A big disappointment.  Subaru Vanille, crazy little car

A big disappointment. Subaru Vanille, crazy little car

By offering cars with flat engines and promoting all-wheel drive, Subaru has often shown originality, offering cars that are often lacking in quality in our market. But never like in the mid-1990s, the day the Japanese brand decided to import a small car on the market to France. A car that can carry six people the size of a Twingo.

And Nicolas Laperruque
27 Nov 2022 at 05:02

We are in 1994. In Japan, a smart manufacturer is trying to find a place in the world market. Specializing in all-wheel drive and flat engine, Subaru sells cars primarily in the United States and in its home country.

It was at this time that the manufacturer decided to enter the world rally championship with its Impreza. In France, Subaru is almost unknown. The brand has yet to win its crowns of honor in rallies and only a few hundred sedans are sold each year. But the importer has an idea to mark the spirit.

A minivan in the land of kei cars

The miracle solution to talk about the Subaru brand in France is in Japan. There, there is a category of cars unknown in Europe, kei-magari. These vehicles must meet very precise specifications to benefit from a certain number of tax benefits.

Therefore, kei vehicles must not exceed 3.40 m in length, 1.48 m in width and two meters in height. So, the type of mini city cars. But in Japan, Subaru has been selling a small kei-car for generations, capable of carrying six people!

Vanilla Subaru can carry six people at 3.50 meters

Impossible car

This small MPV called Sambar in Japan is also called E12 in some Asian markets, Sumo in UK, Columbus in Sweden, or Libero in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Subaru actually offers an export version with a more powerful engine than the original 0.6 liter.

For France, the only restriction that will remain will be the three-cylinder in-line crossover of 1,189 cm3 developing 54 hp. It is enough to send the animal to 128 km / h at top speed. Subaru obliges, the car is a motion with all-wheel drive that can be handled via a small button on the dashboard.

It looks like nothing else

But the appearance of the car is the most surprising. High, very thin, and a divisive design to say the least, the Japanese people carrier is unlike anything else.

The driver will sit on the front wheels, inheriting the inevitable driving position. The engine is lowered to just in front of the rear bumper, cantilevered. *

Subaru can boast of offering the smallest minivan on the market, but also the smallest car and all-wheel drive. So armed, and with its high ground clearance, this chip can go on an adventure.

We can also convert Vanilla into a utility

Well thought out interior

It is inside that all the interests of this car are valued. The six seats, spread over three rows, are not its only original. Passengers have a large opening of the panoramic roof in two parts, before the fashion.

But by choosing the “spinning seats” option, you can also turn the Subaru into a real living room on wheels. To save space, Japanese engineers have created a half-moon folding system, while the middle seat can be converted into a table.

We need to find a name

Convinced that this car can bring the brand from its obscure name in France, the importer will have the idea to name it to match. None of the names that the car carries abroad speaks to the French.

What could be better than asking future customers for their opinion? The Subaru France team will have the idea of ​​involving the public directly in the choice of the name of this critic. Then a contest is organized by Télé 7 jours magazine. The idea is simple, readers can send their comments, which can be selected by the brand.

In some countries, Vanille was available as a Camper version

Vanilla, van and family

Many proposals arrive at the desk of Subaru France.

But choosing a name is not so easy. “We received a lot of good suggestions from readers” remembers an employee of Subaru France “But unfortunately many names were already registered, which eliminates them automatically”.

Finally, the Subaru minivan will have the name “Vanille”, a contraction of the words “Van” and “Famille”. But the hardest part remains to be done, selling it.

Vanilla Subaru is a classic Japanese car


Despite this marketing operation and advertising campaign, Vanilla will not find its audience. In the press, it is criticized for its conventional mechanics, its high center of gravity, its handling, its driving position or its high sensitivity to side winds.

The original 155/13 tires are being replaced with 175/13, improving handling, but it’s too late. One of the fears of buyers is the location of the engine, which is very clear in the event of a rear impact.

The seller of 78, an engineer by training, will find a solution by designing a rear bullbar, without changing the fate of the Vanille. At 88,500 F, pitting its Vanila against the compact Renault 19, Subaru is shooting itself in the foot.

Lovers of small 4X4s can afford it, for 25,000 F less than a Fiat Panda 4X4 or Lada Niva. Despite the launch of limited editions of “Vanille-Strawberry” and “Vanille-Mint”, Subaru has to quickly come to terms with the fact that its Vanille cannot be sold.

The number of sales in France is estimated at less than 200 copies.