By on July 14, 2010

Ever since the Subaru brand was introduced to the US market as the makers of “cheap and ugly” little cars, it’s suffered from a tortured relationship with styling. From the unapologetically utilitarian to the downright contrived (hello, flying vagina) and right back to the tragically anodyne, Subaru’s styling has been as consistent as an acid trip… and about as popular with middle America. But now that Subaru is making headway with the buying public, its new stylist, Osamu Namba, tells Automotive News [sub] that it’s time for a change.

We want to broaden the appeal to make it accessible to more than a small, loyal crowd. We need to add a more contemporary element. We have to show the function through design with simple, clean lines. I want a very simple design that exhibits strength. I don’t want it to be just something serious and boring. A lot of people don’t know that Subaru brand. If we can make styling more accessible, it will bring them in

That sounds well and good, but where does Subaru even start going about building a consistent, coherent design language? We hear that Subaru’s Hybrid Tourer Concept is the best hint yet at the shape of things to come…

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18 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: Quirky Brand’s Burden Edition...”

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    One would think that Subaru would start with the Hybrid Tourer and fuse in a little of the old XT / SVX language:

    – clean & aerodynamic basic shape

    – frameless “aircraft-style” glass-to-glass windows

    – flared front & rear fenders for AWD

    – drop hood and horizontal grille for boxer engine

  • avatar

    “The little SuBARu” looks like a total death trap.

    • 0 avatar

      To some degree, all vehicles are “deathtraps,” but I’m inclined to agree with you on this point. However, I still want a vintage Subaru 360 in mint condition.

      I dug up the infamous Consumer Reports article on this car when the commercial first appeared on TTAC back in May:

      Interesting how Malcolm Bricklin managed to skirt safety regs of the time, which only applied to vehicles weighing over 1,000 pounds. The 360 practically weighed in at mere ounces below that limit.

      I’ve never been able to verify this through a reliable source, but supposedly the registration and operation of the 360 was banned in the state of New Jersey.

  • avatar

    “We want to broaden the appeal to make it accessible to more than a small, loyal crowd.”
    “I don’t want it to be just something serious and boring”

    Like Subaru wouldn’t gladly take every internet accusation of being boring if they could pull Toyota-like sales numbers.

  • avatar

    Come on, the Hybrid Tourer is a nice exercise but nowhere close to being a production model. Funny,as I dropped off my daughters Kia Rio this morning, I passed an Impreza sedan and thought “Compared to that thing, the Rio looks stylish!” But they seem to be moving a lot of cars, I’m not sure styling is all that crucial. And for the record, I don’t mind the Impreza wagon.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Gasp, that new car tells me that the Japanese didn’t let Bangle even close to their designers.

    Good show….keep it up.

  • avatar

    “Simple, clean lines…” Hmm, that’s such a crazy idea, it just might work! Certainly few others are trying that. Today I was looking at pix of the long-awaited, highly praised Ford Fiesta, and my head started to hurt. Every necessary line, such as wheel wells and light locations, seemed doubled or tripled by extra contours and carvings. The dashboard was worse, a queasily craggy landscape of facets and tunnels where gauges and functions go to hide. Today’s designers just seem to be trying too hard; they keep elaborating when they should stop and say, ‘enough.”

    VWs, my other mainstays, have cleaner interiors, but the new exteriors are almost as excessive. I’m a fan of clean designs like the old Golfs and the SAAB 9000. Their kind is almost vanished from the earth. But don’t go by my word– I drive a New Beetle, a car whose styling concept was set about 75 years ago.

  • avatar

    Yeah, try that, Subaru. See how well it worked for SAAB?

    Oh, and besides America, everyone else still pronounces it su-BAH-ru.

  • avatar

    Cute 70’s girl in the ad.

    The term “suicide doors” was never a more apt description of the entries to a tin can that had a 0-60 time of 23 sec.

    Still would love to have a cherry example to putt around in – but I’d drive it with the paranoia reserved for my motorcycle.

  • avatar

    I shudder to think how much more “normal” and “mainstream” you can get than the haplessly bland Impreza sedan and new Forester. These are weak efforts, and combined with the new Legacy/Outback suggest a distinct lack of direction. The quirkiness is only a shadow of what it once was, replaced by an ugly muddled mess.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Subaru seems to go through stylistic reinventions all too regularly. Has it ever helped the brand? Not very often. What’s particularly odd is all the hand-wringing about styling right now, when Subaru is doing about as well as it ever has in the US market.

    The best styled Subarus were built in the early to mid 80s and apparently penned by ItalDesign. These cars had a nicely proportioned wedge shape that looked particularly nice on the 4WD Brat and wagon, with their jacked up butts and painted wagon wheels.

    I’ve never understood why Subaru hasn’t done more to capitalize stylistically on the boxer engine, which would allow a lower cowl. Perhaps safety considerations preclude adopting the ultra-low cowl of late-80s Hondas, but some of us would welcome an alternative to the oppressively high bunker look of so many contemporary cars.

  • avatar

    Subaru, when they want to, can make beautiful cars. 1st case in point was the SVX. Fantastic machine. 2nd case: the previous gen Legacy- particularly the 2.5 XT wagon. I can’t believe they stopped inporting that version, but the new body is ugly anyway. Boring to drive now, too (the past several gens of Legacy have had fantastic handling)

  • avatar

    Subaru’s SVX, besides the unusual window arrangement, had several styling cues that were picked up by other manufacturers that nowadays when one sees a SVX it’s those windows that set it apart. The asymmetrical wheels got copied by everybody right down to stuff like Aveo, only the copies weren’t side-specific like the SVX. The high wraparound taillights were seen on countless other Subarus after the SVX as well as other makes.

    I don’t really know that Subaru is worse than other manufacturers in styling continuity. Keep a styling cue too long and everyone thinks, oh well, that’s just retro.

  • avatar

    Subaru DID have stylistic continuity and gave it up, after 25 years. Why they would do so is beyond me. To be specific:

    For decades Subie fans have favored the wagons, which, starting in the early 1980s (the series that also included the Brat), featured continuity of the three side windows and their moldings, unlike the great majority of wagons by other makes. Starting in 1985, this continuity of glass and moldings was then extended around the rear corners to the tailgate window in the nicer versions of the DL/GL series from 1985 through its early-1990s counterpart (renamed Loyale). The new-for-1990 Legacy wagon offered this stylistic feature as standard equipment, and this continued all they way up through the 2009 Outback (and, outside the US, Legacy as well) wagons.

    I had always thought this added a touch of class, and now it’s gone – the Outback wagon’s D pillar (and that of the Legacy wagon where it’s offered) is now exposed sheetmetal.

    (I realize the Forester is outside this discussion, but nonetheless the main line of continuity – from DL/GL series through Legacy/Outback – was maintained for 25 years.)

  • avatar

    “We want to broaden the appeal to make it accessible to more than a small, loyal crowd.”

    Has this guy forgotten that he has alienated most U.S. buyers by offering only AWD here? I’m not alone in refusing to pay to drag around this extra weight and complexity.

  • avatar

    I don’t think that many brands have a coherent design language outside of some of the luxury marques, and Dodge, at least with their grillz. In the case of BMW, and to a lesser extent Cadillac, it wouldn’t hurt to be less consistent.

  • avatar

    Points to remember, this car was imported by Malcolm Bricklin, yeah, the Yugo and Bricklin guy (and maybe yet a China brand). I remember passing an old army airport in Ok during the late 60s with thousands of these gumdrops parked there due to the failure of some system of the car to meet import rules. Long live Malcolm.

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