The Japanese company could return to rally racing!

It’s been more than two decades since Subaru stopped offering a subcompact hatchback developed in-house, but this could change in a couple of years. What’s more, it could hit the market in a higher performance version too. In order for this to happen, recent rumors about Subaru planning to return to the World Rally Championship need to become reality.

According to a couple of Japanese websites, Subaru is tempted to return to WRC, the competition that made both the brand and the Impreza nameplate famous in the 1990s and 2000s. But to do so, the Japanese firm needs to build a brand-new car, as the Impreza and WRX are no longer suitable for the series. Instead, word has it Subaru is working on a brand-new subcompact car the size of the Ford Fiesta,] Hyundai i20, and Toyota Yaris.

Background

2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback
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Although it’s been around since the 1950s, Subaru didn’t offer many subcompacts until now.

In Japan, Subaru sold more kei cars than subcompacts, with examples like the Rex, R1, and R2 coming to mind.

In 1992, however, the company replaced the Rex with a slightly bigger model, the Vivio. Not only closer to a subcompact design- and size-wise, the Vivio also spawned a rally car that made appearances in WRC stages in Japan and the 1993 round of the Safari Rally.

But long before the Vivio arrived, Subaru introduced the Justy in 1984. Essentially its only true subcompact, the Justy remained in production for 10 years and was sold globally, including in Europe and the United States. The nameplate lived on after 1994 on a rebaged Suzuki Cultus and, most recently in 2016, on the rebadged Daihatsu Thor and Toyota Tank mini MPV. But it’s the original Justy that remains the only spiritual predecessor of Subaru’s upcoming subcompact hatchback.

Exterior

  • Could borrow from Impreza and WRX
  • Short nose
  • Big grille
  • Sporty rear spoiler
  • Diffuser-like element
2018 Subaru WRX High Resolution Exterior
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There are no hints as to how Subaru might design this hatchback. We haven’t spotted any prototypes and design sketches have yet to leak online. This isn’t surprising though, as the subcompact is still at least a couple of years away. However, it’s safe to assume that any upcoming Subaru will share styling cues with the company’s current vehicles. So we went ahead and created a rendering.

Our vision for the hatchback borrows heavily from the WRX.

It sports a similar grille with a honeycomb mesh and it’s flanked by squared-off headlamps. These are a bit bigger though and swept-back toward the A-pillars, a design feature typical to most hatchbacks nowadays. A big intake on the hood feeds air into the engine.

Down below, we borrowed the WRX’s center bumper section with four rectangular openings in a black frame that extends into the splitter. However, instead of big side air intakes, we went with black covers and round fog lamps.

2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback
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Onto the sides, Subaru’s take on the segment will likely be a typical subcompact hatchback profile. This includes big side windows, a beltline that slowly ascents toward the rear, and slightly protruding side skirts. We added a few character lines above the side sills and below the door handles, but they could be anywhere based on what we can see on current Subarus. Being a performance model, the hatchback could sport a rendition of the famous gold wheels found on the WRX.

The rear fascia should include two important performance-related elements.

Looks for a sizable wing atop the tailgate and a sporty diffuser flanked by two round exhaust pipes.

Of course, besides the performance model shown here, Subaru will offer a milder, more affordable version to go against the regular Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai i20. This version will have a less aggressive design, likely based more on the Impreza rather than the WRX.

Interior

  • Unique trim
  • Sporty seats
  • Optional leather
  • Modern technology
  • Digital instrument cluster
2018 Subaru WRX High Resolution Interior
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Large touchscreen in the dash
*Interior from 2018 Subaru WRX

With no other subcompact from Subaru to look into, it’s tough to say what how this hatchback might look on the inside. However, it’s safe to assume that it won’t have too many premium features. Subaru will try to keep it affordable and this will translate into a lack of fancy features and gadgets.

But while the regular model might not have too much to brag about in base form, the higher performance variant should come with plenty of extras.

Expect a digital instrument cluster with performance-oriented graphics, a sizable infotainment display, and unique inserts on the dashboard and door panels.
2018 Subaru WRX High Resolution Interior
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Like any performance hatchback, it should come with sportier seats that offer enhanced lateral support. While they might not be wrapped in leather as standard, Subaru will probably offer such an option.

However, the standard units should at least have Alcantara inserts.

As a subcompact, the hatchback will probably be cramped for rear-seat passengers and the trunk won’t offer too much space. But it probably won’t lag far behind the competition in these departments.

Drivetrain

  • Could use existing four-cylinder engine
  • Subaru might develop a new unit
  • Needs close to 200 horsepower
  • 0 to 62 mph in less than 7 seconds
2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback
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The engine that will provide motivation is an even bigger mystery.

Subaru has a couple of options under its own roof right, mainly in the form of the 1.6- and 2.0-liter boxer-four engines available in the Impreza.

The 1.6-liter unit is only available in Europe and would make sense in this Euro-specific hatchback. However, at 112 horsepower, its output in the Impreza, the four-banger won’t cut the mustard against the competition, as the Volkswagen Polo GTI, the Ford Focus ST, and the Toyota Yaris GRMN all deliver around 200 horses.

Ironically, the 2.0-liter engine would be inferior too, as its current rating in the Impreza sits at 152 horsepower. Of course, Subaru could upgrade the engine in order to squeeze out more oomph. This unit might seem a bit big for a subcompact, but if Volkswagen managed to fit a 2.0-liter in the new Polo GTI, Subaru should be able to find a way.

On the flipside, the Japanese firm could develop a brand-new engine.

A small-displacement, turbocharged, four-cylinder could deliver close to 200 or more without issues, but it remains to be seen if Subaru has the means and finances to build one from scratch.

Then there’s the collaboration it already has with Toyota for the 86 and BRZ twins. Although the engine in the sports cars might not be suited for the hatchback, Subaru could probably borrow the supercharged, 1.8-liter mill from the Yaris GRMN. Rated at 209 horsepower and 184 pound-feet, it’s powerful enough to make Subaru’s hatchback one of the most powerful in this niche.

Whatever the drivetrain, this hatchback needs at least 195 horsepower and a 0-to-62 mph sprint of around six seconds to be competitive.

Prices

2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback
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In order to stay competitive, the Subaru hot-hatch needs to be priced so that it doesn’t come in as the most expensive option. While Ford and Volkswagen already have some tradition to rely on in this niche, Subaru will start from scratch. Fortunately, the Japanese firm has a large gap to play with. While the Fiesta ST and Polo GTI start from £19,495 and £21,140, respectively, the Yaris GRMN fetches a whopping £26,295 before options. I think a sticker around the £20,000 mark would be appropriate here, but the Subaru could cost a bit more.

Competition

Volkswagen Polo GTI

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI High Resolution Exterior
- image 731370

A more affordable alternative to the iconic Golf GTI, the Polo GTI was redesigned for the 2018 model year. Just like its predecessor, it sportier than the standard version and boasts a number of exclusive design features, including red detailing on the grille, a diffuser-like element around back, and unique wheels. The GTI’s interior is by far the most appealing in this niche thanks to its clean, high-tech look and features worthy of the premium market. Under the hood lurks a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the biggest in this niche, rated at 197 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough to push it from 0 to 62 mph in 6.7 seconds, to go with a top speed of 146 mph. Pricing starts from £21,140.

Read our full review of the 2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Ford Fiesta ST

2018 Ford Fiesta ST High Resolution Exterior
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Also redesigned for the 2018 model year, the Fiesta ST benefits from a more upmarket interior with new features. Highlights include a revised Ford SYNC 3 entertainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Recaro seats, and exclusive trim and upholstery. The biggest change happened under the hood though, where the previous 1.6-liter four-cylinder was replaced by a 1.5-liter, EcoBoost three-cylider. But even though it now uses a tiny unit, the Fiesta ST is plenty powerful at 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. The output is actually identical to the outgoing model, so performance remains the same, on par with the Polo GTI. Pricing starts from £19,495, which makes it the most affordable proposition in this niche. unlike its competitors, the Fiesta ST is available in the U.S. too. As of this writing, the new model isn’t on sale, but the old one retails from $21,340.

Read our full story on the 2018 Ford Fiesta ST.

Toyota Yaris GRMN

Gather Round Hot-Hatch Fans, Toyota Will Unveil a 210-HP Yaris Soon High Resolution Exterior
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Toyota’s first hot-hatch for the subcompact market, the Yaris GRMN isn’t that much different from the regular Yaris if we ignore the stripe package. However, it gets its juice from a supercharged, 1.8-liter engine that delivers a whopping 209 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of twist. This output makes it the most powerful of its kind, as well as the quickest, needing only 6.3 seconds to hit 62 mph from a standing start. With a top speed at 143 mph, the Yaris GRMN is fast enough as well. But the extra power and the quicker sprints come at a cost, as the Yaris GRMN is notably more expensive than its rivals. Pricing starts from £26,295. That’s a bit more than the range-topping Focus Vignale!

Read our full review of the 2018 Toyota Yaris GRMN.

Conclusion

2021 Subaru Hot-Hatchback
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While not yet confirmed, a high-performance subcompact hatchback from Subaru could happen. The company needs to expand and even though it’s SUVs that usually benefit from this, a subcompact hatchback could become popular in certain markets, especially in Europe. Of course, there’s greater chance for this vehicle to happen if Subaru wants to rejoin the World Rally Championship, and this is quite possible given the brand’s heritage and long absence from the series. I definitely want to see a 200-horsepower hatchback with a "Subaru" badge on public roads and muddy trails.

  • Leave it
    • Not yet confirmed
    • Might not happen eventually
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