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2 Things Subaru Customers Love About Their Vehicles, 2 Things They Abhor

Subaru customers really do love their Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek, but they also dislike the brand. See what customers would change if they could.

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The ads want you to believe Subaru customers love their vehicles like the Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek and that the brand can do no wrong. It is really true or is it just good advertising? There is plenty to like about Subaru, but they aren’t perfect and have their shortcomings. Here’s a look at the good and the bad.

Subaru Safety

Subaru customers say safety performance is important when they buy a new all-wheel-drive vehicle. The J.D. Power U.S. Tech Choice Study agrees, because three of the top five technologies consumers most prefer in their next vehicle are related to crash prevention. And Subaru customers love that the brand leads all automakers.

Customers want safe vehicles

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says Subaru leads all automakers in safety performance and crash avoidance. The IIHS announced the Subaru brand has achieved TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards on seven of their 2019 models, more than any other automaker. The 2019 Ascent, Crosstrek, Impreza (sedan and 5-door), Legacy, Outback and WRX all earned the highest ratings in the latest safety testing


The Subaru brand started the all-wheel-drive small SUV segment. It’s what put Subaru on the map and why they have had eleven straight years of year-over-year growth. Subaru doesn’t adapt AWD components to a front- or rear-wheel drive vehicle, they develop all their multi-use vehicles around Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. They actually offer four different all-wheel-drive systems on their cars.

2020 Subaru Forester

Why does Subaru offer four different versions of AWD? All versions of Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive distribute torque to all four wheels all the time, and each is tailored to the specific vehicles engine, suspension, and transmission.

Each reduces the load on each wheel and reducing and even helping to prevent tire slip, especially on slippery or loose surfaces. You won’t find Subaru customers stuck on the side of the road, and it’s a big reason why they love the brand.

What customers don’t like about the brand

2020 Subaru Forester

Conservative styling

Subaru gets criticized for being too conservative in their exterior designs and that they need to have more progressive styling. But Subaru won’t budge on this issue. They have a valid reason, but customers don’t have to like it. It’s not surprising design changes are minor for the new generation of Subaru like the fifth-generation 2019 Forester SUV.

It’s because Subaru doesn’t like to take risks. Subaru tends to focus more on safety tech and upgrades underneath the exterior. They also like the large open greenhouse design. It does help improve outward visibility, even though the design does look boxy. Don’t look for Subaru to change this.

CVT automatic transmissions

One of the main complaints with Subaru customers is that they exclusively use the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) technology. The drawbacks are obvious to anyone who has driven one. In technical terms, a CVT transmission uses a pair of adjustable pulleys and a segmented metal drive belt to deliver engine power to the drive wheels.

The metal belt or steel pulley gives off a whining noise when you push on the gas pedal. The sound is similar to the noise jet engines make when the pilot gives the plane full throttle for takeoff. A low pitched continuous whine that can be annoying.

Now, all automakers like Subaru use the automatic CVT for its fuel-efficiency. So if you despise the Continuously Variable Transmission, you can thank it for its improved fuel mileage. Subaru is committed to the CVT but don’t look for them to change unless they develop a new fuel-saving automatic gearbox.

Subaru does a lot of things right that its customers love about the brand, so the love for models like the new Forester SUV is real. Subaru Corporation is one of the smallest Japanese brands and they aren't perfect, but look for them to will stay with what made them successful. It's hard to argue with eleven consecutive years of sales increases.

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Photo credit: Timmons Subaru, Subaru USA

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HW (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 9:56AM

Can't stand that sunroof is required on Forester Premium when it is optional on other models, I have no use for sunroof. Why does one have to get expensive trim to get paddle shifters on Forester with CVT. Other models can get paddle shifters on lower trim levels.

John (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 3:13PM

In reply to by HW (not verified)

I have the same complaint. I have no use for a sunroof that will no doubt leak some day.
The paddles on the steering wheel are impossible to learn how change the clock tad contacts.
My Forezter seems to be a generation or two behind most vehicles for infotainment.
Had a rear spring break at 30,000 miles and not covered.

Dale (not verified)    November 2, 2019 - 10:17PM

In reply to by HW (not verified)

Hmm. I have no use for silly paddle shifters, but a sun roof is essential if you have dogs — for much better ventilation on a mildly warm (not hot!) day if you have to leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes. And we know dogs love their Subarus.

digitaldoc (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 12:34PM

I would add that Subaru owners don't like the head gasket issues of the boxer engine, the start-stop feature that is difficult to turn off hidden in multiple menus and then resets to on when you turn the car off, the infotainment issues, the underpowered cars with no optional engines, the multiple recalls, and the poor dealership experience that just wants to sell aftermarket bumpers and luggage step protectors along with the overpriced rear view mirrors.

Other than that, the brand is perfection!

Don Levin (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 7:08PM

In reply to by digitaldoc (not verified)

I test drove a Forester, discovered it had Start-Stop, turned it off, applied brake at next light and it turned back on! I repeated this with sales guy surprised but acknowledging it. This sucks so bad I’ve kept my old Forester for last two years. CVT’s suck too. Obama’s EPA mandated 53mpg forcing makers to do these “features” we hate. Electric Vehicles won’t have SS or CVT.

John Goreham    November 1, 2019 - 12:38PM

I'm a four-time Subaru owner and now have a '16 Forester. I've tested the new 2020 Legacy and the new Ascent. The main reason I dislike Subaru is the reliability concern. My vehicle's generation had serious issues with both the engine and the transmission. Subaru only agreed to remedy these when sued by owners. I had a previous Subaru with the 2.5-liter engine that failed at 11K. The second reason is the lane departure system that alerts constantly in rural areas as you move aside for dog walkers, joggers, potholes, construction crews, etc. It also alerts any time the lane markings are imperfect. There is no way to shut it off in any of the vehicles I have tested without having a yellow warning light illuminate. It will be hard for me to get past these issues when I buy my next new vehicle, and my family tends to buy one every few years. I am also an outlier in that I love the way the CVT operates and its efficiency.

Bubaa (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 2:24PM

Another item to dislike...I hope Subaru is reading this....why isn't there an option for surround cameras like the RAV 4 or Roque? It's so much easier to park then trying to lean over looking at the mirrors and trying to avoid curb rash. Driving my wife's Bolt EV and parking it is such a breeze to park. I will gladly pay extra for it as an option. I'm on my 3rd Subaru already.

Martin (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 3:38PM

My wife and I both own Subarus. But neither of us will ever buy another. Too many class action law suits and extended warranties for extremely expensive repairs to engines and transmissions. Too many recalls for stuff that could leave you stranded. Like the brake switch recall. Several times I could not get the transmission out of park. Took over 6 weeks to get it repaired. I got an extended warranty because the trans could blow. 4 model years later and my wife gets the same letter. 4 years and they are still having the same transmission problems. Subaru is a miserable excuse of a company where quality control is concerned.

R.c (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 3:55PM

How about having that Subaru professes they luv the environment and build nothing but gasket oil leaking crap that costs at minimum $3k to fix then you will ONLY help if you Require They use a dealer who marks up the repair by ..oh $1500!!! Imagine that! FRAUDS...getting tax credits and customers for supposedly doing the right thing and ALL THE WHILE ACTUALLY creating landfill filler with vehicles that seem to have gone to crap since year 2009 Forester

John Wentz (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 6:01PM

In reply to by R.c (not verified)

Do not know about your experience, but I have owned a 2000, 2001, 2010 and 2015 (current car) Subie, all with a 2.5 boxer engine. No oil leaks, never stranded on the side of road. Perform my own maintenance mostly, which is not difficult.
BTW many mfgs get tax abatements when they build cars in USA and employ thousands of people here.

Vl (not verified)    November 10, 2019 - 7:32PM

In reply to by John Wentz (not verified)

My father is on 3rd.
2004 Forester, 2008 Outback, 2016 Forester.
No problems at all.
I am driving 2010 Forester. Original owner.
No serious issues so far. Plan to move to 2020 Forester next year.

John (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 4:10PM

I loved my 2002 Forester. The new ones have too much electronic safety crap on them. Give me a 5 speed turbo with a sunroof and I would be happy.

Jarhead (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 4:57PM

All these complaints yet my 2016 Outback has been great. Yes more power would be nice and they had a 6 or now a turbo option but it still keeps up fine. Especially when I average 15mph over in my 50 mile commute each way. The Eye Sight system also is amazingly good keeping me from screaming at idiots in the fast lane going slow and those who cut you off.

I moved last year from Ohio to Florida and both dealers were great with no more recalls than other new cars. Now before 2016 they had an oil burning issue and others head gaskets years before but much of the first was lack of taking care of their basic maintenance. Swap brands and they will have the same problems then blame the car.

But besides them being a bit behind in styling and technology for apps they are great. So if my phone connecting so the car can give me 2800 massage modes or the best safety for the same price, I'll take safety.

Kevin Knoop (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 5:02PM

We own a 2016 Outback, 2.5 Litre.
Purchased new and at 30K plus miles is completely trouble free. The CVT works as designed and the car is a dream on the interstate. We purchased a Subaru because they have a solid reputation for reliability. I am a retired professional automotive technician and had many occasions to work on the early models back in the 70s. What they lacked in styling they more than compensated for in engineering and ease of maintenance. Having worked on cars, people often ask what kind of car they should buy. I say take a look at Subaru and not one has yet come back at me with any complaints.

Tim Davis (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 5:17PM

I suppose there are a couple of things I like about Subaru, but not enough to bring me back next time I need a car. I've had enough with major engine and drive train issues so I'm moving on.

Chris Przybyla (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 5:27PM

I don't know about other owners but I hate how under powered their vehicles are. I love my Legacy GT other than for it's weight it is under powered and it lacks a standard parking break. The WRX is a tad to small for me to get the power I want in the STI. Where is a higher end version of the Legacy with 300+ HP at the wheels. I don't care for larger vehicles which just have reduced gas milage, even less power and more weight.

Tim (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 6:20PM

The AWD system. IMO there is no other reason to buy one.
I love it and compared to the others I have personally driven, it's better by a wide margin.

FiveStringBass (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 6:35PM

Jeez. I see a lot of heat towards Subaru for issues that are common to most manufacturers and their dealers.

I'm on my 3rd Forester: 1st time I've bought the same make more than once, let alone model. My 1st had a leaky gasket, but I was otherwise happy so I stayed with it based on Consumer Reports' continued high ratings (2011 was a low year for the model). My 2nd two (2016 and 2019) have been problem-free. I currently drive a Forester Sport, my first ever car with automatic tranny. Never thought I'd see the day, but I actually like the CVT and don't miss manual.

Leads to another thought: seems some want to have their cake and eat it too. The reason I love Subaru is that it's got an old-school, boxy design: modern UFO-style streamlining results in loss of both visibility and cargo space. Also, my Sport is the peppiest SUV in its class that I've owned or driven, even in standard mode. Of course it's not sports car peppy -- it's an SUV. A big reason I went Forester is because I'm thrifty. Last thing I want is a turbo, because of its baggage: worse gas mileage, expensive premium gas.

No manufacturer is perfect, I don't expect that. But overall my Foresters have treated me extremely well compared to all the other vehicles I've owned over my lifetime, and based on everything I've read, I'm in the majority of Forester owners.

morphd (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 7:05PM

I've always loved to drive cars with manual transmissions and a few months ago was fortunate to find a low-mileage 2018 Forester after my 2013 Forester was totaled from hitting a deer. Both cars had to have the short block replaced (under warranty) due to excessive oil consumption - and mileage isn't great - but besides that they've been wonderful cars to own and drive. Recently I had a chat with a knowledgeable & trusted service manager at the dealer I go to and he explained how the CVT is much better integrated with the AWD system vs. the manual transmission (which of course is no longer available). I'm now "mentally prepared" to go with the CVT in my next Subaru (which hopefully will be several years down the road).

Joseph Oravec (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 7:22PM

Denis Flierl, please stop whining. OMG! You make such a Big Headline about Subaru customers not Liking some things about the Brand. And then you give two small complaints. The CVT and so called Conservative Styling. Let me tell you something! First of ALL, Subaru has been Pro-Active about problems that come up, even years after the car was made. My car for instance a 2013 Legacy, has had at least 3 Notices sent to me regarding possible problems. Air Bags, CVT, and Engine Oil Consumption. In ALL three cases Subaru has extended Warranties on the affected systems. And on an additional part in the HVAC system, the part was replaced FREE of Charge. I have owned plenty of so called AMERICAN cars. And, every one of them, went out of their way to AVOID fixing problems. A Chevy (Brand New) was the BIGGEST LEMON, I have EVER purchased. So, it is Refreshing when an Automaker looks out for their customers like Subaru does. Instead of selling a car to you, and then treating you like a leaper afterwards like Chrysler, Ford, and GM do. But, you are Right about one thing Subaru's are very "Progressive" , and Thank GOD for that! I have had it with Progressive B.S. already!

Elizabeth Richards (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 7:28PM

I love (luv!) the boxy design. Driving up I-70, in the snow, in the dark, with semis changing lanes is why I didn't buy another suv with teeny, tiny, pointless windows. I like to see when I drive!

I do dislike not being able to see the clock or temperature on the center dash. Petty but a safety issue when you try to see if the roads are freezing yet.

SH (not verified)    November 1, 2019 - 8:02PM

The seat in my 2018 Crosstrek is uncomfortable. The 2 things I would change: leather offered in additional miles and automatic seats for all!