Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
1997 Subaru SVX. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Mike Schlee

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1997 Subaru SVX

Few vehicles have been more bizarre, or sold more poorly, than the 1992–1997 Subaru SVX. Don’t get me wrong, I love this car and actually owned one briefly, but it was as polarizing as U.S. politics. Only 24,379 units were sold during its six-year run and by the final year, 1997, only 640 SVXs made it into customer hands in North America—a fairly sad number. Of the cars sold, it is anyone’s guess how many are still on the road worldwide, but I would be shocked if the number exceeded 10,000 vehicles. So, since this car could be rarer to get a drive in than a classic muscle car, I thought I would delight indulge bore waste-your-time with my account of a final drive behind the wheel of this unusual Subaru coupe.

Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
1997 Subaru SVX. Click image to enlarge

0 km – I crouch down to get into the SVX. There is no headroom in this spaceship. I need to put the front seat into a ‘gangsta lean’ to fit my large noggin. The headrest is as useless as a doggie door on a submarine. It is angled so far back I would be near a sleeping position to use it.

1 km – While at a red light, I want to adjust the steering wheel. Shocked that a car designed in 1992 has a telescopic wheel, I spend the next several seconds trying to decipher why the tilt and steering functions require three separate adjustment knobs. Pulling on the wrong lever, I realize one is a steering wheel quick release for easy exit. The steering wheel is now at a school bus–like angle.

2 km – The more I look around the interior, the more suede I see. This Subaru has more of it than a closet full of Uggs.

3 km – As I merge onto a four-lane road, I begin to realize just how low I am sitting in this car. Ah, the 1990s, when low and wide was still in fashion. The modern Civics, Impalas, and Camrys I pass all appear to by high-riding crossovers from where I’m seated.

4 km – Car’s check engine light turns on; I hope it’s not fatal.

Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
1997 Subaru SVX. Click image to enlarge

5 km – Stuck at another red light I have time to reflect some more on the SVX’s interior. It could very well be the nicest interior Subaru has every created, which is equal parts amazing and sad.

7 km – Just noticed there is an extra wiper control in the car. I look out back and, lo and behold, I have a rear window wiper. This is pretty rare on a non-hatchback coupe with a proper trunk. It is very JDM; Brian O’Conner would approve.

13 km – Finally on some open road and able to gain a bit of speed. As I approach an intersection, I begin pressing on the brake pedal and nothing happens. I press harder-harder-HARDER-HARDER-HARDER-OHDEARGODPLEASESTOP. I come to a complete stop inches from the car in front of me. No problem! I wasn’t worried… right… right???

36 km – Check engine light turns off.

39 km – I make it out of the city and onto some twisting roads. By turn one I realize the SVX does *not* turn. The front tires just scuff and scrape at the pavement hoping to change the directional path of this heavy Subaru. I will probably need a new set of front tires by the end of this drive.

39.5 km – By turn two I have learned that suspension travel is epic. I need to check to ensure the SVX wasn’t accidentally shipped with Fox off-road racing shocks installed.

Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
1997 Subaru SVX. Click image to enlarge

41 km – It reassures me to discover that Subaru hasn’t just been installing inferior radios lately; it is a longstanding tradition. I decide to pop in a CD, but am disheartened to discover this SVX has a trunk mounted 10-disc changer. Remember when we thought these things were a good idea, and were willing to pay a premium for them?

46 km – Check engine light is back on. Maybe I should pull over and check. That way, I can finally insert a CD into the changer.

46.1 km – Pulled over at the side of the road in the dark, I turn the car off and all the exterior lights go out; even though I left them on. I give them a quick flick on and off; nada. I turn the car on and off; again, nada. Confused, I start pressing random buttons on the dash. One marked ‘P’ suddenly brings the parking lights to life on the outside. Ah, so the parking lights need a separate button to operate when the car is turned off… even though there is a parking light position on the headlight switch… I see (or don’t, as the case may be. –Ed)

46.1 km – After checking that the engine is indeed still under the hood, the check engine light has not gone off. Oh well.

58 km – There is a “manual” button on the side of the automatic gear shifter. I decide to see what it is all about, but am quickly bummed to learn it is not a rudimentary manumatic setting, but rather a way to keep the transmission in second gear at takeoff instead of first. Because that is needed in an all-wheel-drive car when, exactly?

63 km – There is a loud bang from the center of the roof beside my head. Did I just lose my sunroof? Nope, it’s still there. To this day, I’m not sure what that random roof-bang was.

Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 1997 Subaru SVX motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
1997 Subaru SVX. Click image to enlarge

77 km – Check engine light turns off.

85 km – The trademark of the Subaru SVX was the window-in-a-window design. They were said to quell wind buffeting on the highway when all the windows are open. Since I am now on the highway, I put this to the test. Subaru is correct. It is barely breezy inside the cabin. It leads me to wonder what wind buffeting is like at 200 km/h. Thankfully, I was not foolish enough to perform that test on public roads.

94 km – I bump the steering column with my left leg, and it causes the windshield wipers to drop a few more inches and park off of the windshield. At first I think it is magic, but later learn I hit the winter mode switch for the wipers. In summer it rests the wipers down low, in winter they rest higher on the windshield so the defrosters can help melt ice off of them.

98 km – Before I end my trip I decide a quick stop for coffee is in order. I begin to negotiate the drive-through only to discover the window-in-a-window greatly impedes my ability to order, pay for, and accept my food. I need to crouch down in my seat and contort my body part way out of the car to perform any of these tasks.

100 km – Check Engine light is back on.




About Mike

Mike Schlee is the Social Editor at Autos.ca and autoTRADER.ca. He began his professional automotive writing career in 2011 and has always had a passion for all things automotive, working in the industry since 2000.