Always hankered for a Citroen? The Subaru SVX is the closest thing we’ve gotten to one these past few decades. I find the resemblance to the XM more than coincidental. Which is a bit odd (or not) considering that the XM beat the SVX to the market by a few years (1989). And the XM was styled by Bertone, while arch-rival Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital design did the SVX. A case of great minds thinking alike? Or just the styling cliches de jour? Given the Subaru’s “aircraft-inspired glass-to-glass canopy” with the very unusual windows within windows, the SVX was actually more “Citroen” then the real thing. No wonder it’s such a curious oddity today.
The SVX’s engine was a further development of the boxer six that first showed up in the XT6 a few years earlier. Now it sported DOHC heads and 3.3 liters, but its 230 hp weren’t exactly earth shattering, even for the times (and price). And due to its struggle with weight (3600 lbs), performance was more garde than avant. Zero to sixty came in 7.3 seconds; the quarter mile in 15.4/92 mph. Obviously, the SVX wasn’t going to offer the performance to bucks ratio of a Mustang GT.
Subaru’s manual transmission wasn’t up to the H6’s twist, so it was automatic only. The word on the street is that the automatic is overstressed too, and very fragile. Buyer beware! And although conceived of as an AWD all-the-time coupe, Subaru sold some FWD versions during ’94-’95 in an effort to keep the price down. It was still too steep, and the market for cars like this was just melting away during the nineties.
It’s said that Subaru lost some $3k per SVX sold, or a total of $75 million. But a major part of its existence was to be a halo car, and in that respect, those numbers aren’t exactly terrible. And how much is Subaru making on the BRZ? No one will ever accuse it of being the Japanese Citroen.
CC: Subaru XT – Forward To The Future in 1985
CC: Subaru SVX – A Price Point Too Far
I’ve seen this model around. The windows are an eyesore and seem like they’d be annoying and restrictive to live with.
Are there any advantages to their design?
They force you to use the door to get in and out 🙂
ha ha ha – good 1 – thanks
Larger side glass. The way it smoothly flows from the windshield and roof does look pretty cool IMO.
Supposedly, you were able to drive in the rain with the windows dry and not get wet. You could also roll the window down without highway noise.
Strangely, my Buick LeSabre doesn’t have road noise from the windows, and looks a lot more conventional.
The window of the LeSabre was designed in an aerodynamic fetish decade and I’m sure they thought of it. And ’90s LeSabre is still driven with windows down commonly enough.
That’s usually because of the habits of the average 20-year-old-LeSabre driver necessitate the opening of the windows just a crack to allow the by-products to escape 😛
(No offense intended to anyone here who owns a 20-year-old LeSabre, )
H-Body siblings have the same design, also those V6 C-Body models.
That’s one more reason not to choose velure.
It’s alright. When I bought mine, it had the cigarette smell.
Or as I call it, the smell of Old Buick.
I know the windows are slightly curved, but they accomplish what the SVX windows do, and look a little more “normal”.
I misread your comment, and tried to imagine a 20-year-old driving a LeSabre.
Probably the same smell can be called New Yorker smell too ( maybe Fifth Ave edition )
And I was the one 20yo driving an older LeSabre. When parked outside an office, there was a person asking why his mom came for a visit to his colleagues.
Former owner of 1996 SVX… which I still dearly miss.
It’s true, the windows wouldn’t let in rain. Or wind. Sounds cool, right? Well, not when the a/c conks out in July and it takes a month for the dealer to get a new part from Japan!
The frames look like they would impede sight lines, but actually they didn’t. Great visibility except for the tall trunk.
I used to see a few of these back in the day. My very suburban hometown was a popular cut-through for people going between Boston and another, more urban town further south. I used to see a lot of early-90s Japanese sports and luxury cars that were popular with the tuner crowd, and every once in a while I’d spot an SVX. They always were driven by young-under 25ish males.
I’ll be honest when I say the car’s odd styling has grown on me a lot in recent years. BTW, I spot that good-condition Legend peeking out in front of the Subaru. Did you get any pictures of that?
What a fascinating time in Subaru history this car represents. I remember when these came out. It was that time when the car was coming out of the gate and I had to decide whether it was hip and cool and desirable, or if it was just odd. I went with the first, and turned out to be wrong.
I have not seen one of these in a long, long time.
Only ever seen one,in the late 90s I was bird watching in Lancashire and I saw one in a Subaru dealers.The windows looked a bit strange otherwise an attractive car that deserved to sell better
Niche cars don’t have much room for error and one of those errors is unexpected competition from a rival that nails the niche better than you do.
In the early 1990s this auto niche was underserved by an especially bad generation Corvette. The Miata showed up and sparked interest in this segment.
Subaru decided to do what they do so well – make highly original and creative cars. Instead of uninspiring boxes, they launched this space vehicle. It was hoped that it would be able to compete against the crappy Corvette and the smaller Miata.
But they didn’t expect Nissan to show up with a superb new generation Z. The ZX blew the doors off of its competition. It was better made than the Corvette, more practical, and had a legacy to exploit.
Consequently, Subaru didn’t have a chance. The SVX was just too weird to warrant the costs. The company wasn’t known for being one offering anything worth the stickers seen on the SVX. It had no legacy. So the niche that opened with the spark that Miata gave to the industry, got filled beautifully by the Nissan Z of the same era.
Today, Subaru has built themselves a reputation which would caused buyers to seriously consider a similar car today. That was not the case back during the early 1990s.
“ But they didn’t expect Nissan to show up with a superb new generation Z. ”
Your theory regarding the Nissan is ludicrous. This generation Fairlady/ZX was already on sale prior to the debut of the concept version of the SVX that was introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show.
“So the niche that opened with the spark that Miata gave to the industry, got filled beautifully by the Nissan Z of the same era.”
You are aware a 1990 Miata was roughly half the price of the same year ZX, correct? There are no parallels between the two other than being two-seaters.
I think VanillaDude’s point is the SVX would have been well along the development process when the Z32 was launched. Obviously there was some ability to react and really apart from the excess weight the SVX wasn’t bad, similar power to the n/a 300ZX.
The car that was “all that” at the time was RX-7. Unconventional, but at the same time nailed down. In a few years they will be the 69 Charger of the early 90’s. Also the dodge stealth/ 6000 GT was ready to eat the SVX’s lunch.
I don’t think anybody looking at buying a Corvette would seriously consider cross shopping for a Subaru. The Corvette is a classic sports car. The SVX was a “sport coupe”, more of a Toyota Celica or Ford Probe competitor. While the C4 was not the best Corvette generation ever, it still outclassed the Subaru in almost every way. The Nissan Z was not a serious competitor to the Corvette either. The twin turbo 300Z could give the Corvette a run for the money, but it was only sold for a few years. The 350Z and 370Z became sport coupes and was not in the same league as the C5, 6 and especially the C7. I would consider the Acura NSX to be more serious competition to the Corvette since it could come very close to the Corvette in price and speed, while beating it in handling.
The SVX was far too expensive to be competition for a car like the Celica or Probe though, even the All-Trac/GT versions, but it’s true that it wouldn’t tempt the prospective buyer of a ‘Vette or a TT 300ZX. I’d line up the SVX as competition for the likes of the Lexus SC300, Audi Coupe Quattro, VW Corrado, or non-turbo versions of the Z, Stealth/3000GT, Supra.
Wow, there were so many more sports/GT coupes back then!!!
Sweet looking car. I’ve always liked the Subaru SVX. When it was introduced, I remember saying “finally! A contemporary Subaru! A sporty Subaru!” I would’ve bought one had I had my driver’s license at the time. 🙂 I was disappointed when Subaru discontinued the SVX. The only thing I would’ve done without was the automatic shoulder harness for the seat belt. 🙁
I was surprised to see the mechanised seat belt, but it took them until the 2nd year of production to put a driver’s airbag in (despite the appearance of the steering wheel), and a further year for the passenger airbag.
I dare say that must be revealing of Subaru’s engineering resources at the time, it would seem that they just couldn’t get ithe airbag/s ready in time and did not want to delay the launch of the car any further.
I thought these were so exotic at the time. Looking back it’s really only the side glass that makes it seem that way.
Suburu printed up beautiful brochures – booklets actually – dedicated to the SVX. The glossy pages extolled all the technical wonders of the car and included detailed photos of the engine and see-through drawings of the AWD drivetrain. But aside from the kooky windows, the styling seemed uninspired and the instrument panel in particular looked downright bland. In my opinion, the second-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX Turbo AWD, (1995-1999), offered about the same performance plus better styling for much less money.
Eclipse looks nice alone, but.
The last time I saw this car is from movie the Fault in Our Stars, and I have the impression from the egg thrown scene.
In the last semester there was a guy copied my exam and we both got zero in grade for that. He is the only person I know driving a Mitsubishi eclipse and that’s the only one in the university.
In Gaylord, Mi the only Eclipse in a remote ’90s like countryside small town is driven by a young guy with big muffler and spoiler fitted in car and music is loudly heard from that car for most of the time.
I think that’s the problem for Esclipe.
I only like the second-generation Eclipse, offered from 1995-1999. I could do without the big hoop spoiler on the GSX version, but aside from that, they were nice looking cars. Mitsubishi had a lock on the 2-door compact market back then. Kids loved to dress them up with those ridiculous fart-can mufflers and wacky wheels, and I’ve seen more serious owners do reasonably well with them on the track. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi did not leave well-enough alone. The last generation Eclipse – the one Mitsubishi recently discontinued – jumped the shark. Luckily, they introduced the EVO, so they maintained their reputation for performance.
The last generation is quite a disappoint. That guy having the exam issue with me raced against a ’00 V6 Camaro, and he got the confident for getting even with it. So he raced against my ’95 LeSabre and his confident went away from getting even with that.
The kid in the small town has the second generation. In northern Michigan a common kid is not spoiled enough to have a $10,000 car yet ( before inflation catches up though. Or maybe because an average $10,000 in big city is too much for small town ) I think that generation’s affordability gets more younger owners and it doesn’t help with the image. The turbo little AWD sedan is better occupied by Subaru already and Mitsubishi isn’t really doing well enough. Mitsubishi is declining too fast these years.
I’ve always considered these to be more of an “update” of the Citroen SM.
Did Porsche offer an AWD 911 before these appeared on the market? Another car that comes to mind is the original Mazda Cosmo. I could own one of these, I suppose, but would need/want another NON Subaru as a “back-up” car.
This Porsche 959 (introduced in 1986) was AWD, but it was what they call a “supercar”. The first Porsche 911 with optional AWD was the 964-series (1989-1994).
I think the last time and only time I saw this is from movie Big. I was probably 12 or 13 back then and that’s the first time I saw a movie late at 4:00am secretly in my room. I saw the movie later and I had easier time recognizing it.
Tom Hanks was pretty young back then.
Back in ’85/’86 the Vortex or Alcyone (depending upon which country) was pure ‘sex on wheels’!!
I had a silver blue AWD one and a white FWD one at different times back then
It was a magnificent piece of engineering with automatic air suspension and an exotic digital cockpit straight out of a jet fighter
The co-efficient of drag was 0.29
Performance was pretty darned good too
The automotive essence of a quickened heart beat actually every time you sat in it
And they were very pricey when new
It certainly turned heads
Ah, the XT. Also avant-garde for the times, but in a less obvious way. Really loved them when new and I still smile when I see one…which hasn’t happened in a long, long time.
The girl who was my sitter when my parents went out, back when I was 7 or 8 years old, had a white XT. Thought it was the coolest car ever!
Funny .. people would come up and comment on the rear end styling ..how much they liked it ..thought it was hilarious when a burly rough south island kiwi cop came up behind the blue XT one very hot summer day in Pleasant Point South Canterbury when i had parked up for an ice cream ..and he got out ..and i thought he was going to arrest me for doing 190kmph down the long straight road from Porters Pass earlier in the day ..but it turned out he just wanted to say “I love the arse-end on these things!!” ..and off he went again ..lol
It’s one of the very few Japanese cars with class and good original styling combined without compromise. ( Lexus LS has class, but it stayed W126 like for quite a while. Toyota Supra has good design but coming to class… Honda Prelude is a good but still a compromise almost like the last generation Eldorado, it looks nice alone but lacks distinctiveness ) Well, maybe I’m just extra picky though.
And Subaru SVT is a good everyday car at the same time rather than being in the category of Honda NSX, Toyota 2000GT ( beyond reach for everyday use ) Usually automakers from anywhere except US or Western Europe are not good at ( or unwilling ) making a leisure coupe not aiming at the performance, but this model stands out and it’s thankfully made in large numbers to have influence ( unlike Zis 101S coupe or IAME Justicialista grand turismo such specialties ) However I don’t think many automakers are willing to make a car like that at a reasonablely expensive range ( we get 50% from CTS coupe and Accord coupe though ) nowadays except those outrageously expensive range ( newer Mercedes S-Class coupe or so )
That all-glass canopy with the same style door glass was something of a fashion at the time. Oddly I spotted this similar contemporary, but much smaller, Toyota Sera yesterday in Rhyl (actually I only noticed when I got home, I was photographing the decorative work on the pub behind it).
Didn’t the Sera actually have gullwing doors though? Or am I thinking of something else?
We didn’t get them in the States, unfortunately.
I love these cars, which I suppose is not surprising since I love Citroens as well.
I have also thought about the SVX’s similarity to some Bertone designs, particularly this obscure Alfa Romeo Bertone concept (called the Delfino) from the early 1980s:
That’s a great find, Eric. Never seen that one before.
There was also Bertone’s Volvo Tundra concept. Eventually it evolved into the Citroën BX.
Good call Eric. Italdesign had the Lotus Etna…
And Bertone also had the Chevrolet Ramarro.
How about the 1986 Aston Martin V8 Zagato
Great shape. You ever seen one over here?
Ahh, biggest similarity yet, even in the door glass.
Didn’t they actually make a small run of those? Or was it purely concept? That *had* to be some of the clearest styling inspiration; the canopy is close to identical.
I shot one of these for the cohort it will be there somewhere ironicly it shared a driveway with a Citroen Xantia.
In 1994 or so, I bought a used 1992 Subaru SVX LS-L, the top of the line AWD model, with 17,000 miles or so, as I recall, and drove it for another 90,000 or so miles. I loved that car. Yes, one could lower the small inset window at any speed in the rain and no water would enter the cabin. The SVX was a superb GT, not a sports car. The seats were so comfortable. The transmission was fragile, the rear wheel bearings didn’t last long enough, and the headlights and rear tail lights allowed water to enter their housings. I fitted Koni shocks and sticky tires, but those changes didn’t make the SVX a sports car. Nonetheless, of the several dozen cars that I have owned, the SVX is my favorite, better than my BMW 2002ti, Datsun 240Z, and 2007 Subaru Legacy spec.B. If Subaru were to offer a modern SVX, I’d be first in line to buy one.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the rear wheel bearings…
Used to own a 1996 SVX. The only trouble I had with it was the a/c and brake rotors (heavy car!). The transmission was fine; I gather they were sorted out by the end of the run. I believe a transmission cooler will keep earlier models in good health.
The car made no sense in America. It doesn’t do anything especially well under 70 mph (except plow through snow)… but at high speeds it’s a gem. Stable, quiet, well-geared. I miss it dearly.
“ I believe a transmission cooler will keep earlier models in good health.”
Surprisingly, they all came with (a poorly designed) one anyway. Lots of small changes for transmission parts were made during the production run in an attempt to cure its Achilles Heel.
Brake rotor has bigger chance of showing problems on bigger heavier cars. The rotors get wrapped in my Lincoln Mark VIII in weeks. ( when driving often in Detroit with busy traffic. It kept fine in countryside ) and I can’t really do much ( maybe except for big bucks slotted rotors )
In the same category, there are more similar cars from GM and Ford so it makes sense. But the market was declining in the ’90s anyway.
Does that sticker before the shifter say what I think it says? o_O
Incorrect spelling of Kant. The German philosopher, 1724-1804.
I see a sticker that leads me to believe this car was/is owned by a woman. (I heart my c..t)
Transmission problems still plague Subaru here in Australia.
Local dealers seem unable to fix them and the electronic gearbox makes some Renault auto boxes seem very reliable.
Some people just sell the cars rather than pay $3000-$4000 to have a car that works in a basic fashion, others pay the money and mostly it is never fixed .
I wouldn’t drive one but it does interest me what people experience with these cars.
Even a better Limp Mode would have been an idea?
If limp is so good it’s not so limp anymore and people will drive them to make limp enough.
It happens to check engine light so often
CC effect…just saw one of these in traffic within the last week or so in central VA!
I always thought these cars were ugly personally. I worked at a oil change place in the mid 90s and one used to come in regularly to get its oil changed and I just remember how weird….specially those windows…..looked to me at the time.
Have to say IMO it’s still a fugly car..
One of these has appeared a block over from me. It appeared recently on Ontario plates. Now it’s sporting Swedish tags (I’m in Denmark) so something’s still odd about it.
It looks better than I remembered them.
There are a good number of these that people have converted to manual by dropping in a WRX transmission. They’re a bit pricey for a) a used Subaru, and b) any 10-15 year-old car, but for the enthusiast it solves the biggest problem these cars had at a price that they couldn’t match by doing the conversion themselves.
I really liked these at the time, and still do. Sure, the styling has some oddities, but as a whole it really works, and manages to look both muscular and lithe. Wish they’d come up with a slightly more interesting nose/grille design though (a problem shared with the XM).