Subaru Has Finally Decided to Start Giving a Crap About Styling

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.”

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Rcx141 Rcx141 on Apr 09, 2017

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

  • Turf3 Turf3 on Apr 10, 2017

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

  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon