Geneva LiveBlog: Subaru’s new hope
Life has not been easy of late for either Subaru or its many fans. The strength of the Japanese Yen and the firm’s concentration on the more lucrative American market has meant that European and Irish Subaru lovers have seen something of a drought of new models. Yes, we had the quietly impressive new XV SUV, but it is a very expensive car (thanks to that Yen exchange rate) and the Impreza, once the touchstone for all things Subaru, has been allowed to wither on the vine. Even the Legacy has been forgotten about, and you can’t even, officially, buy a Legacy estate in Ireland any more.
Still, there is at Geneva a bright spark of hope on the horizon and it’s this, the Viviz concept. Yes, we’ve been burned by Subaru concepts in the past. There was a concept Impreza a couple of years ago that stunned with gorgeous lines – gorgeous lines which never made it through to the final production model. Hopefully, the Viviz’s styling will get through the bean-counters rather more successfully as it’s a handsome beast and you could easily see it forming the basis for a future Legacy or Forester.
Under the skin, the Viviz is even more interesting as it debuts Subaru’s first ever hybrid system. This being a Subaru though, it’s far from a conventional setup. Powering the front wheels, you’ll find Subaru’s existing 150bhp 2.0-litre Boxer diesel engine and an electric motor to allow for both improved overtaking punch and short bursts of zero-emissions motoring. Now, Subaur has traditionally always been famed for its all-wheel-drive systems and the Viviz is no exception, but it does away with the heavy and space-inneficient propshaft and differential and instead uses twin electric motors mounted close to each rear wheel. This not only gives all-wheel traction, it also allows the car to send power to an individual rear wheel (good for both on-road and off-road handling) and it saves both weight and space. Clever.
The system is close to being production ready, and will be introduced first in the Japanese market shortly, most likely in the Legacy or the upcoming new Forester. It’ll head stateside soon after, but sales for Europe are still be evaluated. Keep your fingers crossed, so…
Presumably, Subaru will be leaning heavily on Toyota (which now owns a significant chunk of Subaru) for help in developing its hybrid system, but it faces some tough choices. Continue with its iconoclastic four wheel drive and flat-four engines, and it risks continuing isolation, on the periphery of motoring, appealing only to a hard-core few. Take the other road, go for convention and simplicity, and it risks just becoming a badge-engineered Toyota; something that might garner a few more sales but which will effectively kill the Subaru brand as anything meaningful. Toyota will have to tread carefully to make sure that its new charge can walk that fine line between individuality and failure.