Subaru Gears Up to Challenge the Ford Explorer With Its Biggest SUV Ever

By Markets Fool.com

Subaru unveiled a concept version of an all-new big crossover SUV in Los Angeles on Thursday. The company said the "VIZIV-7 Concept" "shows the size direction" of an all-new three-row SUV that will come to the U.S. market in early 2018.

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It's likely this concept is much more than just a show vehicle. It's almost certainly a very close preview of the next new Subaru. Read on.

The Subaru VIZIV-7 Concept is a preview of a three-row SUV that Subaru will launch in early 2018. Image source: Fuji Heavy Industries.

What is it?

Subaru didn't say a whole lot about the VIZIV-7 Concept. Officially, by calling it a "concept," Subaru is saying it's just a show car. But while some concepts are just designers' flights of fancy, others are intended as a close preview of something an automaker intends to build.

In the recent past, Subaru's "concepts" have turned out to look a whole lot like the production vehicles it unveils a year or so later. So, it's a safe bet that despite its funny name and the "concept" wording, the VIZIV-7 is a fairly accurate preview of a new model the Japanese automaker will reveal in late 2017 or early 2018.

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What do we know about it?

"The concept expresses our core brand values, safety, dependability, capability for outdoor activities and a forward looking attitude," said Takeshi Tachimori, corporate executive vice president of Subaru parentFuji Heavy Industries (NASDAQOTH: FUJHY). "We know customers in this segment want a full-sized vehicle and the next 3-row from Subaru will be the biggest Subaru vehicle ever." [emphasis added]

The VIZIV-7 is definitely a big vehicle by Subaru's standards. At 204.7" long, it's a bit longer than a Ford (NYSE: F) Explorer (198.3"). It's also two inches taller (72" versus 70") than its likely future rival.With three rows of seats, it'll likely be rated for seven or eight passengers.

Because it's a Subaru, it will almost certainly have all-wheel-drive as standard equipment, and it'll likely be offered with the company's 2.5 liter "boxer" four-cylinder, a 3.6 liter six-cylinder, or a choice of the two. It's also a good bet that it will look a lot like this show vehicle, minus the few obvious show-car touches (like the blue lights in front).

What will it compete against?

Assuming the production version is close to what we see here, Subaru seems to be taking direct aim at the big-selling three-row crossover SUV segment. That puts it up against stalwarts like the Explorer, Toyota's (NYSE: TM) Highlander, Honda'sPilot, and General Motors' big Chevrolet Traverse.

Another view of Subaru's VIZIV-7 Concept on the company's stand at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. Image source: Fuji Heavy Industries.

It's no surprise that Subaru would want to enter this segment. If Subaru didn't quite invent the idea of a "crossover" SUV, it has certainly been at the forefront of the crossover market since it introduced its first Outback over 20 years ago. While it has never built anything quite this big, a serious attempt at a three-row SUV was the obvious next step for the brand.

  • What it'll have going for it: Subaru's exceptionally high brand loyalty and reputation for safe all-weather capability.
  • What it'll be up against: Vehicles like the Explorer and Highlander are huge-selling products with their own avid followings and strong reputations.
  • The upshot: Competition in this segment is fierce, but Subaru has a chance to carve out a significant niche.

When will we know more?

As I said, we'll probably have to wait a year or so to see the production version and learn more about its pricing and features. But it's a good bet it'll look a lot like this, and it's also a good bet that its pricing and feature set will be competitive with big-selling rivals like the Highlander and Explorer.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.