Subaru SVX
Subaru SVX; photo courtesy of SubaruSVX.com. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

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You know a car has a cult following when owners start making up jokes about it. Take this one, found on SubaruSVX.com: “How is driving a Subaru SVX like being in the Bermuda Triangle? If you’re in either of them long enough, you’re going to lose your bearings.”

Of course, it’s only funny if you know that the relatively rare Subaru SVX coupe of 1992-1997 was prone to wheel bearing failures due to water getting past bad seals. Or, perhaps it’s not funny at all. Yeah, door number two for sure, Bob.

Bad humour aside, the SVX was an interesting car. It picked up on the coupe theme from the XT of the 1980s, and also carried on as the sole Subaru model of the time with a six-cylinder engine. And with 230 horsepower, it was the most powerful Subaru model of the 1990s, too.

It was the last of the oddball Subarus, too. It arrived just a couple of years before the boxy Loyale and tiny Justy disappeared, and departed just after the company launched the ultra-successful, but decidedly mainstream Outback. In a sense, the SVX was Subaru’s last example of the oddball sort of car with which Subaru had made its name in the 1980s.

Subaru SVX interior
Subaru SVX interior; photo courtesy of SubaruSVX.com.

Check out the weird picture-in-picture side windows, which supposedly helped reduced turbulence when driving at speed with the windows down. The interior is different too, with radio controls that could be hidden away behind a hinged panel, and the heater and air conditioning controls eschewed traditional knobs and dials for a bunch of buttons.

Then, there was the flat-six engine, an engine design the SVX shared with the Porsche 911 and something Subaru was only too eager to remind us of. Of course, all Canadian SVX’s had all-wheel drive, something that wouldn’t become standard across the rest of Subaru’s lineup until 1997, and an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission was the only choice in Canada.

Where safety is concerned, all SVXs got anti-lock brakes as standard equipment. A driver’s airbag was standard to 1994, and dual front airbags were standard from 1995. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash safety data on the SVX.

Subaru SVX
Subaru SVX; photo courtesy of www.subaruklub.hu.

Fuel consumption, according to Natural Resources Canada, ranges from 13.5 L/100 in the city and 8.6 L/100 km on the highway.

The SVX’s reliability history seems to be quite good in general. There are a couple of known issues: one is the automatic transmission, which is prone to overheating thanks to a design that doesn’t allow enough transmission fluid flow through the unit, and an inadequately-sized transmission fluid cooler. An upsized, aftermarket transmission fluid cooler would go a long way toward helping to prevent problems here and is an inexpensive upgrade.

Wheel bearings are a frequent source of headaches, too. As referenced above, poor seals allowed water to infiltrate the bearings and cause them to fail. Knowledgeable owners say replacements should be installed by a technician who knows these rare cars to prevent subsequent failures.

Subaru SVX flat-six engine
Subaru SVX flat-six engine; photo courtesy of www.autoholic.de.

For more information on trouble spots, we’d suggest scouring the forums at Subaru-SVX.net. SubaruSVX.com is a good spot, too, particularly the FAQ page. The site appears to have been abandoned several years ago, however, and many parts of it were never completed. Therefore, the Subaru-SVX.net forums might be a better bet for the ongoing conversation and knowledge sharing that it offers.

Only one recall was ever issued for the SVX, but it was minor and dealt with a vehicle classification label that wasn’t printed in both English and French.

Subaru SVX
Subaru SVX; photo courtesy of SubaruSVX.com

Given its age, a used SVX shouldn’t be too expensive. According to Canadian Red Book, a 1992 model is worth $3,700, while a 1997 carries a value of just under $9,500. In Ontario, there are just three SVX’s listed on Auto Trader, all of which are priced slightly higher than Red Book price, with average mileage for their age but in generally good condition.

According to SubaruSVX.com, only about 1,000 SVX’s were sold in Canada, making them a true rarity on our roads. If you can find one that’s priced right and has been maintained well, the SVX would be a good way to go if you’re into rare cars. If you do buy one, just promise you’ll spare us the cheesy jokes, okay?


Online resources

  • Subarusvx.com – An SVX fan-site with plenty of details about this rare car. Go here (http://www.subarusvx.com/links.html) for a list of SVX-related links. Click on the pictures page to see SVX photos, many of which appear to have been taken at an SVX owners meet.
  • Subaru-SVX.net – This is the first website listed at the links page referenced at SubaruSVX.com/links.html, but we thought it warranted its own listing here. There’s lots of information about technical stuff to be found here, including a forum section where you can ask tech questions and Subaru Master Tech Chris Debban will try to answer them. Also, check out the FAQ section, where you can find out how to turbo charge an SVX, or swap in a five-speed manual transmission (Canadian-market cars were automatic-only). There’s a technical Q&A here (http://www.subaru-svx.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=5)

  • Cars101.com/subaru_svx – another SVX fansite detailing U.S. specifications and year-by-year changes to the SVX.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000069; Units affected: 46,000 (including a similar recall applied to the Subaru Forester, Legacy and Impreza)

1996-1997: Certain vehicles do not comply with Regulation 6 – Statement of Compliance. Compliance label was not expressed in both official languages in regard to vehicle classification. Correction: No corrective action will be taken for existing vehicles. Correct compliance label will be affixed in current production vehicles.


Manufacturer’s Website

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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