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Has Subaru Ever Made an Attractive Car?

December 22, 2011 by Matt

Subaru Tribeca WRX Baja

Grant me a bit of hyperbolic license for the post’s title—they have, at least, made cars that were bearable to behold—but I challenge anyone to name a truly beautiful Subaru.

Inspired by a description in a recent Car and Driver review of the new 2012 Subaru Impreza as “no longer ugly, but not yet pretty,” I tried to recall any actually pretty Subarus. In fairness, most automakers have had a handful of shapes they’d disown, given the chance, but in the history of almost every manufacturer, there’s at least one beautiful shape to counterbalance the bad. Subaru has definitely had their share of nausea-inducing designs (BRAT, Baja, Tribeca, bugeye WRX, etc), but I can’t think of a single really attractive design on the other side of the ledger. They’ve had designs that were memorable (SVX) and handsome (Impreza 2.5RS, ’03-’09 Legacy), but nothing truly arresting, in a positive sense.

Not only that, I don’t know of another car company that’s searched so hard without success for a defining design element. What do I mean? Taking just the WRX as an example, from ’00 to ’03, they seemed to completely commit to a circular headlight treatment, then hastily adopted a more conventional nose from ’04-’05. Next, from ’06 to ’07, the WRX sported an Edsel-like “puckered” grille shape, only to abandon that even more quickly in a cloud of ridicule in favor of a more “sweeping” treatment from ’08 on. And to this day, where most marques are more-or-less readily identifiable, Subaru seems to have swung the pendulum back the other direction of being completely anonymous. Where other automakers show a styling progression, sometimes significant, as model cycles come and go, Subaru takes it to the next level, lurching wildly from one theme to the next. Their design turmoil is somewhat unique in the automotive world, and notable.

Filed under: Aesthetics, Subaru


  1. highlander says:

    As I read the title, the SVX immediately came to mind as perhaps the only attractive Subie in the company’s history. I agree that it’s not “truly arresting” as your second paragraph further qualifies.

    But I have to say that there are very few makers who have consistently made “truly arresting” cars. Some have defined their companies by that standard: Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and a few others generally come to mind, though all of the most notable marques have sometimes missed the mark. Has Toyota ever made a truly arresting car? Maybe the Supra Twin Turbo, but even that had a sterile and detached quality. Hyundai has some nice stuff now, but has never had anything truly arresting. Honda? Infinity? Lexus narrowly escapes because it at least has the LF-A.

    The trend I’ve spotted is that most of the Asian manufacturers are very long on practicality, reliability, and build quality, but rather short on soul. Many European manufacturers are long on soul and elegance, but short on practicality and reliability. German marques likely do the best job blending beauty, power, drivability, and durability, and occasionally they make something truly amazing like the BMW M1, the MB 300SL or SLS AMG, or nearly any generation of Porsche 911s.

    A few US automakers sometimes even get it right, like the venerable Ford GT40, or even the Dodge Viper GTS. But the US guys have a hard time getting from great concept to production car, usually using a lot of the passion between the design desk and the assembly line.

    So instead of singling out one maker – in this case, Subaru – I suggest that there is a deeper issue at play. What the world needs is an automaker that is the industry equivalent to the Apple Corporation. Elegant, powerful, durable, intuitive… A little more expensive, but worth every dime to the enthusiast. Why can’t we get that in a car maker?

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for commenting! So much to respond to here. To address your last point first, I think the closest the automotive world comes to an Apple-like blend of beautifully tasteful style and functionality is Audi lately. If only their cars were a hair more involving dynamically, they’d truly “have it all.” Looks, speed, cachet, quality, and an unmatched ability to trendset technology-wise.

      Toyota and Lexus I lump together, and they produced the gorgeous first-generation SC coupes in the ’90s. Not only that, but Toyota also made the stunning limited-run 2000GT in the late ’60s. Agree with you that the LFA is extraordinarily well done, if eye-wateringly expensive. Honda penned one of the best looking cars ever to come out of Japan in the NSX. Nissan has their 240Z, and Mazda’s masterpiece is their 3rd generation RX-7. Hyundai I give a pass, seeing as how they’re still kind of arriving on the scene in a lot of ways. The Japanese marques, by contrast, have been established for at least 30 years—more time to get grounded stylistically and crank out something attractive, although that’s kind of a chicken-egg sort of thing, since an initial showstopper can put a fledgling company on the map in a big way. Subaru was the only import automaker with roots I could think of without a “pedestal car” to their name.

  2. Shawn says:

    I think the BRAT is and always has been beautiful. That is all.

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