By on April 7, 2017

subaru emblem logo

Subaru is an automaker known for offering a highly specific brand identity and a quality product, but compelling styling has always been low on its list of priorities. While acknowledging the retro charm of its earliest Japanese models, it can be said that the company has never produced a particularly handsome automobile. The SVX was futuristic and interesting, but it wasn’t overtly sexy. And the visual appeal of the old bug-eye WRX or BRAT hinges entirely upon how oddball they were.

After 63 years in the business, Subaru finally wants to change that and place a stronger emphasis on design. However, despite having the least visually stimulating lineup in recent memory, the company could probably stay the course and still be fine. Subaru has done incredibly well in the United States. Annual U.S. deliveries hovered around 187,000 vehicles from 2002 to 2008 but grew fiercely in the following years. Subaru had a record-breaking 615,132 sales in 2016 and looks prepared to break that record this year.

So, why even bother changing anything when the current recipe works so well?

Simple: to continue giving consumers more reason to flock to Subaru. As things stand, Subaru’s prevailing mode of persuasion is all logos and no pathos.

“For the first time the company is emphasizing design as a competitive advantage,” Matt Wherry, manager of Subaru’s product planning and design, told WardsAuto during a discussion of the new Impreza. “We’ve made great cars, but not necessarily the most beautiful. Now they’re really going to be emotionally appealing, to a level they haven’t been before.”

According to Wherry, despite being designed in Japan, the 2017 Impreza actually took a lot of styling cues from what the American market was interested in. At a glance, the majority of those changes aren’t apparent. However, if you spend some time eyeballing the body, you’ll notice a lot of little touches that add up to a more attractive car.

“There’s what we call an undercut, a shadow area, and then the highlight,” Wherry said of car’s newly designed doors. “That creates a lot of action … so we get the classic Coke-bottle, hourglass look without intruding into the passenger space.”

It definitely isn’t E-Type levels of gorgeous, but the styling efforts are apparent when you compare it directly to the previous model. Still, the biggest improvements aren’t even on the outside of the car. Subaru’s interiors have noticeably improved over the last few years — with nicer materials and infotainment displays on the Impreza being the the most notable upgrades.

“It’s almost unrecognizable how far it’s come,” said Wherry.

While that might be taking things a little far, Subaru has clearly made an effort to bestow a more premium feel in even its most more affordable models. Building a truly sexy car still seems a long way off, but the company is taking its first baby steps to get there.

Wherry said his team is working on it, and classified Subaru’s advanced design studio as “small, but expanding.” Currently, it only has eight full-time designers and the majority spend their days considering what western consumers will find desirable in the years to come. Subaru has also expanded its efforts into consumer research.

“The company’s shifting their focus to the U.S. market,” he said. “Most of their profit comes from here. So they’re taking [U.S. customers’ opinions] seriously.”

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65 Comments on “Subaru has Finally Decided to Start Giving a Crap About Styling...”


  • avatar
    Ermel

    So they’re going to look just as strange and ugly as most other modern Japanese cars do? Please not. Subarus have always looked slightly dated, but in a reassuring way; that’s what I love about them.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Nah, they can do better than they have been doing.

      And as strange and ugly as modern Japanese cars look, that has not deterred sales.

      IMO, all Subaru needs is a little help from Pininfarina, or Mercedes, or Audi, and voila, instant sexy!

    • 0 avatar
      Frownsworth

      Take the worst of the polarizing Civic Si and add a little bit of that deep sea scum-sucking fish mouth face of the Lexus, there you go – triple gaping holes in the front. Perfect pinnacle of Japanese design.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      ” they’re going to look just as strange and ugly as most other modern Japanese cars do?”

      Um, they have been strange in the past, even by quirky Japanese standards. What would you call the original B-9 Tribeca? Normal and handsome? Same with the other examples listed in the article.

      The ENTIRE point of this article is to say they are moving away from exactly that. To a more progressive, less fringe design elements.

      Personally, I may have been downright offended by some of hideously ugly cars they have sold in the past, but I always respect them for “daring greatly” before Cadillac (tried and failed to) make that a thing.

      I love that there is unique styling and personality (boxer engine for example) that doesn’t blend in amongst all the silver Altimas.

      Such is admirable in my opinon, even though on a case-by-case basis it might not directly appeal to me as mentioned. I appreciate them being unique and out of the box is my point.

      I hope they don’t start blending in with Altimas. I really would rather have a bad reaction to the car than to not notice it at all. At least it is interesting.

      Current favorite Subaru: BRZ (its the one I’d choose of the twins)

      Runner up, CrossTrek (sp?)

    • 0 avatar
      Anuska

      While there’s been subtle changes outside I found models from less than 10 years ago similar to 1960 Russian cars in the interior.

      It’s about time Subaru updates.

  • avatar
    bkojote

    I’d argue the 2005-2010 Legacy/Outback was peak Subaru design and styling inside and out. Clean, understated, and tasteful, and they’ve aged well.

    Too bad the workmanship/quality was also garbage during this period.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Are they better now?

    • 0 avatar
      dr_outback

      I owned a 2007 GT Spec.B. The interior was well made and the materials held up well. However, the 2008-2013 Forest and Impreza interiors are too cheap for my tastes.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Our 2012 Forester was about as space as they get. The infotainment reminded me of 1999 Saab 9-5.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Thank you. My favorite should be obvious since I’m still driving it. The interior material quality fell off right away though. When I get in one of the new ones all the shiny hard plastic and bright fake chrome rings just make me sad.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Good for you man, and I mean that. I love my car (and have others I’ve had in the past) despite the imperfections and quirks.

        Now I don’t mean to say I would love it to break down all the time, or something haha. Luckily it doesn’t do that, but its still far from perfect yet I love it anyway.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Are they doing anything about interiors?

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    Did you even RTFA?

    “Still, the biggest improvements aren’t even on the outside of the car. Subaru’s interiors have noticeably improved over the last few years — with nicer materials and infotainment displays on the Impreza being the the most notable upgrades.

    “It’s almost unrecognizable how far it’s come,” said Wherry.

    While that might be taking things a little far, Subaru has clearly made an effort to bestow a more premium feel in even its most more affordable models.”

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Man that gets me too. Its like they are saying:

      “FXXK the author and the article, this is MY opinion and nothing that could have been written would remotely be on my level! SO here is my big pile of stinking $#¡Г. Enjoy watching as I shove both feet in my mouth.”

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    My impression was that their interior quality peaked around 00-03, and went downhill after that. Is that wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      My understanding is that they are putting better quality materials in even the lowest level vehicles. Basically the concept of “Hey look, just because this Impreza is <$20K it doesn't feel like a penalty box."

      What I'm reading of reviews of the new Impreza are saying "Gosh this interior is nicer than the last one."

      Like most of life, everything is relative.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      Corey – you’re not wrong up to the 2014 models of the Legacy/Outback nor the last generation Imprezas. The interiors aren’t really spartan but equate to an early ’90s VW-level. They’re not obnoxious but are and were pretty dated when new. I have driven a post-2015 Legacy and the difference is remarkable. Better ambiance, better materials and somewhat more pleasing to be in. Not by any means luxurious but, in my mind, a pretty big leap. Ditto with the new Impreza; still an economy car but this one is a giant leap over the previous generation. The current WRX and Crosstek still labor on with the previous Impreza negatives – pretty drab and chintzy with early-’90s VW styling.

      • 0 avatar
        axon890

        Agreed about the WRX. My friend has a 2015 and the interior is just dated compared to other cars in the price range. I had a 2013 Focus ST and that interior was a million times better. If they improve it I might look into one when I replace my Fiesta ST next year.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Agreed. 2015 saw the Impreza see an upgraded interior (which it needed to reel in more people) and 2017 is nicer still. I wouldn’t call it incredible but it does seem to have caught up to the Focus ST.

      • 0 avatar
        Anuska

        bullnuke,

        As a 1985 VW owner the most of the early 2000 Subaru’s were more comparable to the 1960-70’s low end VW’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Phillin_Phresh

      My ’07 Impreza just passed 200k miles. The interior looks basic, but it’s very durable. It reminds me of a 1990s Toyota, which is a good thing.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “it can be said that the company has never produced a particularly handsome automobile”

    wut

    http://13252-presscdn-0-94.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/s-l720-282-620×414.jpg

  • avatar
    RS

    Tribeca stylist back in charge?

  • avatar
    balreadysaid

    Utilitarian isn’t supposed to be cutting edge. Subaru makes sales on women with important work rolls in a family. She needs to get from point a to b with 1 st. Bernard drooling in the back, 2 kids fighting, 3 family members sick relying on her, and 4 wheels to climb that nasty snow covered hill in her way. This is a tool to make life work. Just like a truck, a Subaru is a woman’s version. Idc if it’s a wrx. 50+ age bracket women drive them around here. Stick shift and all, they love they subi like I love my Chevy.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    I trust Subaru to isolate this errant urge to the Imprezza which is not involved at all in their recent rocketing success.

  • avatar
    claytori

    Doesn’t anybody remember the SVX?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Subaru is an automaker known for offering a highly specific brand identity and a quality product…”

    what? a quality product? for years it has been plagued with engine problems and had crappy interiors. The interiors improved only in last couple of years and we out to see if new powertrains are going to hold. considering recent recalls of recent engines, they still have work to do. Also, switch-gear has ways to go.

    And the look of this new Impreza IMO just plain vanila. Not too bad but not exciting

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    The first years of each Subaru generation tend to be clean and elegant. Then, they start messing with the design. Invariably, they end up ruining what they had. They don’t seem to understand that different isn’t necessarily better.

  • avatar
    runs_on_h8raide

    I don’t think its styling that’s the problem, as they’ve made some really nice concepts over the past several years…it’s their follow through. Too conservative with the end product.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Since Subaru gives a crap about my opinion now, these are my recommendations;

    1. Mate symetrical AWD with an inline 4 engine. (8AR-FTS would be cool)
    2. The engine should have sufficient fitness to resist headgasket failure every 60k.
    3. It should be able to tolerate moderate abuse without spinning a rod or a main.
    4. Consuming a quart of 0w-20 every 1500 miles should NOT BE considered normal.
    5. Water pumps should not be t-chain driven, keep them external of timing cover.
    6. Outsource your engine tuning!

    Exterior & interior styling & materials are just fine for their price point IMO. OK I think I got everything.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      I don’t want to be rude, but are you talking about a Subaru of 10 years ago? The list looks really dated.

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        You’re not being rude Pete, these are my experiences with EJ & EZ engines. I’ve only encountered a couple of oil consumption cases & 1 failed fuel injector on the F engine thus far.

        How have your experiences been?

        • 0 avatar
          Anuska

          EAF,

          That pretty much was my friends experience with their Subaru especially #2 and 4; the head gasket blew, burnt oil, and lost some power. They managed to go to just over 100k be before they bought another Subaru?

  • avatar
    Rubens

    Finally they will fix that utterly lack of personality of every Subaru product. I never had one but kinda consider it as an option in the near future. I always thought the car was as reliable as a Toyota or a Honda but after reading some comments here… it seems not so much.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    I bought the new 2017 Impreza, and I think it’s a top-notch car. For $25k I got a spacious hatchback with heated seats, sunroof, EyeSight and Apple Car Play. I have an oftentimes crappy commute, and it’s proven to be a really comfortable, quiet and safe car in the two months I’ve had it. I think the exterior design is nice, too – not overwrought like the new Civic hatch. It’s got the Subaru plainness. My only complaints are that the arm rest is too low and the radio software is a little buggy. I do miss the seats I had in my TDI, though. VW really nailed those.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    As long as they retain the emphasis on utility over flair then a secondary focus on style is just fine. The key is not to alienate their ‘earthy’ demographic (of which I am probably a member).

    • 0 avatar
      Anuska

      Johnny,

      I’d agree at least where I live the Subaru’s are overpriced. I also bought VW but an Alltrack S for less than US $26k. We looked at the Subaru’s but just didn’t like the value or the car as much.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “After 63 years in the business, Subaru finally wants to change that and place a stronger emphasis on design.”

    So the previous acceptable but [insert adjective] styling will be replaced by terrible styling?

    How exciting.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Got to have a reason to charge almost $40K for a Forester or Outback as they push the price up for the box sans sound deadening with some looks. Not all funky sheet metal can be over come by LED like Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Yup, just look at Toyota (from bleh to BLUAHHGH), not sure if ugly styling + higher price = more sales.

      If Subaru needs anything its quality, unless if they want to be like Nissan “weeee I can draw curbs! Wait, door latch mechanism design? Thats so boooring!”.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      [stodgy]
      And here I thought Subie was being lined up by the marketers to be the Skoda or the Saturn (plain jane) of the Toyota empire. I would think looking plain in today’s styling freakshow menagerie would stand out.
      Anyhow, Subie’s been dead to me since they went 4wd-only. So if they were targeting me, 4wd is a NO SALE, and I don’t think I’m the only one like that.

  • avatar
    B_C_R

    I loved their freakish looking cars with spotty reliability, but the latter is why I stopped buying them.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I think the reliability is about average now, but the cost of operation has to be near the top for the class. They’re as maintenance intensive as cars were when labor rates were single digits instead of triple digits. Timing belts? Check! Ignition parts that would need to be made by Lucas to need more frequent replacement? Check! Replacing special ATF, differential gear old for two differentials, radiator flush, spark plugs, plug wires, timing belt, timing belt tensioner, seals, drive belts, and checking for a few dozen common failure or wear issues at regular intervals for amounts most owners can’t afford without getting in debt? Check! I had a Subaru dealer tell me that all the STIs get traded in when they need front brakes. The buyers can’t afford to service the front brakes at dealer rates, and most are helpless when it comes to functioning in the real world.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Better interior quality? Great. More trendy styling? Please, no.

    Volvo started down this road in the 1990s, and sent their loyal customer base to Subaru.

    Where are we pragmatic utilitarians to go next?

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “Volvo started down this road in the 1990s, and sent their loyal customer base to Subaru.”

      Back then it wasnt the styling that did it as most Volvos were still plain boxes at that point. The trouble was they canned all US-bound redblocks in ’95, leaving the 850 to be their main mass-produced seller, a car so poorly designed that even the door stops, steering wheel adjuster handle, and the dipsticks were prone to breaking (iirc they even recalled the dipsticks).

      It did sell very well if not rejuvenated slacking sales, it just didnt make customers return once they replaced their 3rd evaporator.

      After that, Volvo did attempt to re-tool it into the V70 and built the V70XC, a Subaru/SUV competitor known for having a very, very trouble prone 4WD setup. Years after Ford had to rescue Volvo.

      On the flip side, and perhaps the one good thing about the 850 series, they didnt rust nearly as bad as the Subarus ex-Volvo owners jumped to.

  • avatar
    Ralahamy

    Steve Job’s Mantra – Think Different. I got the impression Subaru also thought and acted different. Subaru’s attempts to go mainstream is dissapointing.

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Subaru lovers don’t panic. The styling may change but the cars will remain temperamental money pits

  • avatar
    turf3

    Well, there goes the last manufacturer on earth to make cars you can actually see out of.

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