automotive journalists, Japanese K-cars are not very interesting to
about. Although it is the most popular category in Japan and there are
2 dozens of models from 5 manufacturers flooding over the market, most
K-cars are hardly distinguishable. Firstly, the size limit (3400mm long
and 1475mm wide) dictates their shape. They are therefore made as
as possible and have their wheels pushing towards the corners to
interior space. In this way, the creativity of designers is seriously
Secondly, the limitation of 660cc engine capacity leaves no space for
to explore new directions. All K-cars have similar engine format and
similar performance. If BMW were asked to develop a K-car, I suspect it
will be much the same as Suzuki or Daihatsu's offering, albeit the
a small manufacturer like Subaru, falling into the same mould as the
Suzuki and Daihatsu is not a good thing, because its smaller scale of
would lead to higher production cost, hence lower competitiveness. To
it must go the premium route, differing from other K-cars in appearance
and packaging. This task has been given to the company's foreign design
chief, Andreas Zapatinas. The Greek was renowned for designing Alfa
145 and Fiat Barchetta in the last decade. Since joining Subaru in
he created a couple of concept cars, B9 roadster and B11S sports coupe,
both are radically styled by Japanese standard. However, his first
car would not be so easy, because it would be the replacement to Pleo,
Subaru's only K-car. Zapatinas intended to revolve the styling of
Can he succeed?
at the pictures, I am convinced that his work pays off. This car is
R2 - the same as another Subaru mini car in the late 60s. It looks
like other K-cars, but more like a 5-door, 4-seat version of Smart
which is of course a praise. Its monospace body is smooth and nicely
- the well-chosen curvature prevents a boxy and bland shape found in
Japanese K-cars yet prevents the R2 from being too radical. Pronounced
wheelarches (like Smart again) deliver a sporty, planted feel. The R2
introduced a new corporate grille (first shown in B9 and B11S concept
giving the front end a more elegant visual effect. This design is
a success, giving R2 a unique image and a premium status over other
also reminds me another foreign design chief in Japan, Olivier Boulay
Mitsubishi (now gone together with DaimlerChrysler). He changed the
of Japanese mini cars by introducing the stylish new Colt. Obviously,
car industry needs to hire more foreign designers. Unfortunately, they
are still reluctant to do so.
R2's body is
to the maximum limits for K-cars. It measures 3395mm in length, 1475mm
in width while the height is pushed to 1520mm. Without exceeding
it can be parked at tower parking which is popular in the crowded
in Japan. Its wheelbase is 2360mm, slightly shorter than Daihatsu Mira
(Charade) (by 30mm) and Honda Life (by 60mm) but matches Suzuki's
K-cars. This means it is not going to offer the most rear legroom among
K-cars. Similarly, the curvy body eats a little bit shoulder room and
space. Never mind, BMWs also offer less room than rivals.
the Subaru beats its rival is the interior style and quality. Most
employ hard plastics throughout the cabin. Many of them care more about
the number of storage cubbies and cup holders than style and quality.
contrast, R2 pays a lot of attention to the interior design and
making it the most expensive-feeling K-car interior. In terms of
its instrument panel looks like that of Nissan Micra (March), which is
one of the most elegant dashboards in small cars. It is constructed in
high-quality plastics and, like the rest of the cabin, finished in
color scheme to please female buyers. Moreover, it does this without
functions. For example, the gear stick is mounted high at the center
for ease of use. There are a lot of storage cubbies. The rear bench is
50-50 split and can fold flat to store luggage. Although it is not the
most spacious K-car, it still offer a high degree of practicality.
is definitely the strength of R2. Comparatively, mechanical is more
Like other K-cars, the R2 rides on strut and torsion-beam suspensions.
Front-wheel-drive is the default choice while 4WD is optional. 5-speed
manual gearbox is default, CVT is optional. Admittedly, if you buy the
Turbo version, it will come with a CVT providing a 7-speed manual mode.
That's perhaps the only unique feature.
little heart of R2 displaces 0.66 litres, of course. While most rivals
employ 3 cylinders for lower cost and fuel consumption, R2 still employ
4 cylinders. Why? you may find the answer from its rivals. Suzuki, for
example, employs 3 cylinders for both the naturally aspirated and
engines, but the turbo is a light pressure turbo producing only 60ps
61 lbft of torque, even failing to reach the government limit of 64
In contrast, the turbocharged version of R2 produces a full 64ps and a
decisive 15 lbft more torque. Obviously, the imbalanced nature of
engines prevents them from heavily turbocharged. No wonder Daihatsu
4 cylinders for its powerful turbo engines and 3 cylinders for normally
aspirated engines. To Subaru, they cannot afford to develop and produce
2 engines, so they chose 4 cylinders.
3 stage of tune: the base version is normally aspirated, with a
and 8-valve cylinder head to produce 46 horsepower. The second version
is also normally aspirated, with twin-cam 16 valves and AVCS variable
timing to produce 54 horsepower. This is likely to be the best seller.
The hottest is the turbocharged version of the 16V but have the AVCS
It makes 64 horsepower and a useful 76 lbft of torque. This is
the most torquey engine in the K-car world.
R2 is a
Its superior style and quality also bring a higher price tag. In Japan,
it is about 20% more expensive than an equivalent Daihatsu Mira, our
pick of the class. That place it straight into the higher segment
March, Toyota Passo etc.). That's probably the biggest problem it
Although buying a K-car has advantages in tax and warrant fees, whether
it make sense compare with a properly sized and properly engined car is
debatable. One thing is for sure, this good-looking, high-quality mini
car will be seen as a niche car and get many fans.
above report was last updated on 20 Aug
2004. All Rights Reserved.
Japanese car makers try hard to maximize the space of their K-cars,
them right to the limits allowed by the law and making them as square
possible. The result is a bland and "me-too" shape.
R2 is by no means "me-too", but compare with Smart Fortwo it is
less interesting. Therefore, based on the R2 architecture, Subaru
an even smaller and nicher car called R1. It appeals to the same crowd
as the Smart - those single, yuppie and fun-seeking young people. Its
point is a lovely bubble shape which is inspired by beetles (I mean the
insect, not the Volkswagen), and a more colorful cabin.
R1 is a 3-door mini-hatch intended to carry 2 people only. Compare with
R2, its length is cut by 110mm and wheelbase is 165mm shorter. That put
it at an even lower category than the K-cars, although it actually
at a rather premium price. Its 2-ton cabin with leather seats is more
than the R2. The tiny rear seats can sit children or simply fold down
place shopping bags.
is not greedy. It just wants to sell 10,000 R1s a year. To justify the
cost, all mechanicals are shared with the R2, including engine,
suspensions and steering.
above report was last updated on 3 Feb 2005. All