More fodder for the “has Seattle gone upscale” debate: In the Subaru-versus-luxury-car counts, Seattle’s favorite vehicle rules, but the total of BMWs, Mercedes and Lexuses is not that far behind.
With increasing affluence, is “crunchy” Seattle starting to feel fancy — a bit more like (gasp) the Eastside?
That’s how one of my colleagues here at The Times feels about changes she’s witnessed in her West Seattle neighborhood. She came over to my desk after reading my column about the preponderance of Subarus in Seattle.
“Everywhere I look I see BMWs now,” she said of her formerly modest block. “Maybe they’re giving Subarus a run for their money these days?”
I decided to put her anecdotal evidence to the test — and it turns out, she may be onto something.
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Using passenger-vehicle data from the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL), I compared the number of Subarus with the combined number of the three most popular luxury makes in King County: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.
While Subarus still rule the roost in Seattle, it’s actually pretty close. Citywide, there are about 34,900 Subarus, compared to 33,800 vehicles from the three luxury makers.
The true Subaru stronghold is North Seattle. All of the top five ZIP codes where Subarus outnumber luxury cars by the greatest margin are located here. In 98103, which includes the neighborhoods north and south of Green Lake, Subarus hold a 2-to-1 advantage over the upscale cars.
And it’s not as if these Seattleites can’t afford a flashier ride: North Seattle is among the more affluent areas of the city. The ZIP code with the third-largest Subaru surplus — 98115, which includes Ravenna and View Ridge — has more households earning over $100,000 than any other in Seattle.
Other parts of Seattle where Subarus maintain their lead include the waterfront areas of West Seattle, and 98122, which comprises the Central District and Madrona.
But throughout much of Seattle, Subarus are in fact trailing luxury vehicles. It’s not just in ritzy areas like Magnolia and Queen Anne, where you might expect it, but also in less-affluent Rainier Valley and Delridge. And, confirming that sense that Capitol Hill has gone upscale, the high-end cars edge out Subarus in 98102, the neighborhood’s central ZIP code.
(The DOL doesn’t keep archived vehicle-registration records, so we can’t know if how much of a change, if any, this represents.)
Even if Seattle has seen a big increase in luxury-car ownership, it still has a long way to go before it challenges the Eastside. There are 50,000 Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus passenger vehicles on the other side of the lake, which is no surprise to anyone who’s experienced the Bellevue Square parking lot. Subarus, on the other hand, number only about 23,000.
DOL data show that the average base price for a car registered on the Eastside is $30,700. In Seattle, it’s $26,200 — almost exactly the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a 2016 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited.