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Photos courtesy of Subaru
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The Elten Custom: The town car of the future?

Jack G. Beasley looks at Subaru and shows how the small car giant is making impressive progress

Legacy B4 Blitzen

Japan is famous for its passion for miniaturizing everything and anything, including cars. One world leader in small car manufacturing is Fuji Heavy Industries' Subaru.

Subaru was one of the first manufactures to market popular cars in Japan right after World War II. From the beginning, safety has been a priority. The company says there are two parts to its philosophy; two sides of the same coin: active safety measures and passive safety measures. That's to say Subaru is consistently taking measures to ensure that the driver is both as secure as possible on the road at all times and also well provided for in the case of an accident.

For the former - active, preventive safety - the combination of VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) and AWD (All Wheel Drive) technologies could well be the finest system ever devised. Many cars these days use ABS (Automatic Braking System), a typical electronic device designed to support active safety. However, a poorly designed system can detract from the fun of driving. While utilizing the benefits of devices like ABS, Subaru aims to maximize control for the driver and at the same time minimize electronic interference in order to optimize driving fun. This is achieved with Subaru's VDC-AWD, an active safety device consisting of ABS, traction control and AWD. AWD allows higher driving limits than normal, but when the vehicle's speed gets too high, the VDC-AWD cuts the fuel and regulates the brake, thus maximizing the drivers control and fun.

For the latter part, collision safety, Subaru may not stand out, but the company is striving for practical solutions. For example, it has established a number of strict, in-house standards for collision testing and it builds its own safe, effective airbags. Its pioneering Horizontally-Opposed Engine/AWD system also functions like a shock-absorbing structure, contributing to improved passive safety.

Don't forget the fun
The AWD system and Horizontally-Opposed Engine use a symmetrical, four-wheel drive layout first launched back in 1972. Since then, Subaru has continuously improved the system to accomplish fast, comfortable and safe driving.

So, what are the benefits of Subaru AWD system? The Horizontally-Opposed, four-cylinder engine is compact and has a low center of gravity. Locating this engine longitudinally, heavy components such as the gearbox can be housed within the wheel base. The entire system is very simple, and almost symmetrical. As a result, weight distribution is almost even in all directions. This layout also contributes to a high-rigidity body - side frames extend to the front bumper, sturdy cross members, engine support and front suspension. The long-stroke suspension offers good handling and a smooth ride. Subaru's AWD system thus allows for fun but safe driving to go hand in hand in a compact car.

Subaru is also working hard to complete and introduce the Active Driving Assist (ADA) system. Using a pair of CCD cameras to look ahead of the car, the ADA system analyzes the visual information obtained via the cameras, automatically adjusts the distance between the vehicle in front if the car gets too close and warns the driver when the car goes out of its lane.

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The tight, environmentally friendly Fleet-X

Looking forward
Subaru's line-up for the coming century includes their new Fleet-X, where weight reduction technology allows light, environmentally friendly vehicles - or at least concept models of next-generation cars. Inspired by Subaru's ultra-light, ultra-compact car of several decades ago, the Subaru 360, the Elten Custom is in effect a glimpse of the town car of the future.

One of its unique features is Subaru's own Hybrid Power System (SHPS). The car's drive motor is powered by the electric current generated by the engine, making the ride as smooth as silk. When it's time to go faster, both the engine and drive motor power the car together and, at constant speeds, the Elten Custom runs with only the engine, storing excess energy to the battery via the drive motor.

Other cars in the Subaru line up include their famous Legacy line and the Impreza, the STi V1 coupe version of which is the symbol of Subaru's motor sports activities. But for the less adventurous among us, we can be comforted by the company's philosophy that automobiles are not solely for transportation; they bring us freedom. Small cars may be their forte, but Subaru's drive to enhance that freedom in terms of performance, innovation and, of course, safety, is certainly no small achievement.

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