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As seen in the image.

In the image, you can see how parts of the models don't look very smooth, in fact it looks more like a model when you set the shading to flat.

This is after subdividing and converting tris to quads.

Any advice on how I can get the model to look smooth without using a modifier?

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    $\begingroup$ maybe it's because you subdivided with a simple Subdivide rather than Subdivide Smooth... hard to say in Solid mode... but did you save a previous version of your object? $\endgroup$ – moonboots Jul 24 '18 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ There could be more than one reason for this . to get a more complete answer, perhaps give us another illustration, with the wireframe showing - also with 'sharp' edges displayed $\endgroup$ – Robin Betts Jul 24 '18 at 10:57
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If you subdivide an object, it won't automatically appear rounder. It can create angles and ugly surfaces. For example if I have a sphere and decide to W > Subdivide it, as it will create edge loops in the strict middle of existing edges, it will tend to create flat surfaces.

If I W > Subdivide Smooth, though, I won't have this problem as it will try to respect the existing shape.

That said, you don't always get benefit from subdividing an object, except if you need to export for games or other 3D softwares I guess, can't you leave it as it is, keep a simple mesh and don't apply your Subsurf?

enter image description here

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