Dream On: Subaru Pleo

Tony Quiroga
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Japan's scrappy Subaru Pleo RS



The Subaru Justy offered in the U.S. from 1987-94 was a tiny, boxy, over-engineered car in a market that doesn't appreciate any of those attributes, much less all three in the same car. So it is no surprise that Subaru doesn't export the Pleo microcar, which is smaller than the diminutive Justy, boxier, and more sophisticated.

In a land where cute is king, and space is at a premium the Pleo makes sense. And if a regular Pleo is good, the performance Pleo RS must be better. The sportiest of the Pleos has a 1.3-liter inline three cylinder that makes 63 horsepower and 76 lb-ft of torque mated to Subaru's excellent continuously variable transmission that was introduced in 1989 on the Justy. Despite the CVT, acceleration is as weak as watered-down sake. But while the Pleo RS may not accelerate with any alacrity, the RS version offers stiffer springs and dampers, and its low curb weight allows for a surprising amount of grip from its small tires. The RS may look like the spawn of a secret tryst between a Suzuki Aerio and a Scion xB, but it would probably outrun its goofy parents on an autocross course. The chassis is up to the demands of 63 horsepower and could probably handle 65 or more, but we'll have to keep on waiting for an STi version. So although it wont get you to the Hello Kitty store first, the smaller-than-a-Mini-Cooper Pleo likely will find a close parking spot before larger and more powerful cars. Which shows us what's really important in Japan: getting your cute on easily.

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