Subaru has never been the biggest Japanese car manufacturer in terms of the volume of vehicles produced or sold.
However, over the years Subaru has built up a legion of loyal followers – especially in countries and locations with challenging winter climates and road conditions.
For example, here in NZ where the Garage Dreams editorial team is based, you see many Subaru cars on the road. Subaru Foresters, Outbacks, Legacies (also sold as the Liberty in Australia) and even the WRX are all common sights – often found hauling people up ski field access roads in the winter, or heading out into the countryside.
One of the reasons why Subaru cars are so popular here is due to their excellent All Wheel Drive (AWD) systems.
In fact, AWD is what Subaru is generally known for. For the vast majority of drivers who indulge in outdoor pursuits like skiing/snowboarding (or who live in areas with lots of snow and ice in the winter) a system like Subaru’s symmetrical AWD provides the perfect blend of grip and drivability.
Where we live, if you want an affordable “go anywhere” car that isn’t a proper 4x4 (like a Toyota Landcruiser or Volkswagen Touareg) then you buy a Subaru – generally an Outback or a Forester – it really is that simple.
Growing up there were lots of ads on TV in New Zealand promoting the All Wheel Drive nature of Subaru’s entire lineup as a key selling point.
The resolution is grainy, but this NZ TV commercial from the early 2000s heavily promotes AWD as the key reason to buy a Subaru, making it suitable for driving in challenging conditions (the song Total Control by The Motels is also used, the implication being Subaru offers “total control” on the road with their AWD system). It’s also great to see Subaru pay homage to their rally pedigree in this ad as well!
Depending on where you lived, you may have had similar ads on TV.
But are all Subarus AWD?
In this short edition of Car Facts, we look at whether or not all Subaru cars come with AWD systems.
Current Non-AWD Models
At the time of writing, there is only one car in Subaru’s international lineup that isn’t AWD – that is the Subaru BRZ (which is the joint venture with Toyota who produce the Toyota 86 version – you can read our buyer’s guide and model history here).
Apart from the BRZ, all current Subaru cars come with some form of AWD system.
However, Subaru does make a front-wheel drive version of the Impreza for the Japanese Domestic Market (this is the absolute ‘poverty spec’ model, designed for people who just need basic around-town transport). If you’ve read our article on the meaning of JDM, then you’ll know that Japanese car manufacturers do have a tendency to produce domestic cars with rather different specification.
In terms of the lineup that is available to buy at your Subaru showroom in the United States, Australia, New Zealand etc, all cars except for the BRZ are AWD.
Subaru Has Been Doing AWD For A Long Time
While Subaru hasn’t always made exclusively AWD cars, they do have a well-established track record in this arena.
The first Subaru to feature AWD (as an optional extra) was the 1972 Leone.
While there were models featuring AWD (either standard or as an option) that were released after that, it wasn’t really until the late 1980s and early 1990s that Subaru started to hit its stride with AWD, building off the back of success in rallying.
Into the early 1990s you could still purchase a number of Subaru models without AWD – but it was the AWD cars like the Legacy, and especially the Outback, which proved the most popular with buyers who wanted a ‘go anywhere’ vehicle that drove like a car and not a truck.
In 1996 Subaru’s parent company (Fuji Heavy Industries) made the bold decision to make the entire non-JDM Subaru lineup AWD.
From 1997 (until the introduction of the BRZ) if you walked into a Subaru showroom outside of Japan, you could only buy an AWD car. 1997’s first-generation forester was a huge hit, being one of the first true “crossover” cars – which dominate sales figures these days – and boasting the combination of robust AWD system and better ground clearance.
The rest – as they say – is history.
Recap – Are All Subarus AWD?
No, not all Subarus are AWD. However, there is only one car in the current export lineup that isn’t – the Subaru BRZ, which is a joint-venture with Toyota and aimed at a very different part of the market to the regular Subaru lineup.
Since the mid 1990s, Subaru has focused almost exclusively on producing AWD cars. In marketing speak, AWD is their “niche”.
It’s what the public knows the brand for, and is part of the reason why the company has a loyal following of buyers who keep coming back for more.
There is a reason why in places like New Zealand, or parts of the United States with inclement winter weather, every second car seems to be an Outback or a Forester – Subaru has mastered the art of using AWD to produce vehicles that drive well like cars, but have enough capability to tackle snow, ice and mud.
This niche nature is part of the reason why Subaru cars also tend to hold their value well compared to many other brands. All cars depreciate, but Subaru depreciation is often on the lower end of the scale – especially for the WRX and WRX STI.