It’s early 2002 and Subaru is launching the new Forester in Tokyo. I go to the press launch and meet one of the Subaru head designers, an affable bloke who’s been at the company for years.

Not sure everyone’s going to go for the look of the new car, I venture. My designer friend rolls his eyes. “People always complain about Subaru design,” he sighs.

Judging by the early reception for the new Legacy, that still holds true. The car’s only just broken cover in Japan but its looks have already been crucified in cyberspace. Yikes. 

Love it or hate it, one thing’s for sure. The roll call of visually challenging new Subarus (New Legacy, Impreza (second and third generations), Tribeca, R2 etc) seems depressingly and unnecessarily long. You just wonder what they’re playing at….

I can tell you that like all Japanese car companies, Subaru doesn’t lack for design talent. It’s with design management that it often hits the buffers.

Read the Autocar verdict on the new Subaru Legacy

Case in point, Subaru may be the only car company in the world to have appointed a crash test engineer (a man with no design experience) to head up its design department. You couldn’t make it up. That particular gentleman has now moved on but his Legacy, er, lives on. ‘

Oh, and if you want to know why the outgoing Legacy and Outback have lasted so well (the Outback in particular), it’s because the design was started at Subaru then finished off at Porsche Design in Austria, so I was told. Looking at that clean, high quality design, I can well believe it.

Subaru’s top management in Japan is not too worried, or even unaware of, the design angst its cars often cause around the globe, according to word.

Subaru, after all, is a small, engineering-led company and the focus instead is on developing those wurry flat engines and Symmetrical 4WD, the tech that still gives Subaru its edge.

Fine, but with its designs often giving people the jitters, you wonder how long this particular saga has to go on. It could and should be so different.