2009 Tokyo Show: Subaru Hybrid Tourer Concept

Sam Smith
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Gullwing doors, a hybrid powertrain, and a surprising amount of elegance.

Half a century ago, when Mercedes-Benz unveiled its iconic 300 SL -- the arched-door monster otherwise known as the Gullwing -- the world gasped in shock. Never before had form met function in such a striking manner; the SL’s elegant doors, a stylish answer to a packaging problem caused by the car’s tubular space frame, were as revolutionary as they were beautiful.

Consider it a measure of progress, then, that when Subaru unveiled its gullwing-doored Hybrid Tourer Concept in Tokyo, the response from the gathered press wasn’t so much a gasp as a yawn. After more than a century of evolution, automotive design is no longer one revolution after another -- good-looking concept and production vehicles appear all the time, but unique, showroom-ready answers to common problems are few and far between.

With that in mind, most of the journalists in Tokyo seemed ready to write off Fuji Heavy’s latest concept as a derivative piece of pie-in-the-sky thinking. We weren’t so convinced. The Hybrid Tourer’s turbocharged boxer powertrain/hybrid system -- one electric motor front and rear, all-wheel drive, and an efficient CVT -- is both innovative and cleverly packaged, but it’s not the real draw. Neither are the gullwing doors. The real attraction is the car as a whole.

Like it or not, there’s no denying that Subaru’s current styling approach is a bit controversial. Where the Hybrid Tourer succeeds is in tying together bits of Fuji Heavy’s past and present. In person, it comes across as the love child of a Legacy wagon and an Audi A3 while seeming more elegant and aggressive than either. To be honest, it’s the first modern Subaru concept that we’ve found really appealing.

Regardless, the details are interesting: Subaru claims that the Hybrid Tourer is little more than a styling exercise, noting that its interior represents a likely direction for the firm’s production vehicles. The flat floor, swooping dash, and elongated center console help add a dash of style to the company’s oft-bland cockpit aesthetic. The twin-motor hybrid system – a ten-kilowatt motor in front, a twenty-kilowatt unit in the rear – utilizes a lithium battery, regenerative brakes, and varies its drive torque based on the efficiency of the gasoline engine under the hood. And an innovative “driving assist system” known as EyeSight makes use of a stereo video camera and image-recognition software to help drivers avoid collisions and pedestrian impacts. Gullwing doors or not, that’s nothing to yawn at.

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