Subaru Was Overlanding Before it Was Cool

Some brands are just now leaning into dedicated off-road models fueled by the rise in the popularity of the outdoor lifestyle.

Right now, there’s an undeniable swell in the popularity of overlanding, recreational off-roading and adventure in general. At any given motorcycle expo, almost every brand is showing off its new scrambler, dual sport or adventure bike. On the four-wheeled side of the industry, if the SUV, pickup truck or even the wagon in a manufacturer’s lineup doesn’t have a version that can tackle a rocky road and take you that much further, it’s almost written off.

Programs like Backcountry Discovery Routes — an initiative to let off-roaders and adventurers explore the natural beauty of our country’s national parks and forest using as few paved roads as possible — are seeing massive growth and expansion because people are demanding it. How else are people supposed to cover their shiny new off-roaders in a fresh coat of dirt, dust and mud? Professional off-road racing is benefiting too. But where brands like Ford, Chevy and Ducati are just now leaning into more dedicated off-road models fueled by the rise in the popularity of the outdoor lifestyle, Subaru has been doing it for decades.

Rally racing has had its ups and downs in this country. Depending on who you talk to and what decade you reference, rally racing, like the type of events the American Rally Association puts on — where small hatchbacks, sedans and vintage cars go from one gravel and dirt trail to another seeing who can finish in the quickest time — either feel like a national pastime or are nonexistent.

Bill Stokes, Subaru Motorsport Manager, wants to use the current overland craze to boost the sport’s popularity and, at the same time work with overland enthusiasts to help open up more land for recreational off-roading. “We’re hopeful we can find some way of distributing the series so more people can find out about it and watch it and work with the organizers to achieve that.” And as far as expanding where the ARA can hold events? Well, the types of fire roads and forest service trails the overlanding community loves so much are ready-made rally stages too. “There’s this whole movement for people to go out and use these roads for UTVs; therefore, its easier to then say ‘hey, we want to use these roads, but we’re also going to drive cars on them as well.’ It’s a natural fit.”

Subaru’s relationship with adventure and rally racing is more than just marketing, says Stokes. “To be involved in rallying as a manufacturer, there has to be a product to sell that makes sense in that environment. And we’re seeing more rally fans getting involved in more overland-style vehicle modification. There are more folks seeing the adventure angle of rallying and appreciating it for what it is, so we see a lot of support from a grassroots level.” And where motorsports tend to attract a niche crowd, the rally racing-overland relationship is more inclusive. “It doesn’t just fit for our performance owners; it caters to all of our outdoor adventure-focused owners. It’s just more of a fit now than its ever been. Even if we’re racing the WRX sedan, people show up with Crosstreks, Outbacks and Foresters, so it makes a ton of sense to continue to support the sport.”


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