Subaru Rioma

Car of the Day #93: 1991 Subaru Rioma

Subaru Rioma
Subaru Rioma concept • via Subaru

Wouldn't it be great if you could get a sports car with an efficient bi-fuel engine, all-wheel-drive, and a targa top?


Subaru didn't think so, either—or at least the business case wasn't quite right for this one-off prototype. With a nose that was half Suzuki Cappuccino and half Ford Mustang Mach III, its styling sort of drops off and disappears near its tail.

With its own badges, one could almost wonder if Rioma was meant to be Subaru's version of Mazda's Amati…

Subaru Rioma • via Subaru

Combing its back catalogue, Subaru truly has had a wild history of concept cars, and no clear direction on styling.

Frankly, it hasn't mattered: Subaru's wayward approach to design cues is legendary, and does little to deter buyers.

Why? No idea. Maybe it's because of long model cycles, maybe the company's focus on engineering, or maybe that the people who care what their car looks like just prefer Subarus. 

Anyway, engineering types among us will appreciate that its turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer motor would run on methanol or gasoline. Safety? Airbags and four-point harnesses, making occupants invincibly ’90s…

What is it about the Rioma that left me so cold when I first wrote about it 10 years ago? Based on its spec sheet, it is an easy job to transform an old Impreza 2.5 RS coupé into a Rioma by grafting on a Del Sol's roof…

It may have made an interesting production car, but when I consider this space ship hitting the worldwide Subaru dealer network in 1991…it probably wouldn't have made it. 

Screenshot of Rioma press materials • via Subaru

All of the above was written before I found the official press video for the Rioma, period 1991 — replete with driving shots, engine noises, and the smoothest jazz. 

Now…I kind of get it? Seeing it move makes me realize its proportions are grown-up Suzuki X90, and I say that in the nicest possible way. Its outrageously red interior looks inspired under natural light, contrasting with the deep blue metallic paintwork.

Also: the budget for this? Astronomical. Helicopter tracking shots. Jazz soundtrack. A fucking concept car ripping along the coast with no traffic in sight — I share this as a reminder for the Rioma, yes, but also for a time when marketing could walk the line between panache and not saying a damn word during the entirety of a marketing film

This nearly eight minute featurette may have only ~161 views at the time of publishing, but these fleeting moments have turned a once-unremarkable concept car into a memorable one.

In its time, the Rioma deserved more. Now, I hope we're mature enough to appreciate it:


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Drew M., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam G., Sam L., Wiley H.