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Subaru may go rear wheel drive

Subaru displays a boxer car architecture at the 2011 Geneva Motorshow.

Prompted by the impressive handling of its new Toyota-shared, rear-drive coupe, Subaru is prepared to consider the layout for other models. It is a stark departure from a company that, in Australia especially, has built its market and loyal customer following on its "ALL 4'' branding. That may come as a shock but there's no surprise in moves within Subaru to make drastic changes to its styling direction and, in other areas, consider culling some models and adding some extras.

In Geneva this week for one of Europe's key motor show event, Subaru's global marketing vice president Hidetoshi Kobayashi spoke candidly about the carmaker's future. He sees the link with Toyota to develop the coupe - called FT-86 by Toyota and as yet un-named by Subaru - as one possible step towards using the rear-drive design in other Subaru products.

"It has very good dynamics,'' he says of the coupe. "It's much different from driving an all-wheel drive car - it's much better.''

Asked if he could see the rear-drive concept being used in other Subaru models, he says "yes''.

The coupe will go into production in Japan by both companies in March next year and is estimated to be priced around $US24,000 - about the same as a Mazda MX-5 in Australia which sells for around $45,000. The coupes from Toyota and Subaru will be identical in drivetrain specs - 2-litre boxer engine and six-speed manual transmission from Subaru - and has no plans to be launched as a turbocharged car.

Toyota, which owns about 16 per cent of Subaru, has donated a hatchback to Subaru which has rebranded it as a Subaru Trevia. The small car, with a front-wheel drive layout and 1.3-litre engine, gives Subaru a new entry in Japan's popular city-car sector since the demise of its R1 and R2 city cars.

"We didn't have sufficient funds to develop a small B-segment car by ourselves,'' he says. "The engines are from Daihatsu, which is part of the (Toyota) alliance.''

But it's not all take. Subaru is looking at a small SUV model to sit beneath its Forester.

"We have a study to see how popular a new crossover would be,'' Kobayashi says. "It would be smaller than the Forester.''

But there are no details on the engine, however could use the small engines from the Trevia which are also used in cars like the Yaris.

Mr Kobayashi says Subaru and Toyota are discussing sharing 1.2-litre and 1.3-litre engines.

"We really need small engines,'' he says. "Now we have only the Generation-3 flat four and the six cylinder engine.''

Mr Kobayashi says the future of the Tribeca SUV was being discussed. The US built and US focussed SUV has underperformed the market and could be culled.

"We haven't made a decision on that,' he says, "but maybe it's not a proper fit with Subaru. Maybe it's not what we should be building.''