Just over a year ago, Subaru was a niche automaker known for quirky vehicles that often lacked direct competitors. Led by the Forester for 2009 and then with the Legacy sedan and Outback wagon for 2010, Subaru's product offerings have recently fallen in line with mainstream markets. Sales are still small in comparison to Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, but the company's products have proven to have serious appeal. While the auto industry hemorrhaged sales in 2009, Subaru's volume and market share increased.
Subaru's recent and rapid ascension to the big leagues has undeniably brought the company success, but it also threatens Subaru loyalists craving something unique. To examine how Subaru has evolved, we collected the compact crossover segment's two farthest outliers, the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Suzuki Grand Vitara, to pit them against the Subaru Outback. We had two questions: Do Mitsubishi and Suzuki have something to learn from Subaru's success? And has the Outback's move toward the mainstream undermined individuality and character?
All of our test vehicles were top-trim models with six-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive, and were equipped with leather, navigation, and keyless ignition. Each had the badge of a low-volume Japanese automaker on the tailgate, yet philosophically, these are three very different crossovers.