By on November 11, 2016

2016 Subaru Outback 25i LimitedIs it still a cult following if only six, undeniably mainstream utility vehicles are more popular?

Honda, Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford…

Subaru? While the U.S. auto industry dropped 6 percent in October 2016, losing nearly 90,000 sales compared with October 2015, the Subaru Outback soared to new heights.

If the Subaru Outback is the leader of a cult, as Dan Neil wrote in the Wall Street Journal earlier this fall, the cult is now big enough that we ought to call it a mainstream religion.

Subaru of America reported an all-time monthly record of 18,008 Outback sales in October 2016, smashing the nameplate’s one-month-old record by over a thousand units.

SUV/crossover sales across America grew just 2 percent in October. Yet in spite of the market’s slowdown, limited supply, and an abbreviated sales month, Outback volume jumped 22 percent, year-over-year.October 2016 YTD Subaru sales chartSubaru’s rapid American rise is built on the steady growth of its high-riding models: the Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek. Outback sales have grown by two-thirds over the last five years. The Forester, Subaru’s best-selling model so far this year, is on track for a fourth consecutive record sales year. The Crosstrek now outsells the combined efforts of the car on which it’s based: Impreza, WRX, STI.

With those three models producing nearly three-quarters of Subaru’s U.S. volume, the brand has already produced 76,000 more sales through the first ten months of 2016 than in all of 2013. In fact, the Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback have already generated 31,000 more sales through the first ten months of 2016 than the whole Subaru brand produced in all of 2012.

Those are the kinds of numbers that are backed up by rapidly ascending market share figures. Subaru owned 3.9 percent of the U.S. new vehicle market in October — 3.5 percent year-to-date — after rising to 3.3 percent in 2015, 2.1 percent five years ago, and just 1.2 percent a decade ago.

Yet plans to improve Subaru’s U.S. production footprint have by no means fully taken hold. “We will add over 100,000 [units] to U.S. capacity for next year,” a Subaru spokesperson told TTAC earlier this fall. Subaru had more vehicles to sell this October than last — a 23-day supply heading into October 2016; only 15 days heading into October 2015, according to Automotive News. The industry as a whole currently has a two-month supply of new vehicles.2017 Subaru Outback Touring interiorAs a result of Subaru’s limited supply, incentives remain at an industry low. TrueCar says Subaru spent just $1,130 on incentives per vehicle in October 2016, up significantly from $695 per vehicle in October 2015, up modestly from $1,088 per vehicle in September of this year.

But Subaru’s incentive spend this October was still 68-percent lower than the industry average. TrueCar reports that Subaru’s incentive spending as a percentage of Subaru’s average transaction price was just 3.8 percent in October 2016, again the lowest in the industry, and 64 percent below the industry average. Subaru’s average transaction price jumped 6 percent, year-over-year, to $29,356 in October 2016, 12 percent below the industry average, a reflection of a lineup that lacks a three-row utility vehicle.

As for the Outback, specifically, Subaru’s current flagship was responsible for one-third of the brand’s total U.S. volume in October. Year-over-year, Outback sales have increased in nine consecutive months. The 18,008-unit total achieved in October was fully 6 percent better than the Outback’s previous record set just one month earlier (the previous record stood for eight months) and positioned the Outback seventh among SUVs/crossovers last month.

The Outback ranks 12th among utility vehicles — unless you consider it a wagon with a lot of ground clearance — so far this year.

Sounds mainstream to me.

[Images: Subaru]

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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31 Comments on “Mainstream Religion: Subaru Of America Smashes All-Time Monthly Outback Sales Record In October...”

  • avatar

    Lookie loo at my Subaru!

  • avatar

    Must be the aesthetics of that grille.

  • avatar

    I need to hurry to make the first comment of “but the head gaskets!”, and “the CV joint boots!”. There. Think I made it.

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot oil consumption.

    • 0 avatar

      Is all that still true?

      I’ve always felt iffy about boxer engines.

      • 0 avatar

        We’ve owned three-and-a-half modern Subarus. Oil consumption:

        ’08 Impreza 2.5L EJ: no excess consumption over 60k miles; maybe had to add half a quart once during the life of the car
        ’14 Forester 2.5 FB: 1 quart every ~2k miles, starting around 15k and continued until trading it at 45k. Passed consumption test twice, Subaru said ¯_(ツ)_/¯
        ’15 FR-S 2.0L FA: no consumption over 11k miles
        ’16 Outback 2.5L FB: no consumption over 11k miles

        From what I’ve read the issues seem to be centered on the early FB engines (12-14) and perhaps a limited number of FAs.

        Side effect: Subaru’s oil change recommendation fell from 7.5k to 6k miles when this hit the fan.

  • avatar

    I’ve always been impressed with Subaru since the mid-70s. They were quirky, odd in a good way, but have never owned one.

    Perhaps that may change in the future.

    A friend who worked for Carter Carburetor in the 70s worked with Subaru in trying to develop carburetors for them. He and his team did numerous cross-country runs and much research, but alas, on the cusp of the electronic revolution in cars, it was too little, too late.

    He had lots of fun, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Having owned three Subies, our ’92 Legacy had the best bones overall. Stories I’ve heard from a couple others seem to back that up, for example my wife’s co-worker got over 450,000 from his. No head gasket issues, although the valve cover gaskets leaked, as did the tranny. Check and fill fluids as needed and good to go. We scrapped ours at 188,000 because our son failed to do so while away at college. He’s much better at checking fluids now.

      This Legacy was also the most fun to drive.

      A ’98 Legacy Outback 2.5, bought October 2007, came with an extended warranty which fixed the head gaskets. Budd Baer in Washington, PA used Fel-Pro replacements, which allayed my fears of a repeat performance and we drove it for another two years or so, at which point it was traded for…

      2005 Outback. The one that turned us on Subaru.

      You start to examine the maintenance requirements, if you put 30k/year on your vehicles as we do, you start to realize just how FREAKING EXPENSIVE they are to own.

      Bought and serviced at Day Apollo on West Liberty Av in Pittsburgh, the wife’s co-worker-and-longtime-friend’s husband was GM there at the time. Only reason we didn’t default to Budd Baer. GM explained the engines were redesigned for the 2003 model year. Head gaskets would be no problem, he said.

      Within a year-and-a-half, guess what they found back in the service department?

      We got a deal: 110,000-mile maintenance with timing belt, tune-up AND water pump (known to fail shortly after 110,000) and the obligatory head gaskets, all-in for $1400 plus tax. Could’ve been $2500 had we not done it all at once.

      Repairs after that fell into the routine and customary category, which is fine. That’s life, it’s who we are, we drive ’em ’til the wheels fall off.

      But during a stop at Day Apollo in 2013 to have the service department diagnose noises at the rear at the car, I walked up front, looked up at the engine and what do I see?

      Last straw. As I learned later, the 2003 redesign only CHANGED HOW THE GASKETS LEAK. Previously, they were prone to leak coolant into the cylinders. Now, they leak outside.

      Wowie zowie.

      I discovered they used factory parts on the last head gasket job, and all the 2.5 non-turbos experience head gasket issues up through a 2011 redesign. The way I understand it, if your post-2011 Subie has a timing chain instead of a belt, you’re safe.

      The following February, my wife bought a 2011 Equinox at Colussy in Bridgeville.

      We’ve had occasion to drive one of the newer Subies but frankly weren’t impressed with the CVT experience. Why they don’t give the 2.5 a few more ponies…it’s only ever had 175 (in non-turbo trim) at any time since the original version debut in 1997…is a mystery, especially as the newer cars have only gained in size and weight.

      So more power to ’em, I hope they’ve put the head gasket issues behind them for good. But you can’t blame me for having doubts…

      And a postscript: A poster on Curbside Classic noted Subaru has a regimen for avoiding head gasket issues with a factory-approved cooling system conditioner and IIRC a strict, frequent, flush and fill schedule.

      O rly?

      Howcomezit a dealer who’s sold these things for DECADES was SILENT, or were they ignorant, uninformed, maybe they missed the email.

      That’s it. Maybe the attachment wouldn’t open. Or maybe Subaru could stand to be a little more forthcoming about their shortcomings. Then again, this is the “flying vagina” gang (search TTAC for Farago’s Tribeca review) who didn’t understand that it just might be a little offensive to introduce into the American market a design language saluting the Fuji Zero warplanes that bombed Pearl Harbor.

      At least THAT faux pas was corrected, and quickly.

      Zackman, my advice, if I may…kindly stick with your Impalas.

      • 0 avatar

        OUCH! You may be right. I’m driving my 2012 Impala LTZ into the ground – with proper maintenance, of course! 4 years, 4 months, 103,000 miles, just about all of it for my almost 100 miles a day commute. Come March 31st, that will be over, too – retirement.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      I know someone who drives Subaru Loyale, which is a kind of a wagon, possibly a predecessor to Outback, although obviously much smaller. He’s gotten 315,000 miles on it. It’s his commute car and he claims it’s “running strong”. But he had some significant repairs on it due to an oil leak a few years ago.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    While I take issue with Subaru’s ad campaigns (emotionally laden with fear and love) and spotty reliability, there is no doubt they’ve been wildly successful at building the brand in the US.

    One reason for their success: roomy interiors.

    If they returned to inline engines, I’d consider them.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I don’t like Subaru’s ad campaign either. Although I did like “Dog tested, dog approved.” But props for knowing what buttons to push with Americans these days.

      Yet, here I am with my third Subaru… a 2016 Forester. My previous Subies were 2001 and 2010 Imprezas. All I can tell you is that I put well over 100 thousand miles on the first two and never had a head-gasket or oil-consumption problem. The Forester now has 18 thousand miles on it and no issues so far. It seems to me that the oil-consumption issues tended to start early and were definitely real. But if they were as widespread as some believe, Subaru wouldn’t be seeing cars like it is.

      I’m not going to convince anyone of anything and I’m not even going to try. But the 2.5-liter engine in my car uses 0-20 weight full-synthetic oil and there has been absolutely zero oil consumption so far. And, believe me, I’ve checked closely and often. I’ve been told by a number of sources inside and outside of Subaru that a change of material used for the rings solved the problem.

      I also wonder if engine break-in with Subarus in particular makes a difference in future oil consumption I’ve always followed Subaru’s recommendation to limit revs to 4,000 rpm and lower for the first 1,200 miles.

      Head gaskets? What can I say? I’ve never had the problem but some have. But the only ones I’m aware of involved cars of late 90’s-early 00’s vintage. And yet my 2001 wasn’t one of them. Still, this Internet Echo Chamber Special won’t go away.

      One of the reasons I decided to go with a Forester this time was not only the value proposition but the simple fact that there are quite a few 10- and 15-year-old Foresters (from the head-gasket era, mind you) in my parts that seem to be soldiering on just fine. When I talk to the owners, they’re all pleased and report no major issues

  • avatar

    If the CRV didn’t exist, we’d have a Forester in the driveway right now.

    I’m personally leaning heavily towards either a new Impreza hatch or Crosstrek as my next DD. I know that eventually I’ll get the ultimate Dad-mobile (at least in my mind)…the Outback.

  • avatar

    Subaru mfg has been a nice economic plus here in Indiana…now up to 5200 employees.

    Shows a smaller car company can do ok with some savvy design and marketing.

    Their repeat buyer ranking is quite high, the product issues we hear about must not be toxic enough to drive folks off. I’ve never owned one, but the owners I know seem to be kind of cultish about their like of Subie.

  • avatar

    +1 on the roomy interiors, both the Outback and the Forester make much better use of the interior space than most brands. They have also avoided the trend of sloping the back window–at least not nearly as much as most manufacturers–so much more of the room inside the tailgate is usable in a biggest-box scenario.

    Another big attraction of Subarus, the Forester in particular, is the insanely tight turning radius. I’m surprised Subaru doesn’t advertise this more aggressively.

    We bought a Forester because it frankly represented the most car/CUV/wagon for the money–nothing else even came close. We went with a Premium/6MT, but the cheapest Forester would be a great candidate for Ace of Base.

  • avatar

    Subaru: the official car of Left Land Banditry on I-25.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve found that Subaru drivers (non-WRX or STI drivers, that is) drive about the same as Prius drivers. Most Subarus seem to be way under powered or maybe it’s that the drivers don’t know how the go pedal works.

      Either way, I end up screaming at a lot of slow Subaru drivers. Here in Maine there are sooo many Subarus.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Not supported by observable evidence. It’s mostly Priuses and Silverados all between Burque and SF in the left lane on I-25.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand popularity of Subaru [today]. thanks to the CVTs their AWD is a watered-down version of Subaru AWD of the passed. their long term reliability is not good and especially engines are vulnerable. Their parts are rust-prone which adds extra expense in the long term, again. I heard of the short lived CV boots too. If I see Subaru in ME, MA, MI, MN, MT, it is one thing. But in VA, FL, CA – forget about it. Unless it is WRX or BRZ. There really no advantage. But Subaru advantage is not worth all other quirks it has.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      While we rarely face snow conditions here in south Texas, I love my Outback in our frequent downpours. It drives very surefooted. The ground clearance is great both for high water and light trails.

      Haven’t had a rust issue on my ’13 or any Subarus down here yet but we don’t use salt on our roads anyway.

      The local market is dealing at $2500-3000 off of the Forrester and 2.5 Outback…stock remains low. They’re probably getting near full price on the H6 Outback like the rest of the country…very hard to find in stock.

      I’m just waiting on cooled seats to show up as an option and I’ll go against my 12-year/250k mile tradition and trade my ’13 in. The new Touring model with brown interior is beautiful – just wish they didn’t get rid of the configurable roof rack on that particular model.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    So has Subaru replaced Volvo as the calling card of the north-east educated elite?

    Although tempted, I have never purchased one for two reasons: i) the reported head gasket/oil consumption/cv boot issues and ii) the fact that Subaru dealers do not deal, they could sell more vehicles than they get their hands on.

    To address the first issue, there are so many old(er) Subies around and they seem to retain their value/desirability. So perhaps those reliability fears are overstated and/or corrected?

    As for the 2nd, well I just have to either make more money, win a lottery or become a little less frugal?

  • avatar

    Said it in another thread, if you have a family of four or five there is absolutely nothing out there that does a better job than an Outback. Not too big, not too small, good back seat space, good boot space, range of simple trim options, drives like a car, enough clearance to beat parking slabs, easy to get in and out of ……. No wonder it’s selling.

  • avatar

    Subaru’s upcoming 7-seater *might* be the vehicle that replaces our Odyssey, if the overall package and utility compensates for the lack of sliding doors. Having driven Subarus in Québec winters for many years it is something I am looking forward to experience again.

    I’m glad they’re having so much success, they offer a great value propostion especially for northern buyers.

  • avatar

    Our 2010 Forester hasn’t exactly been a paragon of reliability but it’s everyone’s favorite vehicle to drive in the family and thus racks up the miles most quickly. There are numerous reasons. Maybe it’s the dorky but cute styling and quirky but lovable traits like the hair-trigger throttle that makes it feel like an eager puppy just waiting to leap into your lap (or the bumper of the car in front of you). Or the throbbing drone of the boxer engine that my son really likes (??). After many years living with this car, I’m still impressed with its visibility and ultra tight turning circle, and it’s prowess in harsh Michigan winters continues to amaze. In deep snow it will blow by any other 4X4 on the road save for a full-on Jeep Wrangler. So our Forester is like a best friend. Sure it’s got its quirks and idiosyncrasies which you put up with, but it has charm and personality in spades. In a world where almost all mainstream cars have been homogenized and genericized to the point of being anonymous transportation appliances, a car with real personality is really refreshing.

  • avatar

    My GF just bought a 2017 Forester. It is a base model with a 6-speed manual and we took a long trip with it this weekend. She bought it last week after her Audi A4 with 80k miles suddenly needed a new turbo and intercooler along with the regular maintenance and tires. The Subie dealer also owns the Audi dealer and offered her a really solid trade-in value as is.

    The only real complaint about it was that the iPhone integration for Pandora and streaming audio was a bit intermittent and took more fiddling than I’ve experienced in other new cars.

    That said, the car is really quiet, I guess they added a lot of noise insulation for the 2017. The manual transmission is nice and easy to shift even with only 400 miles on the car. We got 32 mpg on the freeway which I consider pretty good as we weren’t driving particularly slowly, the car is new, and it’s a pretty large vehicle with AWD.

    Most impressively, I haven’t driven a car with that level of visibility in a long time. Even a lot of larger SUVs make you feel like you’re driving from inside a bunker but the Forester has thin pillars and great sight-lines. It feels absolutely cavernous inside.

    It isn’t a luxury car or a sports car, but it has a certain simplicity and honesty to the design that I find appealing and it seems a lot of others do as well.

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