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by James Stanford

Subaru is prepared to miss out on a massive sales boost in order to protect its adventurous image.

The company will launch the fourth-generation Subaru Forester next February, but the crossover wagon will only be available as an all-wheel drive.

In contrast, almost all rivals offer more affordable two-wheel-drive versions of their compact SUVs, all with a lower ride height than the chunky Subaru.

The new cut-price versions are one of the key drivers behind a massive boost in SUV sales, with sales of small SUVs up by 53.5 per cent and sales of medium SUVs up by 20.9 per cent this year.

Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior acknowledged two-wheel-drive SUVs are selling strongly but says selling one doesn’t fit with the Subaru brand image in Australia.

“It is important for us to continue to have all-wheel drive to maintain the differentiation between us and the rest of the market,” Senior said.

“All-wheel drive is part of the Subaru brand DNA. It is all of our cars except for one notable exception (the rear-drive BRZ that joined the range this year).”

Subaru offers some front-drive models in Japan, including Impreza and its city-friendly micro cars, but the Forester is only made as an AWD.

The extra weight of AWD systems is known to increase fuel consumption, but Senior said that was not an issue with the Forester.

“In the case of fuel consumption, we were down the bottom of the pack when it came to fuel economy, but now we are right up at the pointy end,” he said.

There is little doubt a front-drive model could boost Forester volume. One example is provided by Mazda Australia: around half of the CX-5 compact SUVs it sells are two-wheel drives.

However, Senior says Forester buyers want to drive a car that is actually capable of going off-road, which means it must have AWD and good ground clearance (the new Forester has best-in-class clearance of 220mm).

“The Forester buyer, whether they are at the younger end of the spectrum or at the more mature end, variously use the vehicles for lifestyle and recreation purposes,” he said.




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