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Subaru does it. Again!

Built on the underpinnings of the Legacy or Outback, this is a car I was looking forward to giving a fair chance. In the past I have irked some Subaru fan boys who adamantly refuse to admit that Subaru makes some very ugly cars.

The Legacy station wagon on which the Exiga is based is very reliable, economical and practical, as all Subarus are. But it’s as aesthetically refined as a pile of firewood. The Exiga is even worse and as far as I could figure out, pointless.

That name Exiga is not pronounced as you read it. It is, for Japanese linguistic reasons, pronounced as Exshiga. I would, however, warn against pronouncing it properly lest you lisp or sound illiterate. In Japan, where everyone is Japanese and would understand, it is fine. In Kenya, you better read it as it is written.

Design

Subaru already makes the Legacy and Outback. So, they obviously know what a station wagon is because this definitely isn’t one. It was designed as a sort of apology for the Tribeca. But as it turns out the apology is even worse.

This is because it’s a station wagon but has seven seats. Making it, for all intents and purposes an MPV, like a Mazda Premacy. An MPV – Multiple Purpose Vehicle, is the lowest rung of car ownership. It’s actually shorter and narrower but taller than the Legacy station wagon, making for an awkward boxy Volvo-esque shape. It looks a bit like a hearse with the blacked out long side windows.

Carrying within it your now deceased racer-boy dreams. Marketed to the growing Subaru family who should have stopped reproducing when the Outback became impractical.

The dashboard has a thrown-together look, with all kinds of different materials and textures and some odd angles; an affront to the discipline of design. The third row gradually elevates, theatre style, to seat slightly higher than the first and second rows.

This shoves luggage capacity down the drain. With the split 50:50 third row folded down there’s plenty of space although they don’t lie completely flat. So you choose: people or luggage, not both. But they do get more legroom and the seats do move back and forth.

There are two airbags at the front supplemented by first row side impact and some more curtain airbags to protect first and second row passengers. The seats also make use of impact absorbing anti-whiplash tech. And if you’re in a major collision the brake pedal will collapse, reducing changes of foot injury.

The drive

Underneath the dreary design is still a Legacy, which means you get the legendary AWD system and with it a confidence unknown in other MPVs. There’s also felt in the corners a balance in the chassis conspicuously missing in the competition.

Electronic Brake Distribution gives the middle pedal a friendly reliable feel when trying to slow down over a ton and a half of metal. All variants come with a CVT transmission and naturally aspirated 2.0-litre boxer unit.

As unexciting as the match- up sounds, they’re surprisingly perfectly suited for family shifting tasks. The CVT is not renown for sportiness but it makes for smooth effortless progress. If you need to prod it you can always use the paddle shifters and pretend it’s a sports car.

The 146 horsepower from the boxer unit is more than sufficient to keep things moving if a bit dreary when taking off. The steering is a touch light in feel. Ride quality is good and progress fuss-free. It doesn’t reward pedal to the floor acceleration, in which case the CVT holds the revs more or less constant and the noise level is intrusive. Progress never feels bewilderingly rapid.

All-round vision is excellent with the rear window cut low to make it easier to see behind. On the open road the Exiga is comfortable and quiet, with only minimal buffeting from the B pillar. The only other noise is the hum of the CVT and thrum of the boxer under acceleration. Braking is sharp and full of feel from the four discs.

Verdict

The Exiga is a passionless tricky to pronounce business decision fighting for a shrinking slice of the MPV segment against the Mitsubishi Chariot, Honda Odyssey and Mazda Premacy.

It makes for a compelling alternative with its formidable boxer engine, 5 star safety rating and AWD. That is as long as you can live with those questionably confused looks. But then again MPV’s have never really been about looks.

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