“If in doubt, flat out” was the driving motto of one of Scotland’s greatest drivers, tragically killed in a helicopter crash 13 years ago.
The philosophy is perhaps not as acceptable now as it once was, but Colin McRae had a distinctive driving style and his catchphrase is still commemorated in decals on the front wings of many Subaru Imprezas in the hands of enthusiasts. His commitment to fearless rallying was what took him to the World Championship title, but he wouldn’t have made it without the engineering excellence of the Subarus.
There was a time when the mere mention of the name, coupled with Impreza, would set flowing the juices of any full-blooded petrolhead.
Colin McRae’s global rally success helped propel the Japanese brand into the international spotlight, but it all went astray and there are many theories as to why.
The most significant was that the powers-that-be in some office in deepest Japan decided to change Subaru’s image from beefy, sporty and exciting to one that was more sensible and family-focussed, and came up with a replacement Impreza that took most potential buyers by surprise – for all the wrong reasons.
Unfortunate models like the bizarrely named Levorg (Grovel if read backwards) did nothing to restore things, neither did a range that seemed over-duplicated – at one point it had no fewer than seven models in the UK market yet sold a total of fewer than 3,000 new cars in this country.
I’m pleased to see Subaru seems to have got itself at least some way towards sorting itself out.
Much of that is down to the compact crossover – the XV – which, like the rest of the now slimmed-down range, comes with the very capable permanent Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system and can rightly claim to have great ability when it leaves the black stuff.
It’s now been joined by the e-BOXER, the first generation of the brand’s self-charging hybrid SUV range.
Reflecting the move away from diesel, it combines a two-litre petrol engine with a 16bhp electric motor, fed by a compact, lightweight Lithium-ion battery to improve driving response, refinement and torque to help tackle dodgier terrain by sending power to all four wheels.
I didn’t put the test car to any demanding off road challenges but I could see it was well up to the task of rough tracks or muddy fields helped by the very handy high ground clearance which many rival crossovers shy away from.
It’s green efficiency for dummies. It’s not a plug-in – the petrol engine charges the battery while you drive and the extra power from the electric motor is automatic, working seamlessly with the petrol engine for a smoother, more efficient drive and returning the best economy of the XV range at around 35mpg. I like the understated but stylish looks, and the build quality is high. There’s a new front grille with active shutter, low-profile roof rails, new fog lamp bezel surrounding the LED fog lights and gloss black rear spoiler. The only indication of what’s under the bonnet is a discreet e-Boxer badge on the wings and tailgate.
Even though the interior uses a lot of plastic, it seems pretty tough, and by all accounts should last the course of everyday use.
There’s a dominant eight-inch multifunction colour touchscreen with DAB radio and all the connectivity you’d expect. The SE Premium spec of the test car meant it came with leather seats, eight-way power adjustable driver seat, satnav and sunroof on top of the standard dual zone air-conditioning, reversing camera and heated seats.
Also standard is Subaru’s EyeSight technology which uses two cameras on either side of the rear-view mirror to warn of hazards and includes adaptive cruise control as well as a host of other safety features.
It’s an impressive package and will do much to restore the image of what was once a terrific brand. Albeit, sadly, the glory days when Subaru ruled the roost are long gone.