March 6, 2011
The iconoclastic innovators at Subaru chose the Geneva motor show to smash the cliché of introducing a racy new styling concept of a future model. Instead the company unveiled a concept car that is entirely bereft of bodywork.
Instead, the still-unnamed Subaru rear-wheel-drive sport coupe wore a clear plastic body shell like the cellophane wrap of a haute couture runway model, which in both cases serves to highlight the parts underneath.
Subaru senior project manager Toshio Masudo explained that this company is tasked with developing the running gear, while partner Toyota is styling the bodywork. The companies are expected to reveal the final products at the Tokyo show in December, but for now Subaru teased with a few details about the hardware.
The new car will be rear-wheel-drive, a departure for Subaru, which has sold all-wheel-drive models exclusively in the U.S. since 1993. The aim is simplicity, affordability and fun, so the new model will slot in beneath the WRX and STI in cost and complexity to attract younger buyers to the brand.
Ditching the all-wheel-drive hardware let engineers slide the engine down and rearward in the car, for improved balance and a lower center of gravity. It also contributes to the car’s weight, which will come in about 20 percent lower than that of an STI, said Masudo, or 2,700 lbs.
Moving the drivetrain down out of the way clears a space for a low-slung driver’s seat. “We can provide a low driving position with a view of the world like a go-cart,” he said.
This future model rolls on 215/45R17 tires, using strut suspension in the front and a five-link independent rear suspension. The team benchmarked Porsche’s Cayman as the dynamic target for the car, promising similarly exciting handling.
The Subaru will be powered by a 2.0-liter version of the company’s all-new boxer engine introduced last fall. In global-market Imprezas that engine is currently rated at 150 hp, but no figure is available for the version that will power the sports coupe. It will drive the rear wheels through either manual or automatic six-speed transmissions. A dual-clutch transmission was not considered for cost reasons, reported Masudo.
Although the car is a 2+2, its overall length of 165.4 inches puts it between the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Cayman in size, cars that both have only two seats. We can hope Subaru’s engineers aren’t expecting potential rear-seat occupants to be as free of bodywork as the concept car is.
DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for MSNBC.com, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, DC.