Fun with a Subaru

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I had intended to test a 4WD Subaru in the winter, to see how it would cope with deep mud and perhaps snow. However, the latest 1800 4WD GL estate-car arrived at the office in June, so I tried it up some trials hills instead. The main attraction of this ingenious Jap. is its optional four-wheel-drive. Normally the 92 x 67 mm. 1.8-litre flat-four light-alloy 79 b.h.p. engine drives the front wheels. But when required, four-wheel-drive can be selected, in either high or low ratio, without any drama, providing the front wheels are straight and the speed below 50 m.p.h., by pulling up a lever that lies to the left of the hand-brake lever. The ratios available are 0.885, 1.266, 1.950 and 3.636 to 1 in Hi, 1.994, 1.852, 2.852 and 5.318 to 1 in Lo. Additional traction is provided by the Michelin “X” M & S 165 SR x 13 tyres.

Because these low ratios and enhanced traction are provided, the normal top gear is quite high, so that third gear is used quite frequently for ordinary motoring. Fortunately, it is so quiet that it was sometimes left in use inadvertently. An indicated 60 m.p.h. in top equals 3,000 r.p.m., 80 m.p.h. about 4,000 r.p.m. Fiji Heavy Industries have lengthened the engine stroke by 7 mm. to obtain increased power and have made a number of other internal modifications to increase durability; the engine is safe to 6,000 r.p.m., developing maximum power at 5,200 r.p.m. Used as an ordinary vehicle, the impression is of a somewhat out-dated but very comfortable, practical and well-contrived car, with not much acceleration (and that affected by hesitant pick-up at times), and a top speed of 80 m.p.h. or so. The fuel economy is very acceptable, however. I at first used 4-star petrol and on a long, hurried journey got 30.07 m.p.g. I then changed to 2-star (after reference to the handbook which was cunningly hidden in a special shelf within the glove box), drove to Brooklands and back to Wales and then pottered around and got over 30 m.p.g. The fuel-filler is protected by a locked flap and the tank holds 9.9 gallons.

This Subaru runs quietly until really extended, when conversation between front and back-seat occupants becomes difficult. It has a good paint finish that reminded me of my old VW Beetle, the door handles and locks work very smoothly, and the window glasses wind down right into the four doors. The part-cloth, part-simulated leather seats are comfortable and the estate-car has, of course, a folding rear bench seat, and lockable tail-gate which lifts automatically on Atsuzi gas-struts. The instruments include a digital quartz clock, oil-gauge, voltmeter, steady-reading fuel-lever gauge and thermometer, all easily read, being on one long panel with the speedometer and tachometer. There is a complex heating and fresh-air system controlled by slides, press-­buttons, rotary controls and swivelling vents, with a 4-speed fan. An amusing item is a big dial with a plan of the car in it, which lights up appropriately as doors are opened, the manual choke or hand-brake are used or the tail-gate is left unsecured etc. – children should love this, and also the tiny trumpets on the horn-pushes on the four steering-wheel spokes.

The all-independent suspension, by coil springs in front, torsion-bars at the back, can be caught out by hump-back bridges and there is some rear-end roll, but ground clearance is, of course, very generous and comfort adequate on bad roads. The steering, geared nearly 3 3/4 turns, lock-to-lock, is rather lifeless, heavy for parking, very light once on the move. Cornering tends to neutrality in this f.w.d. car, but there is much snatch from the front wheels when accelerating hard over rough surfaces. The clutch is light but rather sudden, the brakes pleasantly progressive. The gear shift is light, but rather notchy. Two rotary switches on fascia pedestals look after lamps and wash/wipe, so that a single r.h. stalk suffices for turn-indicators and lamps flashing/dipping. A rather shallow plastic shelf, a lockable shallow cubby-hole, complete with pop-­up vanity mirror, and a central well provide for stowage of small objects, the spare wheel is above the engine, and wheel-changing equipment and the rear wash-wipe reservoir are neatly concealed under a flap in the luggage compartment. The Subaru has an under-fascia fuse-box, r.h. bonnet-release, and an accessible oil dip-stick, with a separate transmission dip–stick. The pedals are scarcely offset in spite of f.w.d. The door “keeps” are not effective uphill and the cubby lid was difficult to close, nor is there much rear leg or head room.

Somewhat old-fashioned this Subaru may feel, but it is well made and nicely equipped. The pick-up flat-spot may perhaps be blamed on the vacuum-controlled secondary throttle of the Hitachi carburetter, there to enhance economy. Incidentally, the rear-window sticker told those behind that it was their lucky day, as they had seen a Subaru. Anyone in the vicinity of Hereford on the evening when I drove home must have had two lucky days in one, because I followed a girl driving another 1800 4WD Subaru along my Roman-road back route round that town!

The Subaru’s equipment included a tow-hook, push-button Mitsuba wipe-wash, etc. Its real purpose, though, is negotiating slippery gradients. I found that although some of the damp grass banks in my own grounds, used by the VSCC for light-car trials, would stop it in f.w.d., it would restart very easily indeed in Hi 4WD, even on a gradient so steep one could see nothing ahead except the Subaru’s bonnet. Taking it to the West Country, we found that it made light work of the overgrown Greenslinch hill of MCC memory in f.w.d., would restart up Tillerton in f.w.d., and after being defeated higher up by the rocky outcrop, would restart again in Hi 4WD if driven carefully and, if Lo 4WD was selected, would climb the considerable gradient at a docile crawl, and zero revs., ideal for picking a sensible course.

The notorious Simms hill needed 4WD, in which there was no trouble in restarting over the deep rock outcrops. We tried the much overgrown Green Lane, which was an easy ascent without using 4WD, as was Stafford, which would no doubt be more interesting in the winter. Both are long straight ascents, but very narrow. The way in which this Subaru makes light of slippery, steep places in 4WD should endear it to farmers and those living “off the tarmac”. I know that many two-wheel-drive cars, some of them far older than this Subaru and on less grippy tyres, vanquish these hills during MCC trials. Not all of them are called upon to tackle the restarts we tried to emulate on Stafford, Greenslinch, Tillerton and Simms, however, and a 4WD vehicle is not eligible for such trials anyway. What I think the test did was to prove that this Subaru is a very competent all-purpose vehicle. By the way, our back-ways fun inconvenienced no-one, the only witness being a girl on a very controllable white horse, as we came down the very steep, narrow Simms return-road. Under these conditions it gave 30.04 m.p.g. of 2-star, and used no oil in over 1,400 miles. The 1800 4WD estate costs £5,700 and there is an 18-months/18,000- mile warranty. A less expensive 4WD version is the 1600 saloon at £4,983 and a 4WD 1800 MV pickup costs £4,370. The Subaru has a 6-star badge; I think some of us will be seeing many more of these stars in future … The Concessionaires are: Subaru (UK) Ltd., Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, West Midlands, B70 7TU. – W.B.

 

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