Subaru's MPV packs plenty of punch

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 July, 2010, 12:00am

At first sight, Subaru's new offering, the Exiga 2.0 GT, could be mistaken for an estate car. Just 1.66 metres in height, it sits much lower than one would expect for an MPV, a mere 125mm higher than its saloon sibling, the Legacy. Yet, with clever packaging, the Exiga manages to provide seven occupants with enough space and comfort for long journeys.

It's not a bad-looking car as MPVs go. The big air-scoop on the bonnet which feeds the turbo, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, side skirts and a roof-mounted rear spoiler, give it a purposeful look.

Inside, the panorama sun roof stretches all the way to the third-row seats, making the cabin bright and airy. The powered front seats adjust eight ways and the steering adjusts for rake and reach, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position. Getting to the rearmost seats is easy, helped by rear doors that open almost 90 degrees and second-row seats that have 180mm of travel.

With a little fine-tuning of the position of the second row, there's enough leg room for all rear passengers, adults included. Both back rows are stepped higher to provide a better forward view, with plenty of head room. With the second row splitting 60-40 and the third row 50-50, cargo space is versatile and, with both rows folded, the space is cavernous. Good-quality leather covers all seven seats.

Although the driving position is higher than an average saloon, the driver sits lower than in other MPVs and feels more in control. This sense of control is enhanced by Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system with variable torque distribution. Even in heavy rain, the car feels poised and safe through the corners.

One benefit of optimising cabin space for seven occupants is that the Exiga uses space-saving - and expensive - double-wishbone rear suspension that, coupled with McPherson struts at the front, provides excellent roadholding and a smooth ride.

The brakes combine enormous stopping power with considerable feel and control through the pedal.

Subaru's legendary flat-four boxer engine provides the power, this time in turbocharged two-litre guise. Output of 225 bhp and 326 Nm of torque push the Exiga from a standstill to 100km/h in a feisty 7.4 seconds, and to a top speed of 180km/h through a smooth five-speed automatic transmission which can also be operated in manual mode.

The engine is a delight, free-revving and eager, yet smooth and refined at lower speeds. As the revs rise, the engine note becomes crisp and sporty, but it curiously lacks the characteristic offbeat sound of a flat four. Subaru's Intelligent Drive system, controlled via a rotary dial, provides intelligent, sport and sport-sharp settings. With the latter setting, there was a much sharpened response. Intelligent mode is designed for fuel economy and a gauge shows how the car is being driven. Quoted combined fuel consumption is 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres.

With a four-wheel drive and the performance of a hot hatch, the HK$319,980 Subaru Exiga doesn't fit the usual MPV mould; it could just as easily be labelled an SUV or a seven-seat sports estate.

Whatever the label, the Exiga is practical, comfortable, sporty and spacious. Subaru gives an eight-year or 160,000-kilometre warranty.