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    Two Choices in Automotive Identity

    By Philip Ruth

    Creation of a distinct identity usually happens over time. Splashy reinventions can be attention getting, but those abruptly altered images can wither as quickly as they are formed.

    That’s where steady progress toward a singular definition can win, and that’s what Subaru has done in becoming a first stop for active-lifestyle car buyers. This segment has been a more tangled path for crossover competitors like the Hyundai Tucson, which challenges its Subaru cohort in every way except in being something that buyers see as part of themselves.

    It’s about this time that you’d insert the shopworn joke about lesbians preferring Subarus, but I’ve seen plenty of gay men gravitating to the brand as well. Now, with advanced safety features becoming a Subaru calling card, you could easily find yourself signing on the dotted line, even if you will never point your purchase toward an unpaved road.

    Mainstreaming the Outback look has created opportunities for competitors with more muddied identities, like Volkswagen. Long thunderstorms of bad press surrounding its diesel emissions cheating has shaken the faith for many of its recent brand converts, who came for the green hype and stayed for the Teutonic style. VW’s low quality ratings aren’t helping, either.

    So VW needs a hit, while Subaru continues on its steady path further into the mainstream. The two cars we’re checking out this week sum this up, and both end up as compelling choices, in their own ways.

    VW has a hit with the Golf Alltrack, or at least it feels that way when you experience it. The Golf Alltrack is chapter and verse Outback, with a raised stance and beefed-up exterior trim. This obviously is not the only competitor that has latched on to Subaru’s aesthetic, but the Golf Alltrack adds in Volkswagen’s comparatively rich interior and feeling of solid heft. The tested Alltrack didn’t have many options, but it still looked like a million bucks with its vivid Silk Blue Metallic finish. The Marrakesh Brown V-Tex leatherette interior was near enough to natural hide that the words “re-branded vinyl” did not apply.

    The tested Subaru Impreza, on the other hand, was much more low-key, bordering on generic. You’d add $3,400 to the Impreza’s $18,395 entry price to add the off-road look given to its Crosstrek sibling, but it does fine without it. The Impreza’s platform was redesigned for 2017, and the revisions add to an ongoing feeling of satisfaction. Proportions are wide and low, and visibility is panoramic. The structure feels simultaneously solid and lightweight. The Impreza has
    the feeling of a car that has been thoroughly thought out.

    That’s one loss in the mainstreaming of its brand. The now well-insulated thrum of the Impreza’s boxer engine is pretty much all that remains of the quirky old Subaru charm. Meanwhile, with the Golf Alltrack, Volkswagen adds to the active-lifestyle segment the greater refinement that was such a hit with its diesel buyers. These are different directions from which both Subaru and Volkswagen have much to gain.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at