DESIGN: Subaru’s global design chief owns a Toyota Sports 800

H0831_Toyota Sports 800

Even before he stepped into his current position as head of global design of Subaru, Mamoru Ishii was already working on revamping the design language of his firm’s cars. The next evolution of Subaru styling will soon ripple across the lineup. 

Subaru Impreza 5Door Concept 05

“Customers have stopped rejecting us because of design, but we’re not getting customers to buy because of design,” Ishii-san told Automotive News in a recent interview. Subaru sales have broken their own records eight years in a row in the US, but total sales are still under a million, a fraction of the numbers Toyota or Nissan puts up. Ishii believes that strong design is the next step to attracting new buyers.

Nissan Silvia S10

It is of course crucial for a man in his position to have good automotive taste, and apparently he does. In the story, it is revealed that the cars in his stable include a black Subaru R2 kei car, a black Outback, and a 1966 Sports 800, silver with red interior. With a boxer engine and rear-wheel-drive, it bears some similarity to other Fuji Heavies and was cited as inspiration for the BRZ. His first car was a second-generation Nissan Silvia and his hobbies include horseback riding.

Subaru 360 ad Cheap and UglySubaru came to the US with ignoble beginnings, its sole model, the 360 kei car, blatantly advertised as “Cheap and Ugly.” Since then, from the BRAT to the Baja, their designs have been most often described as “quirky” or “practical.”

While there have been flashes of brilliance  — as with the fourth-generation Legacy — Subaru has mostly relied on technologies such as all-wheel-drive and rally-car performance to sell their cars.

We had very unbalanced models,” Ishii said in the interview. “The old Subaristas were compromising design for functionality.”

Subaru Impreza 5Door Concept 16

Ishii’s calls his new design language Dynamic X Solid. Key features will include a stance and surfacing described in the story as more rugged and sporty. Windshields will be more acutely raked, while fenders appear more chiseled.

Subaru Impreza 5Door Concept 01

The bracket-shaped headlights, said to invoke the horizontally opposed pistons of Subaru’s boxer engines, will be the new corporate face. With the new 5-sided grille, Ishii says the visage can be scaled up or down while maintaining brand cohesion. The tumblehome — the way the pillars curve towards the roof when viewed from front or rear — will be more acute as well, so the car looks more planted.

SubaruImprezaSedan 05

The first production car to wear this new suit will be the fifth-gen Impreza debuting this fall. Ishii described Subaru’s design department as quite possibly the smallest in the industry, but with his leadership — and his Sports 800 for inspiration — he hopes to make Subaru’s sense of style as strong as its sales growth.


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14 Responses to DESIGN: Subaru’s global design chief owns a Toyota Sports 800

  1. Mazluce says:

    Subaru has the worst reputation in the industry in making their production cars resemble the concepts they put out. It’s so bad, I don’t bother to look at any of their concepts anymore.

    • Ant says:

      Agreed. I’ve been a big fan of all the recent Subaru concepts, but the production versions are toned down to the point of tedium. Was hugely disappointed by the Impreza when I saw it at NYIAS. They don’t even have proportion on their side: the first-gen Impreza was hardly a classic shape or beautifully detailed, but the three-box silhouette had great proportions. The latest Impreza is just a nondescript slab of metal.

  2. Scotty G says:

    Ha, WOW! I knew that there was a reason why I loved Subaru so much! The Sports 800 and that gorgeous Silvia are dream cars of mine. Not to mention, I want a 360 Young S/SS, but there aren’t any of them out there in nice condition. And there can’t possibly be a Silvia for sale anywhere in the US. Great story, Ben!

  3. Jim Daniels says:

    The new designs look great. Ishii has 50% of the equation right and he has pulled through on his end to make Subaru look good. However, looking good without performance to back it up is worthless. Anything other than an STI is under powered and keeps me from considering a Subaru. A Outback and Forester with about 300 hp would wake buyers up to considering a Subaru.

    • Lupus says:

      I own a 15 year old Legacy since few months and i can assure You that these cars don’t need 300hp to give fun. The suspension setup and AWD are make’n them. It’s safe – that’s the most commonly used aspect. But on the other hand it still can give fun. And even with less power You can be faster on the road than many stronger FWD or RWD machines. I’m pretty amazed how nimble this car is, considring it’s weight and size.

      • Jim Daniels says:

        Just add altitude and you find out how many cars are under powered. Nimble is great, and maintaining momentum is crucial. But when you climb mountain passes frequently, you down shift and have your foot on the floor to try to maintain the speed limit, the car needs more power. You really start to notice horse power loss above 4000 ft. and from 4000 ft and up, well it only gets worse. Turbos help to balance out the lack of oxygen. Such is my suggestion of an STI motor. It does not need to be the standard motor just make it an option.

        • Lupus says:

          Yeah, You’r right in that point. I haven’t took that under consideration. I live near sea level so problems with elevations are something unknown to me. 😉

      • Scotty G says:

        I agree, Lupus. We bought a 1997 Legacy Outback new and it now has 340,000 miles on it and I use it as my winter car. I always say that it’s the most fun car to drive in the winter that I’ve ever driven.
        (cringing, waiting to hear, “WELL, you haven’t driven a…” comments)..
        I can steer/drift it with the accelerator pedal and I often do; of course, not on public roads (cough)..

        • Lupus says:

          I always read/hear that Subaru’s are great fun-givers in winter. But for me the most fun comes when it’s dry and grip’y. When i fight with the AWD and VDC systems to brake traction and initiate some slide. I’m still learning how to do that, it’s still kinda tricky for me with AT. 😉

          • Scotty G says:

            Thankfully there’s none of that nonsense on the ’97 Outback, just step on it and go; no traction control, anti-spin, yaw-master XJ-2000 servo controls.. just a super fun car to get back to basics in.

            I out-drifted a Mazda RX8 on a freeway onramp a couple of years ago, he lost it and spun around one and a half times before coming to a rest facing me. Ha.

  4. anonymous says:

    impreza always look great, i love their look and i think subaru should keep the design.

  5. Ant says:

    Always a pleasant surprise when industry personnel have interesting cars in their collection. I spoke to Nissan’s Shiro Nakamura at New York this year – he’d only tell me about his Nissans (I’m unaware if he has any cars from other makers), but that collection included a Cube, a Z432 and a first-gen Silvia.

  6. Randy says:

    I think Subaru is one of the few brands that sells because of its intrinsic qualities, rather than because it has “the hottest, newest look!” They sell because people want the AWD, reliability usable space, and for other “practical” considerations. I know I don’t particularly want Subes to look like Mazdas. I like Mazda – a lot – but I don’t want everybody to look like them. I’m not interested in a Honda looking like a Toyota. If they made the BRZ look like a baby Challenger, it’d lose something.

    Subaru is sort of like Jeep, partially because of the relative capability within its class, but also in that I don’t know anyone who says Wranglers are “stylin’.” They say it “looks like a Jeep,” and that’s the thing with Subaru; they want the capability, and it should “look like a Subaru.”

    BTW, I wasn’t particularly a fan of the goggle-eyed look of the Impreza (unless it has the body kit with the equally-big-or-bigger driving lights), but it WAS a Subaru look. (Inspiration for the minions?) I DID however kinda like the Tribeca. Kind of odd, but it was SUBARU styling.

    First-gen Legacy looked GOOOOOOOD. It looked right for its job. Did not look like any other sedan or wagon of its time. If anything, I thought the 2nd-gen Saturn L-series copied THEIR front end. Regardless, it was Sube’s design first.

    A neighbor of mine and the spawn have 3 Subes (Impreza Wagon, Imp. Sport wagon, and a Forester, and their first was a black Imp. wagon), as does another neighbor who migrated from Dodge (Legacy sedan). They LOVE them. At no time did they mention “styling” as a major sales point. “All-Wheel-Drive, reliability, interior space, and good gas mileage.” “It gets me to work and back in the winter, and it doesn’t kill me on gas.” It’s a formula that works. It has worked for decades, and will continue to work. *I* shoulda sprung for a Subie back when! Of course, I should’ve invested in multiple Justies, too, but I wasn’t as bright then as I am now…

    If neighbor, etc., spring for the new design, I’ll have to tell them about the headlight design being representative of the engine design. I guarantee they will NOT know that, and not being “car people,” honestly, probably won’t care…

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