WHICH company leads the world in all wheel drive sales?
Good pub quiz question but not many quizzers would come up with Subaru.
That’s right, the Japanese brand no-one knows about in the UK is the global leader ahead of big names like Toyota, Land Rover, Jeep, and Audi.
Subaru has been living off past glories on the world rally stage where Scotland’s Colin McRae reigned supreme in his bright blue Impreza but that doesn’t sell cars.
The brand’s UK sales were fewer than 4,000 last year so how do you persuade customers to buy more Subarus?
Marketing director Chris Hawken says the challenge for his new team is to get over the message that Subaru is about capability, reliability and safety rather than just rallying although by the end of the year we will see a new mainstream Impreza that will compete against Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
For now the focus is on updates to the fun-packed BRZ sports car and Levorg grand tourer.
BRZ is a joint project with Toyota and is almost identical to the GT86 so that is a hard sell in itself, yet this is no Toyota in drag. If anything the rear wheel drive coupe is more Subaru than Toyota with power coming from its 2-litre Boxer engine.
To steal a march on Toyota the BRZ has dropped its entry model and will sell one high spec SE Lux at £26,050 just undercutting the GT86. A six speed automatic with steering wheel paddle change has been introduced at £27,680.
BRZ represents classic sports car enjoyment: rear wheel drive and a raucous naturally aspirated flat four that screams excitement as the revs build. So many have turbocharged engines these days that you forget the thrill of changing down a couple of gears to get some early power and enjoying the surge to the red line.
That’s the BRZ all over, in manual at least. For me the automatic is to be avoided; it’s nearly a second slower to 60 and doesn’t have the raw appeal of a short throw, slick close ratio box.
In some ways the manual BRZ flatters to deceive; a sprint to 62mph in 7.6 seconds is no more than average but the beauty is it feels a lot faster and has terrific handling.
Changes include some cosmetic work to the body, more safety features, full LED headlights, smarter instrument graphics, 6.2in touchscreen and, most significantly, big changes to the suspension.
The ride on the old BRZ is so hard it would loosen teeth fillings but serious retuning has done wonders, reducing the roughness but maintaining the essential hard riding thrill. The manual has a useful 140mph top end from the 196bhp flat four, 10mph up on the automatic, although exhaust emissions are 180g/km against 164 for the auto.
This is a sports car that deserves to sell more.
Levorg is a hard one to define. It is a 1.6 litre petrol all wheel drive, comfortable and spacious estate with decent off road ability... and that’s it. Its opposition is the likes of Volvo V60 XC, Skoda Octavia estate, BMW 3-Series Touring xDrive and Audi A4 quattro, all of which have multiple engine choices and a two wheel drive option which reduces the cost.
It received useful publicity with its entry into last year’s British Touring Car championship and will be there again this year but at nearly £30k can it attract enough customers?
There are many plus points. It has plenty of kit, real GT handling; in fact it is incredibly competent through sweeping bends, a smooth, willing engine and one of the better automatic CVT gearboxes with near seemless changes and paddle shifters for extra fun.
The boxer engine produces 167bhp and can manage 62mph in 8.9 seconds so it is no slouch.
The Achilles’ heel is economy and we struggled to reach 30mpg on our test route.
Improvements for this year include extra sound proofing and more safety features with Subaru’s excellent EyeSight package now standard. This uses stereo cameras mounted either side of the rear view mirror to identify obstacles and will apply emergency braking up to 28mph.
So Levorg has a lot going for it, but is short on choice.