Subaru Outback

When you think of iconic off-road brands, where does Subaru fall on your radar? Somewhere in the middle? Perhaps near the bottom? Don't worry, you're not alone. Until recently spending some time in Bend, OR, where we drove the all-new 2015 Subaru Outback, we never really pegged the Japanese automaker to be a highly lauded brand among off-road enthusiasts, despite many of the company's products actually being quite capable when the going gets rough.

But the data says we're wrong. According to a 2013 J.D. Power study, Subaru vehicles have some of the highest use off road compared to other brands – of course "off road" here just means anything not on a paved road, so even gravel trails and tame two-tracks count in these statistics. Nearly 29.5 percent of its cars are used on trails and dirt roads, with only the Ram and Jeep brands besting that statistic, at 30.2 and 31.0 percent, respectively. Said another way, Subaru sold 424,683 vehicles in the US in 2013, meaning that some 125,281 saw off-road use. Mainstream brands like GMC, Ford and Chevrolet all trail Subaru, and even Land Rover comes in at less than 20 percent.

Some 34.7 percent of Outbacks are taken off paved roads, according to J.D. Power data.

With the Outback, specifically, similar 2013 J.D. Power data shows that the tall wagon has the highest use on unpaved roads compared to its entire competitive set. Some 34.7 percent of Outbacks are taken off paved roads, compared to its next-closest competitor, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, at a distant 21.1 percent. Trailing further behind those two are classmates like the Volvo XC70, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Toyota Venza and Audi Allroad.

Subaru owners are "190 percent more likely to do outdoor activities than other brands," Michael McHale, Subaru's director of corporate communications, tells Autoblog. And in Subaru's top markets – places like the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain regions and New England – it's extremely common to see Outbacks and Foresters covered in mud with bikes or kayaks on the roof.

This sort of data absolutely shows in the company's sales figures. Look at 2013, for example – the marque's three best-selling products were the Forester, Outback and XV Crosstrek, in that order. The butch XV handily outsold the Impreza on which its based. The Outback outsold the Legacy nearly three to one. The Forester outsold the Impreza, Legacy, WRX and WRX STI combined. 2013 marked Subaru's sixth consecutive year of record sales, and through June 2014, the company has posted 31 straight months of year-over-year sales increases.

Of course, that's easy to do when you're still a smaller automaker like Subaru. But "we like being small," McHale tells us. Straying from its strong suit has proven problematic for the automaker (see: SVX, Tribeca), while staying focused on its core models has proven successful, especially as the broader market has really come to embrace the crossover lifestyle. With strong new products like this Outback on the horizon, the momentum is sure to increase.
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