In a sea of Japanese competition, Subaru has always strived to be a standout brand. Using their unique engineering, targeted marketing and focused strategy of development goals, the brand has spent around 7 decades since its founding in 1953 developing such beloved names as the Subaru Forester, Impreza and Legacy.
How did this former aircraft company come to be among the 23rd largest automotive company in the world (just behind Mazda)? In today’s article, we’ll learn more about Subaru and what makes it such a popular choice for Japanese imports for sale in the UK.
Subaru: Company Background
As it currently stands, the company “Subaru” is the automobile division of a larger conglomerate, the Subaru Corporation. This parent company was known as Fuji Heavy Industries until as recently as 2017. The parent company has a huge portfolio extending far beyond cars. Just as Toyota has many interests in the world of finance and banking, Subaru has alternative interests in transport.
Fuji’s roots go back to 1915 when it was operating as the Aircraft Research Laboratory. By 1932, it had already become the Nakajima Aircraft Company and was a big part of Japan’s air force manufacturing effort during the Second World War. After the war, the company became Fuji Sangyo Co. Ltd.
Like some of their Japanese automotive counterparts, the earliest automotive products the company produced were motor scooters made from spare aircraft part surplus. The most notable of these was the Fuji Rabbit, made in 1946. In 1950, Fuji Sangyo was broken up into 12 smaller companies as part of the post-war anti-conglomerate legislation put in place to limit Japan’s capabilities after the destruction of World War II.
1953: The Fuji Merger
Five of the 12 smaller companies were brought together by Kenji Kita to form a new entity called Fuji Heavy Industries. Kita had big plans for the company to become a player in the burgeoning car manufacturing sector. It as at this time that the company first put together what we now know to be the Subaru logo — a formation of six stars representing the Pleiades star cluster — and their first project, the P-1 got underway.
As it happens, the star cluster for which the brand is named is also called Subaru, hence Kita’s desire to use the name as well as the image.
The first car resulting from the P-1 project was the Subaru 1500. In the beginning, this car unfortunately over experienced a very limited production run that included 23 vehicles. It was hurt, apparently, by various issue of supply. While 1954 was hardly a bumper year for production, however, the company quickly recovered, producing more cars in the years that followed. These included the Subaru 360 compact car, the Sambar kei truck in 1961 and the Subaru 1000 compact car, which was the first to house the now legendary Subaru boxer engine in 1965.
Nissan and Toyota Know-How
As was common among Japanese automobile companies, another big player, this time Nissan, acquired a healthy stake of just over 20 percent in the company in 1968. It was government policy at the time for companies to merge and combine their knowledge and skill in order to increase global competitiveness.
This acquisition helps to explain the presence of certain Nissan technology, such as the 4EA automatic transmission, that has been present in many Subarus since 1968. Nissan’s stake was sold to GM in 1999 after Nissan aligned itself with Renault. It was in the following years we got more iconic Subaru models such as the Baja (2003), Tribeca (2005) and later the Forester.
After some more corporate shifting and stock acquisition, Subaru aligned itself more definitively with Toyota, where the latter not only gained stake in the Subaru company, but also helped streamline their collective operations. Subaru agreed to give up on kei car and kei truck production, instead opting to rebadge products from Toyota and its Daihatsu subsidiary. The age of the Sambar finally ended in 2012.
One notable modern project that came from the Toyota-Subaru collaboration that you would undoubtedly recognize on the street is the Subaru BRZ, also known as the Toyota 86.
The move away from kei cars and kei trucks was a gift for Subaru, as it allowed them to focus their more limited scope on researching and developing their own boxer-engine cars. Subaru now still operates as part of the Subaru Corporation, a much larger entity with a huge scope of production.
The corporation has operations around the world responsible for the manufacture, marketing and sale of buses, aircraft and even railway cars. They provide diesel trains to both Russia and Thailand, for instance. They even make military training planes, and helicopters!
Alas, the JDM market doesn’t extend to aircraft, but their automobile division — the “Subaru” that we all know well — has long been a popular source of inspiration for JDM enthusiasts. Drivers of the Subaru Impreza, for example, were always dismayed at the apparent difference in the JDM version and the UK export version when it came to power and performance. Japanese imports allowed British drivers to get the full Impreza experience.
Subaru as Japanese Imports: UK Cars
Despite only being a relatively small company, Subaru has fielded quite an eclectic range of cars over the years.
Their models have become adored by a smaller yet truly devoted fan base who appreciate them for their finely tuned and balanced engines, smooth ride quality, off-road credentials and overall dependability, as well as relative affordability.
Subaru was also a great brand to look to should you want a sports car build at a price that didn’t require you to re-mortgage your house.
Three models have stood out in particular, and also happen to take pride of place in our own selection of Subaru JDM imports. They are:
• Subaru Forester
• Subaru Impreza
• Subaru Legacy
Subaru Forester – Japanese Imports 4×4
This ever-popular crossover SUV arrived on the scenes in Japan back in 1997. In its newest form, the Forester is entering its fifth generation, and is even planning an exciting new hybrid version, the Forester e-Boxer for release in the 2021 model year. The Forester started out as more of a estate-like concept, but by the third generation the desire was to firmly place it within the crossover SUV sector to gain competitiveness.
At the time, the main competition for the Forester was the Toyota RAV4, as well as the Mitsubishi RVR, and the Suzuki Grand Vitara. The key advantage the Forester had was its lower centre of gravity. The vehicle shares a platform with the Impreza model, which places it lower than many typical SUV models. The lower gravity centre helped it to easily meet US federal safety standards regarding risk of rollover.
Those lucky enough to drive the Forester also noted its superior ability to distribute torque and power in a way that was timely, efficient and reliable. The vehicle had the uncanny ability of channelling the exact amount of traction and torque exactly to match changes in the weight distribution. These factors and more have helped make Forester a household name.
Subaru Impreza – Japanese Imports UK
The Impreza has an even longer production history than the Forester, going all the way back to 1992. Originally it was built as a replacement for the then ageing Leone which had been in production since the mid-1970s.
Over its many years, the Impreza has become arguably the most iconic of the Subaru models, spawning a whole range of vehicles from everyday compact cars to exciting high-performance track stars. There was even a coupe and a estate version.
Interestingly, as we touched on above, the Impreza shares its main platform with the Forester. This serves to show even more the appeal, utility and quality of this Subaru platform. While the platforms have stayed essentially constant, Subaru has experimented with different powertrains and drivetrains, trying both front-wheel and AWD layouts.
It was in this key aspect, among others, that the JDM Impreza became so different from its global counterparts. While the Impreza in Japan was offered with all drivetrain options, many markets around the world restricted choice to just the AWD drive model.
Granted, this helped the Impreza to stand out among a sea of other FWD competitors, but it was also symbolic of the generally limited capabilities of export version when compared to their JDM counterparts.
Subaru Legacy – One Of The UK’s Favourite Jap Imports
In 2020, the Subaru Legacy entered its 7th generation, with the first dating all the way back to 1989. Initially being offered as a compact car until 1994, it then became a premium mid-size saloon. If you’re Australian and reading this, you’ll recognize this car as the Subaru Liberty.
Outside of Japan, the Legacy has proven so popular that production continues in North America and for the rest of the world, whereas Japan moved on from the Legacy in 2020. Each generation brought with it several models, and each integrated new and innovative technologies to improve the driving experience. Among the latest additions, tech-wise, is an optional facial recognition system that can warn if you appear either distracted or fatigued.
The main attraction of the Legacy has always been held within the same things, however, which are its solid engine performance, standard all-wheel drive and more-than pleasing fuel efficiency.
Subaru: The 6-Star Auto Brand
Japanese imports cars for sale in the UK generally share certain qualities. One of those factors is collectability, but more prominently in JDM cars it’s the functionality and quality of the car that makes it so sought-after in overseas markets. One of the key elements of success appears to be focus. Subaru has had singular focus on the engineering aspect of their cars, resulting in some of the most balanced models available anywhere on the market today.
Explore our range of JDM Subaru models, including the Forester, Impreza, Legacy and XC; to experience for yourself the best that this innovative and iconic Japanese carmaker has to offer.