In 1969, Subaru introduced a kei car named the Subaru R-2. It remained in production until 1972. The Subaru R-2 was in fact a completely redesigned version of the well-liked Subaru 360. However, the Subaru R-2 featured more polished looks with spacious interior. It shared its powertrain with the Subaru 360, i.e. EK33 air-cooled, 2-cylinder engine mounted at the rear. The rear-mounted engine was supposed to be the inspiration behind vehicle’s name. It was launched almost a year ahead of the launch of kei cars from other automakers such as Honda Life, Daihatsu Fellow Max and Suzuki Fronte. However, it appeared in the market just about the same time when second generation of Mitsubishi Minica was launched.
On the launch of Subaru R-2 on February 8, 1969, about 25,000 orders were taken by the company in a period of one month.
New Emissions standards regulations were passed by Japanese government in start of 1970s, which forced Subaru along with other automakers to use water-cooled, 2-stroke engine in vehicles. Following the new Japanese government legislations, Subaru upgraded its engine air-cooled engines to water-cooled, 2-stroke engines on October 7, 1971. The engine was named as EK34 series engine. The upgradation was done hurriedly and was further improved with the release of Subaru Rex in 1972. Subaru Rex was available both in 2- and 4-door versions. A faux grille was added on the front of the vehicle as a styling feature which was also a Subaru’s corporate mark standard on whole lot of new compact Subaru Leone.
Rear engine platform was preferred by Subaru for its vehicles to ensure spacious trunk as well as spacious interior for passengers. Contrary to Subaru’s rear engine platform, majority of the Japanese automakers started producing vehicles with front-engine, front-wheel drive platform with a view to minimize the noise from the engine. Seeing the rising popularity of the front-engined, front-wheel drive options, Subaru on February 16, 1970, introduced a hatchback body style.
Top of the line version of R-2 was launched on April 18, 1970 under R-2 SS name. It featured dual exhaust and enhanced compression ratio from 3.8 kg/m (37 Nm; 27 lb-ft) at 6,400 rpm to 7.5 kg/m (74 Nm; 54 lb-ft) at 7,000 rpm. October 5, saw the upmarket trim level known as R-2 GL. Compared to the front-engines, front-wheel drive competitors, the one major reason behind the decline of R-2 was its inappropriate handling features which were not as decisive as in front-engined, front-wheel drive cars.
The car was also featured in an anime ‘You’re Under Arrest’ in which it was driven by the animated fictional character as well as the main protagonist, Natsumi Tsukimoto.
In 2003, the Subaru R-2 was taken over by a successor vehicle named the Subaru R2.