1991 Subaru SVX
1991 Subaru SVX; photo courtesy Subaru Canada. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jeff Burry

Photo Gallery:
Subaru SVX

In 1992 Subaru introduced a new vehicle that surprised both the public and industry watchers alike. The Subaru SVX, with its dramatic styling, and wide, low stance, represented a plucky attempt by the company to enter the exclusive performance/luxury market.

Why the surprise? Other than the wedge-shaped XT coupe, Subaru had been known pretty much for its utilitarian sedans, rugged wagons and budget sub-compacts – all somewhat deficient in style and refinement. Looking to change their image, Subaru did what many manufacturers have done when they want to inject some pizzazz into their line-up: they went to Italy. Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign, designer of Lamborghinis, BMWs and the futuristic DeLorean DMC, added the sleek SVX to his list of accomplishments.

1991 Subaru SVX
1991 Subaru SVX; photo courtesy Subaru Canada. Click image to enlarge.

Those who remember the car likely do so for its signature “window in window” design feature. Take a look at the picture and you’ll see that the driver and passenger side glass had a small “window” located within it – a kind of mini-window. This design feature was created with the goal of good aerodynamics, unobstructed visibility and distinctive appearance. It was certainly a talking point.

The car also featured luxurious suede-look dashboard upholstery, leather seating, and a full range of power amenities.

The SVX was produced between 1992 and 1997, with a total of approximately 25,000 vehicles sold worldwide. Canada saw some 1,000 cars, while the U.S. received about ten times that amount. The retail price, between $28,000 and $35,000, was not inexpensive even by today’s standards, and priced well above other Subaru models on the market.

Subaru SVX
Subaru SVX
Subaru SVX.

The sole powerplant offered was a 230-horsepower, horizontally-opposed 3.3-litre six-cylinder, quad-cam engine. This 24-valve, “flat-six” was powerful and advanced for the early 90’s, and was matched to a full-time all-wheel drive system. All-wheel drive was available throughout the SVX’s production run.

In 1994, a front-wheel drive system was offered on the new lower-priced L and LS versions of the SVX. For 1995, only the L model offered the front-wheel drive system.

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h was a factory claimed 7.6 seconds, but contemporary reviewers typically couldn’t match that. Times in the eight and nine-second range were usually achieved, with the laudably smooth engine generating its 230 hp at 5,400 rpm. Nonetheless, for its considerable weight — nearly 3600 pounds — acceleration was generally satisfying.

The top speed of the 1992/1993 SVX is 248 km/h, while the later models could only attain speeds of 230 km/h thanks to the addition of an electronic governor. Gas mileage was respectable given the weight of the car. The SVX averaged in the city 13.2 L/100 km while highway driving netted 9.4 L/100 km.

1994 Subaru SVX
1994 Subaru SVX; photo courtesy Subaru Canada. Click image to enlarge.

Subaru claimed four-passenger seating, but the rear seats lacked sufficient head room for even average-sized adults. Even if one were to place taller adults in the front, leg room was less than adequate. Accessing parking machines or toll booths also presented challenges with the “window in window” design feature somewhat trumping practicality.

Vehicle owners experienced mechanical issues relating to transmission failure (transmissions in the earlier SVXs were prone to overheating), warped rotors and wheel bearing failure. The substantial weight of the vehicle may have partially been responsible for this, but enthusiasts of the car suggest that these problems were more likely due to Subaru engineering errors that were resolved from one model year to the next: with this in mind, the newer the SVX, the better.

While all SVXs came with automatic transmissions, many owners today have retrofitted the SVX with manual transmissions. Almost all newer Subaru manual transmissions can be adapted to the SVX, with the most popular ones being five and six speeds from the Impreza WRX and STi models.

1991 Subaru SVX
1991 Subaru SVX; photo courtesy Subaru Canada. Click image to enlarge.

It’s interesting that Subaru is said to have lost $3,000 on every SVX sold, for a total loss of $75 million! Apparently it was considered an acceptable price to pay for Subaru to be considered as a contender in the performance/luxury car class. Unfortunately for Subaru, the early to mid-nineties was also the era of the redesigned Nissan 300ZX Turbo, and a succession of very hot Toyota Supras that proved very competitive.

While a commercial failure, the Subaru SVX did stake a claim for Subaru in the performance segment. Later the company would develop world champion rally cars and the extreme WRX STi. They reached for luxury again with the B9 Tribeca but may be retreating from that lofty goal once more.

As they say on the showroom floor, the Subaru SVX has lots of “eyeball” and “curb appeal.” A nicely restored example can still turn heads, and most people can’t believe it is a Subaru, just as they couldn’t when the car was introduced.

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