Subarus are many things: sporty, reliable, fun to drive, and a favorite among tuners. But there's one thing Subarus aren't, at least by conventional standards: pretty. One man has been given the task of changing that.
Since its U.S. launch in 1968, Subarus have been compared (unfavorably) to camels, turtles, and even the poor, beleaguered Gremlin. (Check out the 2007 Impreza at left: "graceful" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind.) Yet, Subaru owners can be fiercely brand-loyal, and the automaker is one of the few to have come out ahead during the recent recession. But that doesn't mean that the company can't do better -- which is exactly why Subaru hired indie designer Osamu Namba.
Namba is hoping to create a more cohesive look for the brand -- one that provides aesthetic linkages between the models in Subaru's lineup. He says he wants to do that with "a very simple design that exhibits strength", relying on "simple, clean lines". Presumably he's talking about something akin to his recent Subaru Hybrid Tourer Concept, which looks a little like a sleeker, buffer current-model Subaru. The Concept is also, like today's Subaru models, not the sexiest thing we've seen.
Our take? Namba has his job cut out for him. His biggest hurdle will be giving Subaru models a facelift without alienating diehard fans -- the folks who actually like Subaru's aesthetic and appreciate the priority that Subaru places on performance over appearance. "Subaru users want a unique, almost cult, design, not a clean design like the Hybrid Tourer Concept," says Kuni Ito, an instructor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. That's probably not what Namba wants to hear right now.
Moreover, we don't believe that Subaru's design problem is as big as the company thinks. Click over to the Subaru website and take a look at those profiles. There's a lot more similarity than there used to be: the chunky rear, the slope of the A-pillar, the curiously low, trademark front end (made possible by Subaru's horizontal boxer engine). Namba wasn't hired until 2008, so those developments came from within Subaru's existing ranks. After years of being called ugly, it seems like Subaru has developed a complex that it's having trouble shaking off.