DEVELOPMENTS AT SUBARU

Many have seen fit to write off Subaru recently thanks to the modest-sized Japanese manufacturer’s apparent inability to ‘find its roots’- whatever that may mean – in recent times. By this is often meant a longed-for return to the boy racer days of the Impreza. But this car, despite its redoubtable performances on the international rally circuit, always filled a narrow market niche and was never what Subaru would be needing at the dawn of the noughties, far less teenies. There has evidently been much head scratching recently and there have been signs that the dead hand of Toyota, thoughyt by many to be a negative influence on the smaller manufacturer might yet yield considerable fruit.

Signs that things will not always be confined to moderately capable AWD vehicles have been coming thick and fast from the global motor show scene; recently Subaru’s all-new Levorg concept car with its newly developed turbo engine has seen the light of day at Tokyo with a Japanese market launch confidently predicted for this very year, 2014. Levorg, as a name, is derived from a combination of ‘Legacy’ ‘Revolution’ and ‘Touring’. Enthusiasts of the old Impreza can heave a collective sigh of relief since we are told in the blurb that the manufacturer is to concentrate on ‘innovative safety’, ‘driving dynamcis’ and last but not least, ‘fuel efficiency’. The second of the three is arguable of more interest to the diehard fans of the old order of the eighties and nineties whom Subaru readily acknowledge have slipped from their market clutches recently.Whilst those who might have bought an AWD Subaru in the eighties may yet be tempted by the more conservative offerings in the range, that range has of late failed to stand out in any way beyond the age-old principle of being quite good at evrything and outstanding at nothing. To that latter principle Subaru has unquestionably lived up – so it is with much anticipation that the fortunes of the Levorg are now being regarded.

Many at Subaru have often thought that the old rotary niche occupied by the old Mazda RX7 was worth a a further stab. Enthusiasts for the various now classic rotary Mazdas are not hard to find so it is with great pleasure that we can all celebrate the priority now placed by Subaru on the ‘driving experience’. The queation for the future will be whether the overall car -user can also be expected to have ‘drving experience’ at the heart of his or her priority for daily vehicle usage. If,for example, the collective wisdom is that the car will become even more of an appliance and less an extention of self then there will, it is understood, be little merit in trying to market Subaru as a niche practitioner especially since Mazda themselves .bolstered as they are by their substantial contribution to endurance racing, do not have this as a priority.

But it has to be good for the ‘driver’ that the Levorg will be produced with the first turbo-charged version of the F16 engine to hit the market and we know that the new FA20 2 litre turbo engine is not far behind it.

So if the products unveiled by Subaru at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show held on 20 November last are anything to go by , the buyer seeking driving pleasure in active form may be well satisfied especially when he or she sees the new 2015 VRX STi.

The dilemma of Subaru – how to broaden appeal to a wider range of customer without sacrificing that certain driving ‘something’ which for many yeasr was the hallmark of the entire range – remains. There were times when even a hill climbing Justy could be represented as a car that a Welsh hill farmer would have been pleased to receive but that was at the other, equally niche, end of the market. The challenge for Subaru, to escape from the two extreme niches without resorting to bland, may yet be a big ask. But the signs from the shows are propitious. Now all we have to do is road test them……

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