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How Subaru Improved New Forester And Outback Quality And 3 Reasons Why They Did It Fast

Customers have fewer problems with their 2020 Subaru Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent models. See how Subaru improved quality in its new cars quickly.

Last year, Subaru took a big hit because of quality issues in the Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent models. In 2020 it's a different story for the Japanese automaker. Subaru reports profits have increased in 2020 18-fold because they have not had substantial warranty costs as they did in 2019.

Automotive News says, "Subaru's positive financial results reflect a return to more normal levels after the company booked hefty outlays to cover quality costs and recalls in the previous fiscal year." It's good news for customers.

2020 Subaru Forester, 2020 Subaru Outback quality issues
Photo credit: Adventure Subaru

Quality was a big issue for Subaru in 2019 as the automaker issued eighteen recalls, effecting the Forester compact SUV (2), Outback wagon (2), Crosstrek subcompact SUV (5), Ascent 3-Row family hauler (5), Legacy sedan (2), and Impreza compact sedan and hatchback (2). The 2019 Subaru WRX, WRX STI, and BRZ were the only models with zero recalls.

The last recall on any model was September 2019. Subaru issued recalls, one each for the 2020 Subaru Outback and the 2020 Legacy sedan that share the same chassis components. Subaru recalled the two models because a brake pedal mounting bracket may have had an insufficiently tightened or missing bolt.

2020 Subaru Forester, 2020 Subaru Outback quality issues
Photo credit: Adventure Subaru

How did Subaru quality improve so quickly?

It seems like Subaru improved quality in the 2020 Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent overnight. Subaru Corporation improved quality quickly first by spending more than $1 billion starting in 2020. The plan was to slow production and implement new quality measures and training procedures at its two plants.

Second, Subaru Corporation revised its "Quality" policy after 25 years. Subaru announced March 29, 2019, "Based on the subsequent internal and external environmental changes, and repeated discussions throughout the company, we have reached a "Quality Policy" revision."

Subaru also established a new Quality Assurance Management Office that was operational on April 1, 2020. Executive Vice President, Atsushi Osaki (Chief Quality Officer), oversees group-wide quality assurance and develops and manages Subaru's organizational structure and systems to assure quality, maintain their effectiveness, and continually improve them.

Subaru's plan to improve quality in the 2020 Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent is working because the automaker has had zero recalls in 2020. It's good news for customers who don't have to take their new vehicle into the service department and deal with the wait time for warranty issues.

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Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Photo credit: Competition Subaru, Adventure Subaru


FRANCISCO J ROSALES (not verified)    November 15, 2020 - 12:53AM

I bought a 2018 Subaru crosstrek I have 12000 miles i hardly drive it And I will never buy another subaru I had many cars on my life time bmw volvo toyota but I was convinced that subaru was a great car but not had many problems with it and I don't drive alot it's been going to the dealer several times from ac compressor replacement bad smell noise on the back underpower antifreeze smell rubber smell recalls ect that's why I bought a new car not to have problems for a couple a years but no very upsetting don't buy subaru

Jay smith (not verified)    November 15, 2020 - 6:51AM

Transmission problems center arm rest melted 2020 Forster. 2919 legacy had road noise and touchy brakes body assembly issues 9 Subes and all were troublesome

Robert (not verified)    November 15, 2020 - 10:11AM

I purchased a new Subaru Outback. One day out of nowhere every code Light on the dash came on I drove to my local Subaru dealer , they would not scan the computer , told me my next appointment was in a week , don’t worry drive the car, brought back the car was given a rental. Was told I bought gas with the motor running , Not so, told me it was open loop in the evaporator system they cleared the code. All lights off few days latter again all lights on dash. Drove back to Subaru again only to be told . There will be a 2 week wait few of there Techs quit. The service advisor I first saw quit also I called a different Subaru dealer made appt for next morning 8:00Am . First thing in front of me they scanned the ECM . Again open loop in evaporator. In front of my eyes we both made sure the gas cap was tight. I me my self opened the gas cap looked at the gas cap found the rubber gasket RIPPED. I showed the tech here is my problem . How come no Tech looked at the most simple answer when your scanner shows code for open loop?? I retired after 48 years in the automotive trade. Subaru has to have there Dealer network given more training. & if there is so much turnover in there service dept. I blame the service manager. And owners.

Christopher Te… (not verified)    November 15, 2020 - 7:03PM

I bought a 2013 outback and I found it an incredibly capable vehicle until it reached the 130,000km mark. The CVT started to fall and feel apart because of poor design. I repaired the vehicle at a cost of $4500. It ran well for another 80,000km then the chain in the CVT broke. This cost me with repairs another $4000. I am now aware that Subaru buys its CVT'S from Nissan. I will never purchase a Subaru again after this experience and I have actively encouraged others not to purchase Subaru products because of the reliability issues. What a shame that Subaru quality has come to this

jg (not verified)    November 16, 2020 - 2:06PM

In reply to by Christopher Te… (not verified)

Did you get one of the CVT warranty extension letters?

You may be outside the window of getting a reimbursement if you didn't take advantage of it, but I recall them stepping up and covering repair costs back to 2010 when the letter was sent out (I had a '14, '16, and now '18 Outback).

Don McHenry (not verified)    November 16, 2020 - 3:11AM

It is a real pity that they have not put as much care into providing spares . I suffered a broken windscreen in my 3 month old Forester e Boxer and am told that there is not one available in Australia? A contact at Subaru Australia informs me that this is due to industrial disputation on the wharves but this is November and they have still not resolved the problem. So much for customer care? Not good enough Subaru!

Phil (not verified)    November 20, 2020 - 9:44AM

In reply to by Don McHenry (not verified)

I had a similar experience with a catalytic converter here in the US. My dealer told me none were available in the whole country. I made a single call to a large Subaru dealership in another state and sure enough they had the part I needed in stock. My local dealer then got the part transferred and fixed my car. Point is never trust the dealer’s line and do your own search.

NormT (not verified)    November 16, 2020 - 8:10AM

So in 8 months Subaru hasn't had a recall? Good for them since they are a small player and there is almost two months left in the year and and we lost two months due to Covid.

Michael Smith (not verified)    November 16, 2020 - 10:29AM

Or, conversely, not as many people are driving as much, due to Roja, so the issues haven't surfaced yet

Phil (not verified)    November 18, 2020 - 1:19PM

I owned a 2006 Forester--great car. I put 255k miles on it with only one sensor dying at about 180k miles. I then bought a 2017 Forester. Not so great. More squeaks and rattles. A/C problems and of all things the driver's visor was replaced due to squeaking and difficulty to adjust. Now, the replacement visor is acting up again. Subaru really needs to get their act together.

jg (not verified)    November 20, 2020 - 12:10AM

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

After 2 other great Subaru’s, I too ended up with a 2017 Forester and it was the squeakiest thing I’ve ever had. Aside from the tailgate and other things, the passenger seat had both a squeak and a rattle, depending on who was sitting in it. The dealership couldn’t properly fix ANY of the noises. After a year, I traded it for a 2019 Forester and it is a 100% different car. They did so many things right with the redesign and the new 2.5 that I even got my son a 2020 Sport (his 3rd Subaru) and he loves it.

Phil (not verified)    November 20, 2020 - 9:39AM

In reply to by jg (not verified)

That’s wonderful news. I’m glad you are enjoying your 2019 Forester, but a good car company’s quality should be consistent from year to year, model to model. Like a reliable, well made knife in my kitchen drawer. The one thing keeping me from just trading is my 2017 has a manual transmission, which I adore. Subaru not longer offers a manual transmission in the Forester line. Boo!

jg (not verified)    November 20, 2020 - 11:23AM

It would be great if there were absolute consistency across models for all manufacturers, but there are lots of examples of huge variations between certain years (lemons), most notably in decades past and not so much recently as quality management became “a thing”.

A lot of times when there are major redesigns or production ramp-ups/expansions going on internally, the bulk of the engineers and even production staff at times get moved to the new projects and quality on the outgoing model(s) suffers. For example, in 2016 they couldn’t make Outback’s fast enough after the 2015 redesign and the one I got (the Foresters are my wife’s cars) had all sorts of indications of being rushed through the factory (like crooked beads of sealant in weird places and missing badges), but that was also the one that convinced me to stop leasing and actually buy the outgoing model. I waited to order a 2019 3.6R Touring, but then they took the dark blue away that I wanted and I had to scramble to find a 2018 across the state and have my local dealer snag it then have it transferred. Except for them screwing up the rear suspension by making it too soft (and dangerous at highway speeds under certain conditions) I love it, but there’s always something to complain about. Subaru actually likes it when you write directly to them with user information and suggestions (I have done this a lot and they even sent me gifts in the mail for some of my recommendations).

Aside from all that rambling, if you go back and look at the issues going on at both the company and the factories within the last few years (the bulk of what this article is about without actually specifying it), it’s a wonder they could still produce the global supply that they did. It’s pretty amazing the different versions of each model they make (as well as major Boeing 787 parts) and overall I think with their new leadership and being very quiet about internal restructuring, there really does seem to be a pretty big difference in product quality. Getting back to the 2019 Forester, it rides totally different than any of the Crosstrek’s, Outback’s, or Forester’s I’ve previously had and like I mentioned before, it just seems like they did so many things right with that redesign and you really can’t compare it to previous models — you just have to drive it for a while to see how much nicer it is to just be in it for long periods of time. I’ve actually been thinking of keeping the Forester and trading in my Outback when it’s time to get an electric car for my wife.

KK (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 12:04PM

In reply to by jg (not verified)

Jg, always appreciate your well-written posts. I seem to recall you once mentioned "pulling" with an Outback 3.6, and I'm wondering if you tow at all? We recently bought a 2016 3.6 with the intention of occasionally towing a light teardrop trailer (gw 1800lb), replacing an older Honda Pilot. So far it pulls like a dream and we appreciate the excellent gas mileage when not towing. Wife won't drive anything but an Outback so it's our 9th Subaru, but only the 2nd CVT. Wondering if you've experienced any negatives towing with a CVT, or thoughts about long-term effects on trans. We tend to pass our vehicles on to kids or other family, so want to keep them healthy. We're mainly flatlanders (WI), but Colorado trips to visit mountain dwellers aren't out of the question.

jg (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 5:07PM

In reply to by KK (not verified)

Thanks. Ironically, I've installed a TorqueLift EcoHitch on each of my Outbacks, but the only one I've actually towed anything with was my first one that had a 2.5. It was a really light trailer I used in parades so doesn't necessarily pass as "towing" in my book but I couldn't even tell anything was back there. I was going to do just as you mentioned and get a light camping trailer, which is one of the reasons I wanted a 3.6 (in addition to the sports car like drivability). Since the 3.6's have the heavy duty CVT like the Forester XTs and WRXs to handle the increased torque, so I think they are the most likely to survive best long term when being used for occasional towing.

Personally, I wanted to get some high quality CVT transmission fluid like Red Line or Amsoil in the CVT before I started stressing it much with towing. Without any evidence, what I've seen from the water-like gear oil in the differentials worries me a bit about what is in the CVT. Putting in better oil may reduce the mileage a little, but I think it's worth it for better protection (I didn't notice a reduction in mileage with Red Line in my differentials and Amsoil in the engine).

On a separate note, my son just bought a 2020 Forester Sport and towed a UHaul trailer from WA to MI and said it towed like a dream.