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Subaru opens its future model pipeline

On the agenda: September's all-new Impreza WRX is just the start of Subaru's new-model rennaissance.

A smorgasbord of new Subaru models is heading our way inside the next three years

17 Apr 2007

SUBARU will completely overhaul its model line-up by the end of 2009, as it aims to sell 683,000 vehicles annually by that time, up from just below 600,000 units in 2006.

First up is the third-generation Impreza, unveiled at this month’s New York International Auto Show, and due in early September.

Other than the drivetrain, it is all change for the iconic Japanese small car, with a conventional five-door hatchback becoming the sole bodystyle for at least a year.

A naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre boxer engine of about 120kW in power will be available from launch, as will a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder boxer unit delivering around 165kW.

As with previous models, this redesigned ZR1-series Impreza’s flagship will be the STi. Subaru is promising searing stylistic add-ons to match its expecting soaring performance.

The three-box four-door sedan arrives in late 2008.

Further down the line, a hybrid version is expected to appear in some overseas markets, possibly as early as 2009.

According to president and CEO of Subaru parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, Ikuo Mori, Subaru has been working very hard on hybrid technology for some time.

"We have not decided which model will be first," he told the Australian media assembled at the New York show earlier this month.

However, he did leave a very big hint as to which model might be the first recipient.

"Maybe a hybrid system is not so good for larger vehicles," Mr Mori revealed, thus fuelling speculation that an Impreza hybrid is imminent.

Very early next year heralds the Tribeca Series II, another New York show debutante, and a surprisingly thorough departure from the model that is barely six months old in Australia.

Besides boasting a squared off nose and tidier tail treatment, the US-made Tribeca gains a new 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine, revised suspension settings, a recalibrated five-speed automatic gearbox and improved third-row seat access. All are responses to negative comments about the current model.

Subaru’s (far) more successful other SUV comes in for a complete revamp in 2008.

It is hoping the next, third-generation Forester compact SUV will snare some of those current Impreza fans disenfranchised by the company’s move away from the Sportwagon concept.

We hear that while the next model will still be clearly and recognisably a Forester, Subaru has fashioned a very attractive and progressive set of clothes to match the new car’s sophisticated new suspension and interior design.

Expect to see the Forester III by June next year.

Within a year after that comes the Liberty V.

Evolutionary changes are expected stylistically, but Subaru is believed to be working on a suspension redesign aimed at improving the current car’s already high levels of steering, ride and handling characteristics.

More importantly, Subaru may wait until this model is launched before unveiling its 2.5-litre boxer turbo-diesel engine.

As with all Subarus sold in Australia, all-wheel drive and a boxer engine layout will be standard.

And what of Subaru sports cars? "We need a big investment to develop our next vehicle, so we need to increase our sales volume (first).

"That doesn’t mean we can’t introduce a unique vehicle," Mr Mori reveals.

"Sometimes we discuss the possibilities of introducing a sports car convertible, but we don’t see any possibility currently.

What's coming from Subaru:
MY08 ZR1 Impreza/WRX September 2007
MY08 ZR1 Impreza STi December 2007
MY08 Tribeca Series II First quarter 2008
MY08 Forester MkIII Second quarter 2008
MY09 Liberty MkV First half 2009
MY10 Impreza hybrid 2009

Subaru diesel within two years

SUBARU is shaping up to introduce diesel power into its Australian-bound Liberty and Outback models inside the next two years.

2 center imageLeft: Subaru's Boxer Turbo Diesel engine. Diesel-engined variations of the just-unveiled Impreza, along with next year’s Forester III and the facelifted Tribeca due here early next year, are also on the cards in the not-too-distant future.

However, exactly when we see any of these vehicles is directly related to how high demand for the diesel will be in Europe – the first market in the world to receive the new engine.

This is according to Subaru Australia chairman Trevor Amery, speaking to GoAuto at this month’s New York International Auto Show.

"We will assess the situation in Europe," Mr Amery said. "Production capacity is a limitation," he warned.

If European demand does not exceed supply, Subaru Australia will probably be fast-tracked to get on board the diesel bandwagon.

But Mr Amery says that his company is proceeding with caution.

"We’re not getting feedback from customers saying we need a diesel," he reveals.

The first global recipient for the engine Subaru catchingly calls the "Subaru Boxer Turbo Diesel" will be the current-generation Liberty/Legacy and Outback range.

Whether Subaru Australia imports this car in diesel guise, or waits for the next-generation Liberty/Outback, remains to be seen.

It is appearing increasingly likely that Subaru Australia will hold off until the new model comes on stream, sometime in the middle of 2009.

"Subaru will discuss this further later on the year," Mr Amery says.

One factor, which may swing the decision towards waiting for the next Liberty model change, is the availability of an automatic gearbox.

We understand that the European-market Liberty/Legacy turbo-diesels will only be fitted with a manual gearbox – probably a six-speed unit.

GoAuto understands that an automatic transmission is under advanced development, but it will not be ready in time for the diesel’s European debut.

Meanwhile, the upcoming Impreza III, due here in petrol guise from September, is also in line for a diesel-engine transplant, although Subaru will not confirm or deny any such plans.

"We are studying but have not decided yet," says Ikuo Mori, president and CEO of Fuji Heavy Industries – Subaru’s parent company.

However, Mr Mori did express that it would be relatively straightforward to offer diesel power in all of his vehicles.

"Our vehicles use basically the same platform, so we can apply each vehicle with the same engine," Mr Mori reveals.

Subaru unveiled scant details and an example of its first-ever diesel engine at last month’s Geneva motor show.

It is a horizontally opposed four-cylinder unit, believed to be of about 2.5 litres in displacement, and drives all four wheels via Subaru’s all-wheel drive system.

Subaru says that the inherent balance of the boxer engine’s symmetrical design is especially well suited to a diesel application.

According to the press release, its high levels of rigidity and low noise and vibration properties mean that no balance shaft is needed.

Light not right

SUBARU has no plans to enter the booming light-car segment in Australia.

In fact, it does not even manufacture a B-segment vehicle anywhere in the world, and does not intend to for the time being.

Confirmation of this came from the top executive at Subaru owner Fuji Heavy Industries, president and CEO Mr Ikuo Mori, while speaking to the Australian press at the New York International Auto Show earlier this month.

Reasons for offering no Subaru light car include an incompatibility with Subaru’s all-wheel drive and boxer engine philosophy with vehicles of light-car size.

"This is not good for B-segment vehicle," Mr Mori said.

A driveshaft dissecting the interior is an anathema to space efficiency, which is vital to successful light-car interior packaging.

There are also issues of the added weight imposed by using all-wheel drive in a light car, and its consequent effect on engine performance and economy, as well as the packaging headaches that fitting a horizontally opposed engine would create.

It is believed that the latter would call for a longer-than-ideal engine compartment, creating pedestrian-impact legislation hurdles for Subaru to overcome.

"If we develop a small B-segment vehicle we would need to develop a new engine," Mr Mori reveals.

"We recognise the importance of introducing a B-segment vehicle to the market.

"However, we are studying how we can get that product, so we are independently looking at how we can utilise our alliance with Toyota," Mr Mori adds.

Earlier this year, Subaru announced that a variation of the second-generation Daihatsu Sirion – a vehicle Australians saw briefly from early 2005 to that marque’s early 2006 demise – would be sold in Europe, as its B-segment weapon.

This is an upshot of Toyota’s 8.7 per cent shareholding in Subaru, acquired in October 2005.

The Justy, as Subaru’s Sirion is known, is completely conventional in its transverse in-line engine and front-wheel drive layout.

As a result, it will be a definite no-show for Australian light-car buyers.

"We will never sell Subarus here without a boxer engine and all-wheel drive," insists Subaru Australia chairman Trevor Amery.

Mr Amery believes Subaru does not need a light-car combatant in Australia.

"We are not pushing for such a car," he says.

The ‘Daihatsu’ Justy is not the first Subaru-badged light car sold in Europe.

Until recently, Suzuki of Hungary had supplied the 1988-2001 Swift-based Justy – in all-wheel drive guise – to Subaru for over a decade.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Subaru has long offered sub-B ‘Kei’ car vehicles, these days in the form of the R2 and R1.

Both are sub-800cc urban four-seater runabouts that are closer to the Smart ForTwo in size and performance.

Read more:

Tri, then Tri again

Impreza reborn - again

First official look: Impreza goes mainstream

Leaked: WRX exposed!


The Road to Recovery podcast series


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