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The beginner's guide to Subaru

Everything you ever wanted to know... and a fair bit you didn’t

Subaru Impreza Colin McRae
  • What’s Subaru and when did it start making cars?

    1958 Subaru 360

    Subaru began back in 1918 as the Nakajimi Aircraft Company, founded by engineer Chikuhei Nakajima. It was Japan’s first aircraft manufacturer, but forced to close in 1945 after defeat in World War Two as the Allies banned aircraft production in the country.

    Broken up, five of the companies came together in 1953 as Fuji Heavy Industries. Fuji used to make buses, train carriages, bin lorries, wind turbines and engines for snowmobiles and other utility vehicles, but these days its two main divisions are cars and aerospace.

    The 1500 was Subaru’s first car in 1954, but only 20 of them were built before the car was reworked. The 1958 360 (above) was a cute city car that sold nearly 400,000 models in 12 years, designed to the new kei car regulations (the engines were then limited to 360cc, hence the name).

    The first boxer engine (where the cylinders lie flat and opposing pistons move in and out at the same time) arrived in 1965, but Subaru only arrived in the UK in 1976. It didn’t really reach the national consciousness until the Nineties and Colin McRae’s exploits rallying an Impreza.

    Fuji Heavy Industries changed its name to Subaru Corporation in 2017 – it did explain why, but the reasons were really boring.

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  • What’s the cheapest car that Subaru builds... and what’s the most expensive?

    Subaru Crosstrek

    Subaru sells a range of kei cars and trucks in its native Japan, our favourite of which might be the Chiffon, which looks like a miniature cable car.

    The grass is always greener and all that – the UK range is made up of large SUVs and kicks off at £34,290 for the new Crosstrek compact crossover. It’s a heavily facelifted XV, which was also on sale in the UK, but you might not have noticed. In entry Limited trim it has such delights as LED lights, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat and wireless CarPlay.

    The most expensive Subaru is the Solterra electric SUV, which Subaru codeveloped with Toyota (it owns 20 per cent of Subaru) and shares its underbits with the bZ4X. That car costs £55,495 in Touring trim and comes stuffed with equipment as well as a 71.4kWh battery good for 257 miles of WLTP range.

  • What is Subaru’s fastest car?

    Subaru Solterra

    The fastest Subaru in the firm’s current range is the Solterra electric SUV, which can manage 0–62mph in 6.9 seconds. Respectable, but nothing particularly exciting given the brand’s rapid past. Indeed, the 2010 WRX STI had a top speed of 158mph from its 326bhp 2.5-litre flat-four boxer engine. It also managed the 0–62mph dash in 4.4secs, making it the fastest accelerating Subaru.

    Arguably the first of the great fast Subarus was the Group A Impreza GC that debuted in 1993. It’s often hard to quantify the outright speed of such competition cars however, as their makers are invariably too busy trying to win races to bother seeing how they manage the 0–62mph run. WRC cars are fearsome because they can deploy their scenery chewing performance across all different surfaces, and the first Impreza rally car took 11 wins and netted the title for Colin McRae in 1995.

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  • Where are Subarus built and how many are sold a year?

    Subaru's Gunma plant in Japan


    Subaru makes most of its cars in Japan. Its main plants are in Ōta City in the Gunma prefecture to the northwest of Tokyo’s heavily built up metropolitan area. Subaru’s only other factories are in Bangkok (where cars are built for the Asian and Australian markets) and Indiana, where half of the Subarus sold in the US are assembled.

    The number up top is what was announced by Subaru in its financial reporting, and technically the number of Subarus produced in 2023. There might still be a few of those sitting in dealerships somewhere. Of the sales figures announced, by far Subaru’s biggest market is the US, with 632,000 sales, then Japan, with just over 100,000 cars sold, and in the UK, a mere 2,409.

  • What’s the best concept that Subaru ever made?

    1993 Subaru Suiren

    Subaru’s never been big into concepts – perhaps more so in recent years as it’s tried to establish itself as more than simply the maker of the Impreza. Especially since it ruined the Impreza. Special mention to the VISIV range of concepts that started in 2013 as a cool four-seat coupe then morphed by 2019 into a small crossover.

    Our favourite Subaru concept is the 1993 Suiren, which used the Impreza as a base (instant win) for a sporty little pickup truck that could turn into a three-door four-seater coupe thanks to a giant canopy thing with plastic windows. It would have been a much cooler Skoda Felicia Fun.

  • What was Subaru’s best moment?

    Colin McRae

    Subaru Tecnica International is the company’s motorsport division, founded by Ryuichiro Kuze in Tokyo way back in 1988. Cleverly, the setup partnered with UK sporting outfit Prodrive in 1989 to prepare a Legacy that would compete in the WRC.

    The Legacy did alright as these things go, but the real success came with the launch of the Impreza WRC in 1993. It got on the podium in its first rally with the legendary Ari Vatanen behind the wheel, another legend by the name of Carlos Sainz took the car to second place in the drivers’ championship in 1994, while yet another legend called Colin McRae won the title outright in 1995.

    The Subaru vs Mitsubishi battle for the constructors’ titles was a titanic one too, but Subaru edged it with three titles from 1995–1997, with Mitsubishi nabbing one in 1998.

  • What was Subaru’s worst moment?

    Coloni team

    Could Subaru’s worst moment be ahead? It’s been slow moving to electric – that its first EV model is a rebadged Toyota (itself tardy on the uptake) speaks volumes. There are hybrid versions of the Forester and Crosstrek models, but the company is in danger of getting massively left behind.

    Still, it’s doing better than 2020 when it sold 951 cars here, and UK boss John Hurtig had an extraordinary interview moment where he said “2020 was a horrible year. What can you say? It’s just an embarrassing number.” He went on to explain Subaru was particularly damaged by COVID-19 because its customers are mostly older people. Bit of a car crash interview that one, let’s hope he specced the extra airbags.

    Subaru’s worst motorsport moment was its F1 attempt in 1990, when it bought a chunk of the Coloni team. Things were so bad that the relationship broke down even before the season was out.

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  • What was Subaru’s biggest surprise?

    Subaru Impreza

    The Impreza was a runaway success for Subaru – at least in terms of building the company’s reputation with car folks. The first version set a strong foundation when it was went on sale in 1993, but it was getting a bit wheezy by the time it went off sale in 2000.

    The second generation version – nicknamed Blobeye – caused some consternation, but was facelifted and steadily refined through its own seven-year tenure. You couldn’t argue with its sharp drive and technical prowess, and it was still bringing in the goods in WRC with the likes of Richard Burns and Petter Solberg.

    It was the third generation Impreza that ended up killing the model in the UK. It looked completely different, ditching the familiar saloon format in favour of an anonymous looking hatchback that was suddenly on Ford Focus territory. It went off sale in 2013 and hasn’t been seen since.

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