Subaru has attained carved cult status thanks to its all-wheel drive (AWD) system that has been the stuff of automotive road and rally legends.
The symmetrical all-wheel drive system debuted on the Subaru Leone station wagon in 1972 has over time become standard across the Subaru model line-up except for the recent BRZ rear-wheel drive sports car.
In India, the Subaru all-wheel drive features in the Forester SUV rebadged as Chevrolet.
On the occasion of the symmetric all-wheel drive system’s 40th anniversary we list the milestones of the Japanese car maker’s annals.
1972: The Subaru Leone becomes the brand’s first all-wheel drive model, as part-time all-wheel drive is introduced on the estate derivative. The Leone has been on sale as a coupe and saloon since 1971.
1977: Subaru UK is named the official distributor of the marque in Britain. Foreign manufactured cars outsell British ones for the first time in UK history.
1978: The Leone-based Subaru BRAT– Bi-drive Recreational all-terrain Transporter – is launched as an all-wheel drive pick-up.
1979: The second generation Subaru Leone goes on sale globally, featuring a part-time, dual-range all-wheel drive system on all models with a manual transmission.
1980: Subaru’s involvement in the World Rally Championship begins, as Noriyuki Koseki, founder of Subaru Tecnica International (STI), enters three versions of the Subaru Leone in Group A in the 1980 Safari Rally of Africa.
1981: Subaru becomes the first Japanese manufacturer to introduce an automatic transmission for an all-wheel drive system, in the Leone.
1983: The all-wheel drive Subaru Rex, the world’s first four-wheel drive kei car (the special vehicle category created by the Japanese government to encourage sales of small cars with lower tax and insurance) is launched. A turbocharger is offered as option for the 544cc engine three months later. The Rex is badged as the Subaru Mini Jumbo, 600 and 700 in Europe.
1984: Third generation Subaru Leone is launched, with part-time all-wheel drive and pneumatic ride height adjustable suspension.
1985: Permanent all-wheel drive is introduced on the Leone with both manual and automatic transmissions.
1986: Part-time all-wheel drive makes a return on the third generation Subaru Rex. Margaret Thatcher officially opens the M25 London Orbital motorway.
1987: The Subaru Rex gets optional full time all-wheel drive and a rear axle limited slip differential for greater traction.
1988: On sale for a year, the Subaru Justy gets its own all-wheel drive system to tackle tough conditions.
1989: The all-new Subaru Legacy is launched, offering all-wheel drive as an option across the model range. The Legacy quickly becomes one of Subaru’s most popular vehicles.
1991: The Subaru SVX (or Subaru Vehicle ‘X’) performance coupe is launched, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. On offer are two all-wheel drive systems, ACT-4 (active torque split) and VTD (variable torque distribution). ACT-4 models are front-wheel drive, but can transfer up to 50 per cent of the 3.3-litre engine’s power to the rear wheels if the front wheels start to slip. VTD models benefit from permanent all-wheel drive, with a 36 / 64 front-rear torque split.
1992: Subaru launches the Leone replacement, the first generation Impreza. The Church of England opens doors to women priests.
1993: Subaru scores its first World Rally Championship victory as Colin McRae wins the Rally of New Zealand with his Subaru Legacy. With a Prodrive-developed Impreza waiting in the wings for the 1994 season, this is the last time the Legacy featured in the WRC.
1994: The second generation Legacy is introduced with permanent all-wheel drive standard across the model range. The first UK National Lottery takes place.
1994: A new derivative of the Legacy range, the Outback is launched featuring permanent all-wheel drive and increased ride height.
1994: The Subaru Impreza takes its first WRC victory, as Carlos Sainz wins the 1994 Acropolis Rally in Greece. Subaru wins twice more during the season and takes second place in the Constructors’ championship behind Toyota.
1994: Subaru introduces the ‘STI’ brand to its passenger cars. Models are upgraded from standard WRX derivatives, often featuring blueprinted performance-tuned engines, transmissions and suspension set-ups.
1995: Subaru wins its first WRC Constructors’ championship with the Impreza and Colin McRae makes it a double, placing first in the Drivers’ championship. Subaru wins the Constructors’ championship three years in a row, from 1995 to 1997.
1997: The first generation Subaru Forester is launched, one of the world’s first ‘crossover’ SUVs. The Forester’s permanent all-wheel drive system can send up to 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, and a raised ride height makes it a highly capable off-roader.
1998: The third generation Subaru Legacy is introduced, with permanent all-wheel drive as standard. The Union Jack dress worn by Spice Girl Geri Halliwell is sold at Sotheby’s for £41,328 – almost twice the price of the third generation Legacy.
1998: Along with the latest Legacy, Subaru introduces a new Outback model, no longer a derivative of the Legacy range, but a vehicle in its own right. Permanent all-wheel drive and raised ride height highlight the Outback’s go anywhere potential.
1999: Subaru UK launches the special edition Impreza ‘RB5’, celebrating Richard Burns’s return to the Subaru World Rally Team.
2000: Subaru launches second generation Impreza with permanent all-wheel drive. British enthusiasts are the first to see the iconic car when it appears at the 2000 Birmingham Motor Show.
2001: Richard Burns wins the 2001 WRC Drivers’ championship in the new Impreza.
2003: Subaru shows the B9 Scrambler concept car at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show. A futuristic two-seater electric hybrid roadster with all-wheel drive, the Scrambler has a range-extending 2.0-litre Boxer engine and self-levelling air suspension.
2003: Subaru launches second generation Forester, following successful sales of the previous model. To this day the Forester is one of Subaru’s best-selling models in the UK and overseas.
2003: Subaru driver Petter Solberg wins the WRC Drivers’ championship in the Impreza.
2003: The fourth generation Subaru Legacy is launched. As well as permanent all-wheel drive, it gets Subaru’s first five-speed automatic transmission.
2006: The Subaru B9 Tribeca mid-sized SUV is launched in the UK.
2007: The third generation Impreza is launched in the UK, this time as a five-door hatchback. The Impreza remains one of the few cars in its class to offer permanent all-wheel drive across the range.
2008: The third generation Subaru Forester is launched with greater ride height than the previous model, ensuring it remains one of Subaru’s most capable models on the road and off it.
2009: The third generation Subaru Outback is launched with greater ride height. Robust body cladding also helps the car over tough terrain.
2009: The new Legacy, in its fifth iteration, arrives on UK roads, unique in its class for offering all-wheel drive as standard throughout the range.
2010: While the Impreza is no longer available in the UK, the Subaru performance saloon lives on as the WRX STI is launched on British roads. Later in the year Tommi Makinen drives the WRX STI around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7min 55sec – a lap record for a four-door saloon which still stands today.
2011: The all-wheel drive WRX STI smashes another high profile lap record, as British rally champion Mark Higgins sets a time of 19min 37sec around the Isle of Man TT course – a new course record for a car.
2012: Subaru launches the XV in the highly competitive compact crossover market. Only a few months after its launch, the XV is winning plaudits for its ability to tackle harsh conditions and tough terrain.
“Looking back over the last 40 years, it’s clear that Subaru’s commitment to all-wheel drive has produced some of the most capable, best handling and safest all-terrain cars,” said Haydn Davies, Marketing Director at Subaru UK. “All-wheel drive technology remains at the heart of almost every new Subaru model produced today, and it’s one of a number of reasons why the brand has built up a loyal and passionate following not just in the UK, but across the world.”
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