CC Capsule: 1996 Subaru Alcyone SVX S4 – What’s Happening, Duds?

We’ve covered the SVX (a.k.a Alcyone SVX in Japan) in several posts over the years, so I’ll try and look at this from a novel perspective – that of someone who never really saw these before, but also of someone who’s a sucker for a good underdog story.

Those of you who were alive in the United States in the ‘90s probably remember the SVX. It seems they chiefly colonized North America. I cannot recall seeing a single one in Western Europe at the time. Apparently, Subaru only sold about 2500 there, so that explains it. Just over 14,000 found homes in the US – well over half of the 24,000 units made at Subaru’s Gunma plant.

That leaves us with the fact that fewer than 6000 were sold in Japan, which is less than 1000 per annum on average. A positively dreadful score. Times were tough indeed, economic headwinds and all: the car’s production life was bookended by the bursting of the Japanese Bubble Economy in 1991 and the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Good thing (or a bit of a pity) that Subaru never actually pulled the trigger on the Alcyone-based Amadeus shooting brake they exhibited at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show.

Another huge issue facing the Alcyone SVX was JDM competition. It was absolute murder: Eunos Cosmo, Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra and Soarer, Mitsubishi 3000GT, Nissan 300ZX, Honda NSX… Not to mention all those German or Italian exotics. The well-heeled sports car connoisseur was spoilt for choice, in those days.

But the Supra, the RX-7 and the 300ZX did all right, comparatively speaking – both at home and abroad. Why was the Subaru such a dud? Not that the SVX was a total Deadly Sin – Subaru are still alive and well, as far as I know. But in terms of complete (and quite glorious) two-door bombs, the jumbo Sub belongs to a select group of overreaching coupés that were just one or two sizes too big for their own good.

Paul called the SVX “the Japanese Citroën” – I quite agree. I’d even narrow it down to the SM: a futuristic Citroën with a Maserati V6 that died well before its time (and before it was anything close to reliable.) The Alfa Romeo Montreal also comes to mind: though renowned for their 4- and 6-cyl. engines in reasonable cars, Alfa went nuts and made a V8-powered supercar that nobody asked for and which nobody bought. Closer to the SVX both time-wise and culturally, the Eunos Cosmo, with its bespoke (and thirsty!) triple Wankel, also coincided with Japan’s economic crisis and consequently did not really fulfill its potential, to say the least.

In Japan, the SVX’s 3.3 litre flat-6 engine was far too big – anything over 3000cc was seen as overkill and taxed to oblivion. So the price, which was hefty to start off with, became astronomical. That was also the case in foreign markets, especially compared to the rest of Subaru’s range. Despite this ample displacement, only 230hp were fed to all four wheels to motivate this relatively heavy four-seater.

So although it was no slouch, the SVX was outgunned as a sports car by half of the field and outclassed as a luxury coupé by the other half. Add the fact that only a fragile automatic transmission was on offer, and you have a disaster costing Subaru US$3000 per car.

The green Alcyone I found was a later model “S4” – with a restyled grille, which I quite like. Those were made in the car’s last two production years and also featured a beige interior.

I should have taken a photo of that, but unfortunately did not. Hindsight is a bitch. I lucked out and found another SVX that I checked out for an interior shot, which turned out disappointingly dark. Ah well…

This other SVX was a silver example with a rear spoiler, which I don’t really care for. As a rule, Giugiaro’s designs work much better without added fiberglass bits. It also has the same aftermarket wheels as the green car, which is not necessarily desirable, but still somewhat interesting.

But hey, how likely am I to run into a happy canopy jalopy like this one again? Actually, I’ve got a follow-up JDM find to write up on this very attribute – another car I literally discovered as I photographed it on the street. As for the SVX, if it were not for its lame slushbox, it would be appealing. As it stands though, I’m fine with enjoying them vicariously.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1992-97 Subaru SVX – A Tasty Surprise, by William Stopford

Curbside Classic: Subaru SVX – A Price Point Too Far, by Ian A. Williams

CC Capsule: 1992 Subaru SVX – The Japanese Citroen, by PN