HATCH OR NOTCH -A SUBARU ERROR?

With Subaru, it seems, saloon really does mean saloon. Going against the grain of the UK market, tradionally partial to hatchbacks, may yet prove to be a mistake. It is easy, perhaps, to see why the regaining of the Muse by Subaru has caused this to occur…..after all, the mere thought of a hatchback 90s Impreza would have been anathema at the time ….since Subaru wishes to recapture that boy racer spirit its products have recently lacked, BRZ notwithstanding.The fact that Subaru is hesitating about the UK market is understandable given the pathetic state of market penetration there.Even the ‘notchback’ WRX is not confirmed as available in the UK but the new STI is set fair to get the traditional Subaru enthusiast salivating. Not just the cooking boxer 2 litre either for this monster but the 2.5 litre version with six on the floor. But hatchback afficionados must wait.
The question must therefore be asked – is Subaru right? Does no-one in fact want an STI hatch? The US market is much less smitten with the concept since most US buyers in this specialist sector have a car for all occasions; a WRX saloon would merely form part of a rather extensive stable after all.

There are still, with the new WRX STI, all the expected Subaru toys which place the marque that little but higher in the sophistication stakes than the ‘normal’ boy racer. Rival manufacturers like Ford like to occupy this sector but without the sophistication of a Driver Controlled Central Differential (DCCD)for example and any Ford Focus would be proud to offer anything like the 305bhp of the latest iteration of the WRX. Six centre differential locksettings would be considered by the Blue Oval an unnecessary sophistry. It remains to be seen whether the electrically assisted power steering of the new WRX will offer the degree of driver involvement expected in this sector and it is this area in which Ford have recently proved paramount. Price will also be a factor and it is by no means certain that WRX in its new form will fall below that important buyer psychological barrier of 30k. Ford have proved adept at this and have a UK market share to show for it, complete with hatches where required.

The new WRX certainly looks the part:there is a monster of an intercooler scoop but this is less intrusive in the way it is set so aiding vision. But the question remains…at what price can it enter the market in UK? We are told that talks are under way with the parent company (FHI) as to the precise UK market price but the hesitation tells you a lot. The key to it all is cost. Subaru’s current policy in the domestic market tells you all you need to know about the expense of devising new models with multi body styles. It is now a given that shared platforms will be cost savers but it surely comes to something when a market traditionally hot on hatches is denied one on grounds of cost. On this see my last blog on the true worth of the UK market to Subaru. The lack of a hatchback WRX STI may well be deliberate strategy but does it bode well for the UK scene? Certainly it cuts off a number of potential buyers from the start.

Despite all this, the new WRX STi is a positive indication that Subaru means business in the compact performance sector – that is if we in UK get to buy one. It certainly promises well but the marketing decisions it represents may not bode well for the continued presence of this player in UK.There are other more eye-catching ways of releasing 305 bhp onto UK roads and not all buyers in this sector are now wowed by the tradional Subaru trademarks of large boxer motors and DCCD. We can but hope that some of them are since if not the showrooms of the Blue Oval may yet feel the benefit.

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