Here we go again: another Japanese
sporty car that might be coveted some distant day as an interesting,
short-lived rarity. Oh, you can still buy a new Subaru SVX in 1997,
but probably not in '98. With sales always far below expectations--and
with Outback wagons now beating Subaru's path back to profits--the
SVX is looking seriously terminal.
We call it "sporty," not a sports car, which has ever
been the consensus. The SVX is a grand tourer, and quite a good
one. Road & Track even termed it a "poor man's Carrera
4." While comparisons with a Porsche might be stretching things,
the SVX was unquestionably a big jump for Subaru, which had spent
some 20 years in the U.S. pitching low-priced quirkiness to the
Birkenstocks crowd. "Inexpensive, and built to stay that way,"
remember? Yet apart from Audi and some brief attempts elsewhere,
only Subaru bothered to offer all-wheel drive, and at prices not
far above those of its front-drive cars. No wonder that much of
its U.S. business came from practical AWD wagons that earned a loyal
following in foul-weather areas, where people really appreciate
But niche products never mean big money and Subaru--or rather its
parent, Fuji Heavy Industries--envied the huge U.S. success of rival
Japanese giants Toyota and Honda. Hence, the American-built Legacy
of 1990, a new home for Subaru's AWD, but as mass-market bland as
any Camry or Accord. By the time the SVX arrived, Subaru was touting
itself as "What to Drive," and fast abandoning its truly
weird XT coupes and three-cylinder Justy.
Why, then, the SVX--by far the costliest Subaru ever? One suspects
corporate ego, or maybe the heavy hand of marketing. After all,
what better than a swank, high-tech GT to eradicate a "cheap
In one sense, this strategy succeeded. Car and Driver, for one,
welcomed the SVX as "a repli-jet [that] strafes the luxocoupe
market and changes forever our understanding of the word 'Subaru.'"
Then again, AutoWeek felt a $25,000 Subie to be "a leap of
faith" in the sagging auto market of 1992.
However improbable for a Subaru, the SVX worked very well despite
being almost totally new. Its only link to the past was a water-cooled
flat-six engine, and even that was greatly modified from its first
XT6 incarnation. Displacement went from 2.7 to 3.3 liters, overhead
cams from single to dual, and valves per cylinder from two to four.
Other changes included a new resonance induction system, lofty 10:1
compression, and more intelligent electronics. The result: a stout
230 horses, 224 pound-feet of torque, and smooth, eager revving
to a 6500-rpm redline.
But that was too much muscle for any manual gearbox on Subaru's
shelf, so the SVX came only with a four-speed automatic, whose own
computer was tied to the engine's. This was smart enough to chose
normal or "Power" shift schedules depending on your right-foot
aggression. It could also start you off in second gear (by pushing
a button) to minimize wheelspin on slippery stuff. Incidentally
the engine brain controlled each cylinder bank independently and
could momentarily shut one side down to lessen "shift shock"
in hard acceleration.