Subaru Exiga: Up close and personal

Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2008 Subaru Exiga.

When we showed you Subaru's new MPV last week your response was pretty much unanimous: man that is fugly. The car's reception on the other side of the Pacific has been a lot warmer though, particularly for the headlights' signature blue flash; the only criticism is that it's taken Subaru way too long to get this car to market.

Make the jump to read our initial impressions of the Subaru Exiga.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Justin Gardiner / Weblogs, Inc.

The Legacy is the best selling station wagon in Japan, and has been since its inception, but that hasn't stopped its sales figures plummeting as Japanese family men abandoned the old two box format for MPVs, minivans and crossovers largely because they're larger, or more specifically, because they safely seat six, seven, or at a stretch, eight.

While Japan's birth rate may be one of the lowest in the world, multi-generational homes are still common, so when granddad, grandma, dad, mom and the kids head to the ancestral home in the boonies, five seatbelts just won't cut it. Subaru worked on a minivan for a few years, but the prototypes handled like, well, vans and the powers that be decided that they were not Subaru-rashii; they didn't have that thing that makes a Subaru a Subaru.

Plan B was obvious: take a Legacy, stretch the wheelbase a bit, chuck a couple of seats in the trunk but keep the center of gravity nice and low. And on roads clogged with boxy MPVs ( Toyota alone make 10 different models) the result doesn't look half bad. Most importantly it drives more like a car than any of its competitors. The only Japanese seven-seater that comes close to matching the Exiga's handling and performance is the unimaginatively named Mazda MPV, but only when bought in 2.3-liter turbo guise.

Which brings us to the Exiga's choice of power plants. Citing concerns about rising fuel prices and the environment Subaru only offer the Exiga with their EJ20 two-liter motor in either turbocharged or naturally aspirated forms. Now come on Subaru, is a two-liter, being flogged within an inch of its life in order to keep 2000 kgs of Exiga and occupants moving at a fair clip, any more economical or ecological than an EJ25, or better still, Fuji Heavy Industries superb flat-six 3.0 riding on their more prodigious torque curves?

The EJ20 does struggle when the car is fully loaded, particularly the non-turbo, but when you've got the car to yourself the Exiga feels surprisingly sprightly, even nimble. Don't kid yourself, you won't be seeing Petter Solberg catching big air in one anytime soon, but if you fancy a quick blast down a winding road after you drop the kids off at school, the Exiga GT will do nicely.

Inside the rearmost seats are fine for kids of childseat age and above, but anyone over 5' 2" won't want to spend a lot of time back there as the seat cushions are set too close to the floor to provide under thigh support. Elbow room isn't bad considering the scant external dimensions of the car and even with the third row full, non-NBA playing mid-row occupants won't be jamming their knees into the driver's back.

So how much bigger is the Exiga over the Legacy? Just 6cms longer, 4.5cms wider and 9cms taller, while the wheelbase has been stretched a full 15cms (6"), but somehow Subaru have kept its curb weight down to a nigh on identical 1,500(ish) kilos. More importantly the cabin is a whopping 88cms longer, 6.5cms wider with 8.5cms more headroom.

So would you like to see the Exiga sold Stateside? You tell us, because we can promise you that the top brass at Subaru are reading.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Justin Gardiner / Weblogs, Inc.

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