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Concept

Subaru concept a quantum leap ahead of its current Impreza Add to ...

As the fastest-growing car maker on this continent last year, and the only auto maker in North America whose sales increased in 2008, Subaru triumphantly unveiled an Impreza Concept that previewed a turn for the dramatic in upcoming Subaru vehicles.

If recent history repeats itself with Subaru's production car-named "concepts," a slightly toned-down version of the Impreza Concept will be in showrooms within a year, although Subaru is careful to qualify it as a "possible" sneak peek at the next Impreza. Here's hoping it does make it to showrooms relatively untouched, because it's a quantum leap ahead of the current Impreza in terms of style and boldness, even with some similar design cues.

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The Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept (ULC) at the L.A. Auto Show in Los Angeles on November 17, 2010. The ULC has gull wing doors, a footprint of only 151 inches long and 68.1 inches wide and seats four.
L.A. Auto Show offers a sober, practical view of the world, reports Jeremy Cato

But the concept is meant to foreshadow more than Subaru's next-generation compact car, it's also tipped to embody the brand's new "Confidence in Motion" mission statement. It's a move away from quirky vehicles such as the Justy and the ill-conceived Baja, a Legacy sedan with a mini-pickup bed that meant a trip to the airport to pick up another couple resulted in their luggage being tossed in the bed, at the mercy of the elements.

In Canada, where Subaru's standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive and reputation for reliability and safety also plays very well, it has been a similarly successful story. Subaru Canada is on track to sell 25,000 vehicles by the end of this year, having already broken the sales record set last year by mid-November.

"It has been 12 years since the last time I worked in Canada," says Shiro Ohta, president and CEO of Subaru Canada, at a dinner just before the public opening of the Los Angeles Auto Show, and the difference in the size of the company is the biggest change he's noticed. He returned to Canada in May after stints in Japan and the U.S., among others; before his 1998 departure, Subaru had jubilantly celebrated a jump in sales to more than 10,000 vehicles. "If sales go down to that now, I won't be here very long."

The Impreza holds a fond place in the hearts of auto enthusiasts in this country, with its mix of rally-influenced AWD performance as well as winter-ready and reliable practicality. The Impreza was the second-most popular small (meaning inexpensive) sports car of the past decade in Canada, according to sales figures and categories broken down by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants earlier this year. This left it behind only the long-time champion Ford Mustang, ahead of the Acura Integra/RSX and Mini Cooper, and blowing away such fun luminaries as the Mazda MX-5 (8th) and Volkswagen GTI (10th).

The Impreza Concept embraces this WRX/STI performance side of the traditional Impreza equation, while simultaneously turning away from its long-time association with rally racing (the brand withdrew from the World Rally Championship at the end of 2008). The four-door sedan concept sports a fashionably coupe-like rounded roof, large 19-inch wheels, four seats and a D-shaped steering wheel.

"This is the future of our brand in general, and one model in particular," said Tim Mahoney, senior vice-president of Subaru of America, when introducing the Impreza concept at the show.

Subaru says the Impreza concept's prominent fenders highlight the car's all-wheel drive capability, while also "denoting reliability and safety." That's a lot for any set of fenders to imply, but at least Subaru has some empirical muscle to back up both claims: its complete 2011 lineup received both Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick designations and highly coveted Recommended ratings by Consumer Reports.

Under the hood of the Impreza Concept lies an equally new if less radically different engine. It's still a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, but it's now a lighter-weight boxer, with a smaller 2.0-litre displacement and a continuously variable transmission that should help it get closer to the market-leading Honda Civic in this class.

Auto industry ‘at the bottom, looking up’

The Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept (ULC) at the L.A. Auto Show in Los Angeles on November 17, 2010. The ULC has gull wing doors, a footprint of only 151 inches long and 68.1 inches wide and seats four.
L.A. Auto Show offers a sober, practical view of the world, reports Jeremy Cato

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