Subaru Sherpa

Carpedia

Nov 25th, 2021

Subaru Sherpa

Kei cars have a huge history in Japan, but these small cars are also 'big' in the different countries where they're found, even in Australia. Here, we saw several interesting tiny models representing the philosophy that is all about keeping things small, simple, and affordable. Among them, there is a model called Subaru Sherpa.

Known as Subaru Rex in other parts of the world, this microcar was in production for a couple of decades. Two out of the Sherpa's three generations were released in Australia, including its iteration and successor, the Fiori and Vivio, respectively.

In Australia, "Subaru Rex" is a common nickname for the iconic high-performance Subaru Impreza WRX, that's why it carried the Sherpa nameplate.

The First Generation of Subaru Sherpa

The Subaru Sherpa debuted in 1980 in the Australian market, and as it was just mentioned, it came as a rebadged version of the more familiar Rex. While this was the first generation to carry the Sherpa name, it was the second generation of this car, bringing significant changes and upgrades.

Design

Compared to the original Rex, the new model came with lots of significant changes. First of all, it featured a completely different layout. Instead of a rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, it features a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. Certain versions were also available with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system.

Of course, the new styling was presented, but the first-generation Subaru Sherpa is way more interesting in terms of engineering and what's under the skin. 

This mainly refers to the suspension, which was independent on both ends of the car. At the front, the Sherpa featured an independent McPherson, with stabiliser bar and coil spring and gas-charged struts. The rear axle was equipped with an independent multi-link suspension. Such a setup was pretty progressive at the time, and it provided an equally impressive driving experience.

When it comes to brakes, the front wheels were equipped with discs, while the rear end featured drum brakes.

As a typical representative of the Kei class, the Sherpa features tiny dimensions. The car is 3195-mm long, while the wheelbase goes around 2255 mm. The car is 1395 millimetres wide and 1350 millimetres high, while the ground clearance is 180 mm.

Subaru Sherpa Dimensions

  • Wheelbase: 2255mm
  • Length: 3195mm
  • Height: 1350mm
  • Width: 1395mm
  • Ground Clearance: 180mm
  • Weight: 560kg
  • Turning circle: 9.6m

Engine

Another tiny thing about this car is the Subaru Sherpa engine. It features 665cc in capacity and comes with a single-barrel carburettor and just two cylinders. The max output goes around 27kW and 54 Nm of torque, enough to ensure a top speed of 125 km/h. 

This inline-two engine was coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission, and besides decent performance, it was also characterised by pretty good fuel economy. In a combined ride, this tiny car is good for about 5.5 L/100km. The fuel tank capacity is 32 litres.

Subaru Sherpa Engine Specs

  • Engine Capacity: 665cc
  • Number of Cylinders: 2
  • Fuel Type: Leaded Petrol
  • Maximum Torque: 54Nm
  • Maximum Power: 27kW
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual
  • Top Speed: 125 km/h
  • Fuel Consumption: 5.6L/100km (combined)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 32L

The Second Generation of Subaru Sherpa

After almost seven years of production, it was time for a redesign. The new model debuted in November 1986 and hit the Australian market as a 1987 model. 

Design Improvements

Compared to the previous generation, it brought various improvements, starting from bigger dimensions, upgraded suspension and a new, bigger engine. Another interesting novelty is that a commercial van version with three or five doors was added to the line-up.

The suspension remained independent on both ends but slightly upgraded. At the front, the new model featured an angled locating arm and new coil springs. The rear end was equipped with a combination of hydraulic dampers and a semi-trailing arm. The brakes remained the same, with discs at the front and drums on the rear axle.

As it was just mentioned, the second-generation Sherpa came with bigger dimensions. Even though the overall length and width remained the same, the new model was higher and featured a notably longer wheelbase. These increases in size provided notably more space for the passengers.

Subaru Sherpa Dimensions

  • Wheelbase: 2295mm
  • Length: 3195mm
  • Height: 1350mm
  • Width: 1395mm
  • Ground Clearance: 180mm
  • Weight: 560kg
  • Turning circle: 8.8m

Engine

Like its predecessor, the new Sherpa featured an engine mounted at the front and front-wheel drive, while the on-demand all-wheel drive was optional. However, a big change came under the hood as the new engine was introduced. 

Compared to the first generation, which used a two-cylinder unit, the new Sherpa came with a four-cylinder petrol engine under the hood. This was rather untypical for the Kei class at the time and was, in fact, the first four-cylinder Kei car since the Mazda Carol. Another significant change is that the new inline-four used unleaded petrol.

The engine was notably smoother, while the max output was also increased to 31 kW and 59 Nm of torque. As a result, the acceleration was better, and the top speed went over 130 km/h. On the other hand, the fuel economy remained largely the same. Just like its predecessor, the new engine was coupled with a four-speed manual transmission.

Subaru Sherpa Engine Specs

  • Engine Capacity: 758cc
  • Number of Cylinders: 4
  • Fuel Type: Regular Unleaded Petrol
  • Maximum Torque: 59Nm
  • Maximum Power: 31kW
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual
  • Top Speed: 130 km/h
  • Fuel Consumption: 5.6 L/100km
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 32L

1989 Facelift and Subaru Fiori

Three years after the launch, it was time for a facelift. The new version came with a couple of interesting updates, mostly in terms of styling. Some of the highlights were new headlights, new bonnet, and wheels.

More importantly, the Sherpa received some iterations and renamed as the Subaru Fiori in Australia. Along with the newly named kei car, the second generation remained in production until 1992, when it was replaced with a new model called Subaru Vivio. 

This model came with significant upgrades, starting from multi-point fuel injection, though the carburettor engine remained on certain markets for the van version.

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By Nebojsa Grmusa