- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Subaru of America has introduced three new turbocharged models for the 2004 model year. The 300-horsepower Impreza WRX STi led the charge with a spring arrival at dealerships.

This rally-derived supercar will be followed by the Forester 2.5 XT and Baja Turbo.

Both models are powered by a 210-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged, intercooled four-cylinder boxer engine.

These three vehicles join the already popular 227-horsepower Impreza WRX to reinforce a new Subaru product strategy that emphasizes performance over practicality. This change in strategy was brought about by the remarkable sales success of the WRX. According to Rob Moran, Subaru public relations manager, “Before the WRX, you couldn’t find a Subaru on the streets of Southern California; now they’re everywhere.”

Those who never would have considered buying a Subaru were willing to stand in line for the WRX. So, the product planning people at Subaru — those who had to beg and plead for the WRX — suddenly are having their way with developing other Subaru models.

And having their way means giving cars more power for better performance.

To add power, Subaru engineers had two choices. They could have squeezed in Subaru’s very capable 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine from the Outback, but the added weight would have upset the steering and handling characteristics.

Instead, the engineers made the logical choice of using the turbo technology already developed for the WRX. Most of the parts are off the shelf, but they required a bit of tuning and tweaking to work at a slightly lower performance level than the WRX, and adding the turbo added very little weight.

Subaru’s Active Valve Control System variable valve timing technology optimizes the engine’s efficiency at all engine speeds.

The turbocharged engine also offers better performance at high altitudes where changes in atmospheric pressure adversely affect the power output of naturally aspirated engines.

Both the Forester XT and the Baja Turbo can be identified at a glance by the presence of a functional hood scoop that feeds outside air to an engine-mounted intercooler. Other than that, there’s no exterior clue except for the XT designation on the Forester.

They might look the same as their normally aspirated counterparts, but performance is another matter. The engine’s 210 horsepower at 5,600 rpm tells only part of the performance story. It produces 235 foot-pounds of torque (42 percent more than nonturbo models) at 3,600 rpm for surprising performance during a variety of driving conditions. On-ramp merging and passing power is particularly impressive.

It remains to be seen how traditional Subaru buyers will react to the swing in product strategy that emphasizes performance.

Advertisements that tout “the beauty of four-wheel drive” are gone in favor of those that focus on “the power from within.”

Power and performance have never been issues with traditional Subaru buyers, so Subaru is running the risk of alienating some of its loyal following.

However, in Subaru’s defense, the niche it has carefully carved out over the past decade is under attack.

Subaru’s vision of carlike vehicles with four-wheel drive and all-weather capability is being copied by all of the major automakers.

Now, Subaru is scrambling to once again be something different.

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