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Car reviews - Subaru - Exiga - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Second and third row access, comfort, smooth ride, CVT transmission, AWD grip, loads of safety kit, long list of standard features, value, pricing
Room for improvement
No seventh seat, drab styling, dull performance

3 Nov 2009

IT isn’t often that Subaru launches an all-new product line in Australia.

But the Exiga – wearing a Liberty prefix just in case you get confused – is in many ways just like every other Subaru despite a name that sounds tantalisingly close to a Lotus we know and love.

That’s because it shares much of the same DNA as every other model from the Impreza up, and so generally feels and drives like one.

And this is one of a long list of plus points for Subaru’s first-ever dedicated people mover.

Sadly, however, the Exiga also adopts Subaru’s somewhat fussy design form. Or, in other words, it looks like a pregnant Liberty, complete with a bloated body, small wheels and cartoonish rear styling that manages to appear more cross than crossover.

But – Mitsubishi Grandis aside perhaps – the people-mover market is not exactly oozing with great design right now, so we suppose that owning an MPV that looks like a Subaru might be seen as a declaration that life after babies isn’t over for the keen driver just yet.

Anyway, if we were disappointed by the design then we applauded the Exiga’s creators the moment we first opened a rear door.

Swinging out to almost 90 degrees, the resulting gap is reminiscent of old French wagons such as the Peugeot 504 Familiale. Aided by a tall roofline, access inside is super easy.

Getting to the third row is also simple thanks to a folding and sliding middle seat.

Once sat, we realised that the rear quarters can ably accommodate two adults of up to about 180cm for sizeable journeys without discomfort. And there’s even space for a small suitcase or two behind.

Perched up high, on a reclining seat, with a cupholder and a deep, low sill to rest your elbow, the third row comes as a bit of a happy surprise. There’s even ventilation that travels all the way from a dedicated outlet in the top of the dash, but we would have preferred if Subaru installed rear vents too.

Yet the middle row – designed for two people only thanks to Subaru Japan’s reluctance to engineer a lap/sash seatbelt for the middle spot – also reclines, and slides, and features a fat armrest with cupholders above a lower console area.

Too bad that vast glass doesn’t fully retract. But at least you’re sitting up high and mighty, with the best seats in the house to watch the standard, roof-mounted DVD screen.

The front seats lack support for larger frames like the ones in the latest Liberty and Outback, and plenty of current Forester SUV architecture seems to have been used within the dashboard area, so the Exiga feel a little less upmarket than you might imagine.

But mums and dads are more likely to appreciate the fine driving position, pleasant steering wheel, good all round vision and high specification levels, as well as the cabin’s general refinement.

As far as packaging goes, the Exiga is at the very least right up there with the Honda Odyssey and Grandis, making the lack of that seventh seat all the more of a pity.

Subaru reckons that this shouldn’t stop too many people from taking the plunge its way, but the fact is, travelling with five people on board will always mean that almost half of your luggage area disappears.

However, while the Exiga cannot counteract this fundamental fault, it does steer with real agility and precision offer outstanding roadholding characteristics brake in an even and reassuring manner and ride with a suppleness that puts it ahead of the people-mover pack.

And while the 123kW/229Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol engine is a tad tardy at take-off and only average with the power delivery once you are on the move, Subaru’s new Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox is defined by its smooth and eager responses, without the ‘slipping clutch’ feel of many other constantly variable transmissions unless you are really planting the pedal. And it promises to be fairly economical too.

So the Exiga is recognisably a Subaru but not a desirable looking one it excels at accommodating people but limits the number of seats to a compromised six (or four and a super-massive cargo area with the third row folded) and it is probably the best people mover to drive overall even though the slick drivetrain could certainly use more poke.

The company says the Exiga is the versatility part of its four-pronged mid-sized wagon strategy, rounded out by the Liberty 2.5i (which appeals to traditional wagon buyers), GT (sports-orientated) and Outback (recreational).

If you can work (and live) around having only six seats then its very Subaru-ness is likely to be this latest people mover’s greatest asset.

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