Contrasting with its rich rally heritage, Subaru is now “primarily an SUV brand”, according to UK boss Paul Tunnicliffe. Speaking at the launch of the new Forester, Tunnicliffe acknowledged the huge contribution that the WRX sub-brand has made to Subaru sales. But he said there was “an inevitable end of product life cycle happening with it”.
He added: “Things are now in a different place. That market is not as big as it used to be. The EC has strict CO2 targets, and unless you’re selling lots of hybrids or electric cars, a product like WRX STI is hard to justify.”
Tunnicliffe also cited the increased cost of ownership and insurance as problematic, plus the unfavourable yen rate. The last batch of current-model WRX STIs was eventually discounted by £5000 before recently selling out, and there are no plans to import more.
Subaru’s ‘niche derogation’ means that its EC CO2 target is less aggressive than most. This year its cleanest 75 per cent of cars sold will need to average less than 164.6g/km, but that average will incorporate all sales by 2015 and could be seriously skewed by another high-performance model. The last WRX STI produced 243g/km of CO2.
A new 237bhp, direct-injection 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine features in the Forester but is paired with a CVT to moderate CO2 emissions to 197g/km — a compromise unlikely to satisfy WRX fans. Its turbo sits underneath the engine, too, so the test mule’s bonnet scoop indicates a different choice of powerplant.