaru Loyale/DL/GL Wagon

The third-generation Leone debuted for the 1984 model year in three-door, four-door and wagon configurations, while the second-gen hatchback and Brat continued to be sold alongside the new model line in North America for a few years.

1985 Subaru XT

The Subaru XT coupe was introduced in 1985, which was one of the most aerodynamic cars of its era and the brand’s first vehicle to feature a six-cylinder engine, while the Subaru Justy city car launched for the 1987 model year as the Rex’s replacement, available with four-wheel drive and an electronically controlled, continuously variable automatic transmission.

1987 Subaru Justy

Before the end of the decade, the Subaru Legacy midsize sedan and wagon launched, with North American units manufactured at the newly constructed Lafayette, Indiana plant, a collaborative project between Subaru and Isuzu.

1993 Subaru SVX

The 1990s brought the Subaru Impreza compact car as the Leone’s replacement, along with its rally-inspired Impreza WRX and WRX STi variants, while the Subaru SVX sports car superseded the XT. However, the most significant model introduced by the brand was actually a variant of the Legacy wagon. Dubbed the Subaru Legacy Outback, it arrived as a 1995 model featuring a more rugged exterior appearance and an elevated suspension, giving the vehicle light off-road capabilities beyond the classic wagon variant. The Outback created a styling trend that was replicated by many other manufacturers over time, including Volvo, Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz.

1995 Subaru Legacy Outback

The Subaru Outback Sport also launched for 1995 as a variant of the Impreza wagon, and in 1996, Subaru’s new full-time all-wheel drivetrain appeared, branded as Subaru Symmetrical AWD. Introduced for the 1998 model year, the Subaru Forester was one of the first car-based crossover utility vehicles on the market.

2001 Subaru Forester

Back in its domestic market, the brand launched more Kei cars in the form of the Subaru Vivio, which was then replaced by the Subaru Pleo before the end of the century. In the 2000s, the Pleo was eventually replaced by the Subaru Stella while the R2 arrived as a nod to the 1969 R-2 city car.

2008 Subaru R1e

Meanwhile, the brand’s first EV arrived in 2003 as the Subaru R1e, a concept that featured a driving range of 80 kilometres or 50 miles. The gasoline-powered Subaru R1 reached production in 2005. The R1e made an appearance at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, and a few units were produced for testing in various markets. It was replaced by the Subaru G4e, also an electric vehicle.

2002 Subaru Baja

During the subsequent years, a bunch of badge-engineered models appeared, such as the Subaru Lucra replaced the R2 (as a rebadged Daihatsu Tanto Exe) the second-gen Stella (Daihatsu Move), the second-gen Justy (Suzuki Cultus/Swift), the Subaru Chiffon (Daihatsu Tanto), the Subaru Dex (Toyota bB, also known as the Scion xB in the U.S. and Canada) and the Subaru Trezia (Toyota Ractis). A homegrown model was also introduced as the Subaru Exiga midsize MPV in 2008.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Back in North America, the Brat-inspired Subaru Baja launched as a four-door pickup variant of the Legacy, and the brand’s first midsize crossover appeared for the 2006 model year, the Subaru B9 Tribeca, which would later be renamed Tribeca. The Subaru XV Crosstrek based on the Impreza hatchback debuted as the Outback Sport’s replacement for the 2013 model, which was later renamed simply the Crosstrek for 2016, and a plug-in hybrid variant was later added to the lineup.

2013 Subaru BRZ

The Subaru WRX became a standalone model with its redesign for the 2015 model year. Thanks to a joint effort with Toyota, the Subaru BRZ sports car arrived for the 2013 model year alongside its badge-engineered counterpart, the Scion FR-S. The international-market Subaru Levorg wagon launched in 2014.

2019 Subaru Ascent

More recently, the Subaru Ascent three-row midsize crossover replaced the Tribeca, while the Subaru Solterra is the brand’s first mass-produced electric vehicle, developed jointly with Toyota, arriving for the 2023 model year. Meanwhile, Subaru started introducing its Wilderness sub-brand designating more-capable off-road variants of its Outback, Crosstrek and Forester models.