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What Subaru Should You Buy?

Alex Gauthier

It’s no secret that this outdoor loving tribe of ours flocks to Subaru like kids to an ice-cream truck.  But which Subaru should you buy? If you live in Colorado, Washington or Maine you probably think there isn’t even another brand of car at all! It’s certainly no accident that so many of us drive our old Outbacks, Foresters or Imprezas into the dust. Subaru has got the formula pretty well dialed for what it takes to keep us climbing, skiing, boating, in the important places of this world. All-Wheel-Drive, safety, efficiency, storage- Subaru balances it all extremely well. Sure, you can carry more in a truck or van and the van life has been much romanticized but for a do-it-all, mountain loving whip, it’s tough to beat a Subaru.

The question at some point becomes, what Subaru should I buy or use to replace my worn out one? This question prompts plenty of thought but we thought we’d give you some food for thought if you’re contemplating what makes sense for you.

which subaru

Should You Buy New or Used?

This will be dictated in large part by your budget but there are lots of used Subarus that have been on the road for hundreds of thousands of miles. Even high milage ones tend to command a pretty penny when compared to other used cars. This is for good reason since the reliability and resilience of these cars are legendary. This is good news if you plan to trade your existing Subie in but can be a bummer if you are hunting for a gem of a used car. There are the obvious things to consider such as mechanical condition, car fax report etc but there is one less obvious detail you probably haven’t considered

Dealer’s get a lot of interest in lightly used Subaru Crosstreks, Outbacks and Foresters. Cars that are only a year or two old are appealing because of a perceived price break and potentially residual warranty etc. If you talk to your local Subaru dealer, they will most likely point out that a new car may be a better option and we agree. This is because Subarus of that description do have a high resale value, which means the dealer had to pay a lot in trade or at auction for the used Subaru you may be looking at. When it comes to a NEW Subaru, the dealer has more bargaining tools to help you find an acceptable payment.  Also, if you need a certain payment, the dealer can offer lots of options in cars that will all do the job for you if you’re willing to accept some compromises. See below for the discussion about the different models.

The Bottom Line.  If you are buying used, look for cars with more miles on the odometer and be willing to provide the TLC an older car is likely to require. Otherwise, just buy or lease a new car since a slightly used one is seldom a good deal compared to a new car.

which subaru

Lease or Buy?

This ends up being a pretty simple question to answer but is worth mentioning here as there are also a couple wrinkles you may not be aware of. A lease can be a good option if you’re the sort of person that usually has some kind of car payment anyhow. If you tend to prefer to buy cars outright or want to drive the wheels off it rather than replace it when it gets long in the tooth then buying probably makes more sense. In a lease, you get to drive the car a certain number of miles before you turn it over and get into a newer lease or purchase but this detail can be accommodated when you set up your lease terms. Before getting into the process, spend some time calculating exactly how many miles you think you’ll drive and don’t forget to buffer it a little to account for the fun of taking your new ride on lots of trips and offering to drive friends to trailheads just because you’d rather ride in your new Subaru. An upside of a lease which is worth considering is the much lower payment. You are essentially engaging in a long term rental and the cars residual value can be more accurately gauged by the dealer, allowing them to eventually recoup some of the cost when they resell the car as  used.

Which Model?

Ah! Now we get down to brass tacks. We’ll focus on just three models. The WRX, Legacy and BRZ are really amazing and fun cars but the lack of space for cargo and passengers tends to make them a non-starter for most of us. That said, aside from the BRZ they still have the famous Subaru Symmetrical-All-Wheel-Drive and won’t disappoint when it comes to winter driving.

This is probably going to be your most economical option. That isn’t to say the Crosstrek is a slouch by any means. This wagon is a perfect size for many. it’s compact but will still easily carry your adventure partners plus a bunch of gear. You can extend it’s capacity easily with a roof box and still be able to carry some bikes or a kayak. The Crosstrek won’t have as many creature comforts as an Outback but it has enough to be comfortable. If you want something with a little more pep then opt of the Hybrid model. You’ll pay extra for a modest boost in fuel economy but you’ll also get a noticeable improvement in power. The combination of the 2.0 Liter Boxer Engine with the electric drive system makes for a little more fun than the standard gasoline model. You will lose a spare tire, however because the vehicle battery occupies the space normally reserved for the spare. Be sure to carry fix-a-flat and know how to use it.


Think of the Forester as a more spartan version of the Outback but a tad larger in size. The storage capacity of the Forester isn’t all that much larger however it tends to be “taller” rather than longer. If you’re a tall person, you may enjoy the extra headroom as well. If you like the Crosstrek’s price but the Foresters utility, then you may want to have a serious look as the Forester isn’t that much more costly than a Crosstrek depending on which trim levels you are comparing. Like the Outback, and Crosstrek it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance which is as much as most small trucks.


It’s our personal favorite, we have to confess. When choosing cars for our adventures we tend to gravitate towards the Outback. This car is low slung and it’s cargo area feels long compared to the Forester. The Outback sports more features standard for “off-road” travel and gets the best options for technology as well. Amongst the three models, the Outback is certainly the most expensive but it’s also the most versatile. It’s just as at home on Forest Service roads as it is downtown and is comfortable, quiet and capable. The longer wheel base makes for a more comfortable ride and helps a little with climbing steep hills.


I’ve got a Subaru, now what?

Once you have decided on a Subaru, you can dig into the really fun part- improving your Subaru! This can be costly and certainly isn’t required but here are a few accessories or improvements you may consider.



Start with tires. Cars tend to come with very poor tires for those of us using them in rough conditions. If you live in an area that sees snowfall or venture into icy conditions get some snow tires, no other factor on your  vehicle (not even All-Wheel-Drive) has as big an impact on vehicle control on low friction surfaces as good tires do. If we had to choose between two-wheel-drive and snow tires, we could choose snow tires every single time. Studded snow tires may be worth consideration for some but because of the excessive road wear they cause and their relatively short lifespan we don’t normally recommend them.



We are in love with rooftop tents and we opt for the Tepui brand for our cars. These ride on the factory crossbars of many Subarus but you’ll want to make some specific inquiries to be certain. You can add some after market crossbars to fit the tent more easily if needed. The tents typically include great weather protection, ventilation and comfort with plenty of foam that eliminates any need for an inflatable mattress. These tents can be costly, however some dealerships will let you finance the tent right into your purchase and even help with installation.


Your Dog

The number of accessories you can add to your Subaru is endless but if you have dogs, think about a set of seat covers. Ruffwear Performance Dog Products makes the DirtBag to protect your rear bench seat from muddy paws and claws. They also offer an innovative safety option for your canine adventure buddy in the form of the LoadUp Harness which connects to the factory seatbelt offered in the rear seats of all Subarus. This way, your pet enjoys the same safety as the rest of your friends and family when on the road.

Beyond, the obvious items mentioned here, there are TONS of aftermarket options designed to lift your Subaru, make it faster or better for camping. Your imagination may be the only thing standing between you and your ideal adventure car that still gets great gas milage and is comfortable to ride in but even in stock form these cars perform extremely well so don’t feel you must dump a bunch of extra coin. Take your new car out and see what it’ll do for you and don’t forget to share some pics or video of your adventures with us!

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier is the head adventure junky for Subaru Adventure Team and part time outdoor adventure photographer. His first love is climbing of any kind but can also be spotted on mountain bike trails or working on building sea kayaks which he may or may not ever get to paddle.
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