Evolution – Much Ado About Nothing

Exactly three years ago, DTW introduced its monthly theme called ‘Evolution’. So why not come back to it and extend it with a nice example?

Two generations of Subaru XV

This sight of two Subaru XVs in our house’s parking garage is very striking indeed, as it gave me the rare opportunity of seeing two generations of a car next to each other. The colour was perfect too, both cars in white which makes it easy to read the design. This coincidence made me think once more about different approaches to developing a car line over time, as we have discussed in June 2015.

Now Subaru has never leant towards disruptive design changes, despite introducing a new theme from time to time, for example with the first generation Impreza in 1992 or the third one in 2007. However it seems to me that the change from the 2011 XV to its successor in 2017 is a particularly small one, as we can see here. Although apparently a new platform was used for the 2017 generation, Subaru decided to copy the older car quite literally on the outside.

Just a little more edgy after six years

Seen from the back, one notices the enlarged light cluster that gains a second part in the hatch. Many of the other features are copied: the shape of the bumper edge with its oblique shutline, the black lower bumper part with an integrated light, the shape of the windshield, etc. Even the ridged underride guard is there, but loses its fog light.

We can also see a small difference in how the folds around the rear wing are treated. The older XV has an uninterrupted line running down the whole side and a wheelarch crease below. In the newer car the bodyside fold fades above the doorhandle and is continued by the remnants of the wheelarch fold. I guess this yields a more dynamic and muscular impression. This is also helped by the upward sweep of the lower window line that starts in the rear door rather than behind it.

All elements are there…

At the front, it’s the same story: most design elements are still there, only slightly shifted, and there are a few new touches. The A-pillar and windscreen area are treated much in the same way as before, it’s all just a bit sharper and pointier.

Slightly re-routed shutline

The new bonnet has a bit more depth, at least optically, as the lateral shutline is more distant from the fold running from the A-pillar to the headlights than before. The biggest differences are the black areas inside the light unit and in the lower part of the bumper. Again things like the shape of the wheelarch extension are copied almost slavishly.

This example raised in me the question why one would stay so close to a predecessor whitout carrying over a single piece of bodywork. And I’m still  slightly hesitant: Is it an act of an overcautious management not wanting to frighten and drive off customers? Or is it rather a bold statement: the car is so good, we didn’t have to change it?

11 thoughts on “Evolution – Much Ado About Nothing”

  1. A very interesting subject and pleasant read. Admittedly Subaru has always verged on the conservative side but I feel that this evolutionary approach in car design is becoming more common and I believe that the German brands were trend setters in that regard. I think automakers have cottoned on to the idea that taking this cautious approach has many benefits that may include: better residuals, each model generation doesn’t prematurely ‘age’ the previous one (see Audi, MB, BMW).
    Better brand/model recognition: by rehashing the same design themes it’s easier to leave a mark in people’s mind or even make a model become iconic (VW Golf).

    Other car manufacturers that I think I embracing this concept are Renault: LVDA has made clear all new Renaults will retain a strong design link with the car it replaces. The all-new Clio due in 2019 follows the Golf method and will be very close to the current one style-wise. Hyundai/kia seem to go that way too as well as pockets of other manufacturers.

    Tied to this cautious approach I think is the idea of keeping the same nameplate for as long as possible now. I think VW, once again, was a precursor (Polo, Golf, Jetta,Passat )and their tradition of showing a family photo of all the previous generations before a model’s launch create a strong brand and model image that I think has other carmakers envious, for lack of a better word. Renault for example who now keeps the stronger nameplates generation after generation (Clio, Twingo, Megane, Trafic, Espace,…) and phase out the weaker, more problematic ones (Laguna). I even suspect that part of Peugeot’s plan to now keep naming their cars 208, 308 etc… rather than going one digit up after each new model is perhaps, in part, because Peugeot understands the appeal of a model standing as a ‘monument’ of some sort within the entire carmaker’s range. Again, the Golf example seems to me to be the inspiration.

    The success of the German brands on a global level has I think more and more car brands adopting the same model of slow evolution in Design.

  2. “…Polo, Golf, Jetta,Passat…”

    There’s an interloper in this list: the Jetta/Vento/Bora/Jetta exception that proves the rule – at least in Europe.

  3. Vento is the interloper. All the rest are names of specific winds, whereas Vento is derived from the Latin word for wind.

    1. What I meant is that for some reason VW dithered over the name of the three-volumes Golf for a long time before returning to their original choice, which is arguably the best of the three and had been kept all along in the US.

    2. They apparently dropped the Jetta and Derby nameplates in Europe, as they had become synonymous for boring and frumpy. But so did Vento and Bora, after which they realized that the boring and frumpy notion is inherent in small saloons, so they could as well go with the original name instead of in’vent’ing a new one each time.

  4. Subaru’s biggest markets are Japan and USA. In those markets, they have arrived at a position that is popular and generates great loyalty from their customers.

    So why frighten the horses? Europe is a minority interest by comparison.

    Personally, I find it a bit disappointing and wish Subaru had retained more of their quirks and rallying attitude. The Grovel (Levorg) is close to ideal for me, but the return of the frameless windows and a more compelling drivetrain would seal the deal.

    1. A popular and loyal standing they also once had in Switzerland, the more you go up the mountains, the more so. And I guess you are right somewhat, as the rather conservative buyers here accepted Subaru’s standard quirks, but probably wouldn’t follow them if they went far beyond that. Although, when I think of it, XT and SVX were quite some sellers, too.
      With the Levorg, they really seem to have done something right, as it has increased Subaru’s presence on our roads considerably. I personally think it should stand on a bigger platform with an adequate wheelbase.

  5. Ah, I see. In similar vein and given the popularity of the game there, I wonder why the Golf Mk1 was renamed Rabbit in the US? Also, the saloon version of the Polo Mk1 was called Derby, which was/is not a wind, as far as I am aware.

    1. If my recollection is correct, VW said that Golf should be pronounced more like “gulf”, sort of. In order to protect the ears of leading VW functionaries visiting the US looking for Big Mexes at the then relatively new MickyD’s from hearing Golf mispronounced, some advertising agency proposed the name Rabbit. It was accepted. The Passat was similarly renamed Quantum.

      Showing how hip they were to the US, VW started to build a version of the Rabbit in Pennsylvania. Equipped with mousefur upholstery normally found lining gloveboxes, almost no instrumentation and dampers derived from wet spaghetti, the thing was a travesty of the ones from Germany I’d driven before. The public agreed and VW entered 2o odd years of irrelevancy in the US market. Funnily enough, people tend to want the real thing, or what’s the point? Hands up those who prefer chicory to real coffee.

      I’m being only partly tongue-in-cheek. Forty years ago, things were different. However, I’m not really sure VW has progressed in understanding the US market when you look at the native Jetta, the big bubble Passat, or the giant shoebox Atlas. But Audis sell very well indeed considering how much more expensive they are. No renaming or special models in their lineup.

    2. Bill: I’d laboured under the impression that the Passat had originally been marketed in the United States as the Dasher. Having said that, both names are as bad as each other. Ironic really that VW might have been sensitive as to how Golf / Gulf was pronounced at the time. One can be certain they couldn’t give a fig about it now that its a global sales phenomenon.

  6. I can’t say I am a fan of either version, but if pushed, I’d say I prefer the earlier car – it’s cleaner and less fussy. I quite liked the rear with the simpler and smaller rear lamps – it was reasonably distinctive – whereas the rear lamps of the new car are very close to the current Qashqai (another car where I preferred the original – the newer one is all over the place with its feature-lines and oddly placed kink in the bottom edge of the DLO).

    I saw a review of the new Ascent – Subaru’s large SUV on sale now in the US – and that’s another lumpy and unlovely beast. I really want to like all these Subarus, but am constantly struggling to so do. There is a current generation Outback that lives on a street near me, and when I pass it whilst walking the dog, I always find myself trying to find something to like and telling myself it’s not too bad (it is!). Even more oddly, at the end of the same street there is an 07 B9 Tribeca and, if you can’t see the grille, it’s alright – better than that original Cayenne that was being put to the sword on this site the other day, and, actually, the front elevation is not far off that of the current Sportage.

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