Subaru has never been the biggest player in the automotive space; always playing the part of a niche auto maker with a loyal fanbase.
While companies like Toyota and Honda long since branched out into the world of luxury cars with sub-brands such as Lexus and Acura, does Subaru have a luxury brand?
In this short edition of Car Facts, we’re going to explore the more “upmarket” side of the Subaru brand.
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There Is No Specific Subaru Luxury Brand
If you’re here for a quick answer, then read no further – Subaru does NOT have a specific luxury brand (in the vein of Toyota/Honda/Nissan with their respective luxury spin-offs).
In fact, compared to many brands, Subaru has never really troubled itself too much with offering luxury motoring even in its existing range.
I’d say that of all the current Subaru lineup, only the higher trim levels of the Outback could really be considered luxurious (in fact, I distinctly remember a Subaru NZ salesman saying to me that the top trim Outback is “our luxury SUV”).
Go back to the late 1990s and early 2000s heyday of Subaru, and you’d be hard pressed to find much luxury at all – although there have been some comparatively luxurious models in the past such as the Blitzen and 3.0R Legacy models.
Will Subaru Branch Out Into Luxury Vehicles?
There are two primary reasons why you’re unlikely to see Subaru attempting to pull a Toyota/Lexus manoeuvre.
Firstly, Subaru is a minnow in the world of automotive production, and it it isn’t in position in terms of size or financial firepower to do so.
In the United States, for example, the brand has typically enjoyed market share of around 2-3%, although this has risen to around 4% in recent years.
It would be an enormously expensive undertaking for Subaru to try and devise and then launch a luxury brand. Short of having some “instant hit” that puts the brand on the map – like Toyota did with the original Lexus LS400 – the gargantuan costs of rolling out a luxury brand are almost certainly prohibitive.
To launch a luxury brand in any market (not just automobiles, I’m talking apparel, jewellery, electronics etc) you have to go “all in” to make an impact. A half-hearted attempt is unlikely to succeed, and even if you do win in the first instance there’s no guarantee this will last … just look at how much Acura and Infiniti are struggling these days.
Speaking of Toyota, what we might be more likely to see is Subaru model sharing more closely with Toyota – which owns 20% of Subaru (there’s another dimension here, that Toyota is unlikely to be happy with Subaru launching a brand that might sap business from Lexus). The Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 is the best example of this platform and product sharing to date, coming to fruition shortly after Toyota increased its stake in Subaru. However, there is also now the Solterra EV which shares a platform with the Toyota bZ4x.
If there was going to be any pathway to Subaru selling specific luxury cars, it would likely be some kind of platform shared vehicle with Toyota.
Outside of this, you may see the introduction of more luxurious trims on existing cars (the Outback, as mentioned above, being the best example of this).
Abandoning The Niche
The second point to consider is that Subaru is fundamentally a “niche” player in the automotive world.
It’s small as far as automakers go, but the brand has a loyal following.
I should know, as I grew up in a ‘Subaru household’. My dad had a never-ending procession of Subaru Legacies and Outbacks when I was growing up, because what else can you buy that offers so much practicality, generally solid reliability, better-than-average performance, and most importantly that ubiquitous AWD system that means you can go from office carpark on Friday to ski-field access road on Saturday with no effort or fuss.
My household now has a Subaru of its own, and if/when it’s time to replace our fifth generation Legacy, the replacement will almost certainly be another Subaru (perhaps a later model Outback, or even something a bit special like a JDM-spec Legacy DIT if I can find a good one).
There’s a good reason for this brand loyalty.
Come to New Zealand, and you’ll notice Subarus everywhere. Go to certain parts of the United States with inclement winter weather, and you’ll see a similar trend (although I argue that NZ is the Subaru capital of the world) – there’s a loyal cadre of car buyers who know that Subaru offers an almost unparalleled package when it comes to buying a go-anywhere, do-anything car.
Subaru buyers value the ruggedness, practicality and capability of their cars. The brand is synonymous with an outdoorsy lifestyle, not necessarily a luxurious one. A cynic might argue that some buyers purchase a Subaru just to portray an outdoorsy, adventurous image (and maybe some people do that) but as a Subaru loyalist myself, the primary appeal is the fact that the brand offers a range of cars designed to let me more easily indulge in hobbies like skiing, taking the dog on hikes, and venturing off the beaten track on roadtrips, thanks to the legendary AWD system and wagon body.
If you really boil it down, I suspect for the majority of Subaru buyers (particularly for the likes of the Outback and Forester) the buying logic is as simple as “Subaru is #1 for AWD, and there’s plenty of space for my skis/bike/dog”. You can see with the Solterra launch that Subaru is trying to play up the AWD angle, as EVs take away USP of the boxer engine; Subaru will continue to position itself as the “AWD brand”, outside of the BRZ.
Recap – Is There A Subaru Luxury Brand?
No, Subaru doesn’t have its own version of Acura, Infiniti or Lexus – there is no off-shoot luxury brand.
There is unlikely to be one either.
If you want a luxury Subaru, you can head on down to your local Audi dealer and pick up a Quattro-equipped vehicle; it’s probably the closest alternative (although be ready to spend far more money).
Consider that it is an immensely costly undertaking to develop and launch a luxury automotive brand. There are already established players, and Subaru isn’t in the position to do something like Tesla has done and effectively become the incumbent in a particular category like EVs. Launching a luxury brand will simply be too expensive for Subaru.
Secondly, Subarus core business is built on appealing to people who want a rugged, no-nonsense, practical vehicle that can perform as well off-road as on the tarmac. Pivoting away from this into the competitive luxury vehicle market would risk Subaru losing its core audience; the “I need AWD in a practical package” crowd.
I’d love to hear your opinion on the future of Subaru as a “luxury concern” – feel free to leave a comment below and get the conversation started.