Subaru is a Japanese manufacturer which never really did find its slot on the European market. It produces cars which are popular in some niche segments, like the fast and furious Impreza WRX models which cater to the streetracer enthusiasts and the Forrester which is a popular choice for people in a rural environment. Their more general models however only sell in low volumes, though their quality is generally recognized.
This situation is in part a consequence of confusing model-policies in the past and also a result of the unique identity Subaru chose for itself, producing only all-wheel drive cars with a preference for flat boxer engines. It proved hard to convince customers that these relatively unique features were worth the premium they cost compared to competing models while the not always appealing styling of the models didn't help.
Lately it seems to have dawned on Subaru that in order to sell more cars they have to combine their strong points (roadholding, dynamics, reliability) with an attractive packaging and in order to do that they hired acclaimed designer Andreas Zapatinas away from Alfa Romeo's Centro Stile. In 2003 Subaru presented a concept at the Tokio Motor Show which truly showed his hand: the B9 SC, also known as "Scrambler".
The B9 ("benign") Scrambler is a pretty little roadster based on the Impreza platform and styled in the idiom of sportscars from the 1960s but by no means retro. It measures 4.20 x 1.88 x 1.26 metres (length x width x height), stands on 19" alloys and has short front and rear overhangs which make it look compact and powerful.
In front it shows the new Subaru-family nose which will feature on coming production models and is defined by the 3-piece grill arrangement reminiscent of the frontal profile of an airplane. The lower part of the two-tone body is finished with a special paint which is dent and scratch resistant.
Under the stylish body operates, naturally, a 4-wheel drive system powered this time by a hybrid engine arrangement. This "petrol-electric" system appears similar to that which is so ferociously marketed by Toyota and, like Toyota's system, can only be regarded as sort of an intermediary solution on the way to an alternative powersource.
In the case of the Subaru Scrambler the hybrid system consists of a 4-cylinder 2-litre and 140 hp strong boxer engine running on gasoline and an electric motor. At speeds up to 80 kph the electric motor is driving the wheels while the gasoline engine is mainly charging the lithium-ion batteries. Above the 80 kph mark the gasoline engine takes over from the electric motor. Both propulsion systems can be combined for faster acceleration or for taking on hills.
The advantage of this system compared to a traditional combustion engine drivetrain should come from the gasoline engine always running in its most effective speed range. It however does not especially reduce engine noise at low speeds nor prohibit exhaust emissions while driving in traffic jams or densely populated areas. So the efficiency of this system, with its added weight for the batteries and the electric motor and undoubtedly high price tag, seems dubious, like that of all petrol-electric hybrid systems.
The interior of the Scrambler looks relatively simple but also breathtaking, with its gold-colored and aluminum details and carbon-fiber on the seats. It's almost jewel-like. The also gold-colored windshield is made of a special mirror reflective glass.
Besides the 4-wheel drive system and the hybrid engine the Scrambler has yet another special trick: a variable-height and automatic self levelling air suspension which offers an adjustable ride-height of between 150 and 200 mm. Combined with its big wheels and run-flat tires this should add some all-terrain qualities to this sportscar.
The B9 Scrambler is a wonderful design with a number of advanced yet not avant-garde features. Unfortunately though probably understandable it won't be taken into production, its merely showcasing Subaru's new found flair for design. Remarkably the display of this concept took up what seemed almost a quarter of the exhibition space of the Subaru stand at the AutoRAI, so the Dutch Subaru organization really wanted to make a statement with it.
While the Scrambler won't be put on the road part of its name will. Subaru has put a B9 name tag on its new 7-seater 2006 SUV model aimed at the US market. Its full name is B9 Tribeca and has, apart from its 3-piece grill arrangement, nothing in common with the Scrambler. So maybe the times of confusing Subaru model-policy aren't over yet.