Perhaps best known for its sure-footed all-wheel-drive systems and practical, family-friendly models, Japanese automaker Subaru also caters to enthusiasts with offerings like the BRZ sports car and turbocharged WRX compact.
Subaru got its start after World War II, when then-new transportation conglomerate Fuji Heavy Industries decided to expand into car manufacturing. Named after the Japanese for the Pleiades star cluster, which also forms the basis...
of the automaker's logo, Subaru launched its first model, the 1500, in 1954.
An innovative offering that boasted Japan's first use of monocoque body construction, the 1500 never reached full production due to supply and funding problems. But Subaru soon returned with the 360, a diminutive "people's car" in the mold of the Volkswagen Beetle that enjoyed strong success in its home market and was sold for well over a decade.
The 1960s saw two major milestones for Subaru. The first was the introduction of the brand's now-ubiquitous boxer engine, which affords a low center of gravity and improved handling, while the second was the beginning of sales in the United States at the end of the decade.
The next major development came in the early 70s, when Subaru debuted the GL, its first sedan available with all-wheel-drive. The vehicle's performance in inclement weather won many fans, especially in northern states, and Subaru was moved to offer AWD on nearly all of its subsequent models.
Following niche products like the Justy subcompact and the unusual BRAT car/pickup, Subaru began to shift closer to the mainstream with the launch of more conventional Legacy sedan and wagon in 1989. Soon aftwards Subaru cleverly cashed in on the SUV craze of the 1990s with the popular Outback, essentially a Legacy wagon with a slightly raised suspension and rugged-looking body cladding.
These days, Subaru continues to field a lineup of capable, versatile vehicles, though fuel economy is now a greater emphasis than ever before. All of its models come standard with AWD, though there's one exception - the BRZ sports car, which Subaru co-developed with Fuji Heavy Industries shareholder Toyota.