Why the Subaru SVX Is A Proper 90s Hero Car

Subaru coupes are nothing new, it turns out – and this one was the coolest of them all

Subaru SVX

So, Subaru’s going to make a BRZ STi, and that of course is A Good Thing. Because as cool a thing as the BRZ is, a little tweakery here and there never hurts. Especially if said tweakery adds a bit more power, something a few BRZ critics have been heard muttering that it desperately needs.

Perhaps then, the BRZ STi will become a spiritual successor to Subaru’s coolest coupe yet. For while you might not have associated Subaru with coupes before the BRZ came along, any Subaru fans in the house will be able to tell you that Subaru dabbled with two-doors through the ’80s and ’90s, before giving up to concentrate on its blossoming Impreza.


First up, there was the XT, or Alcyone XT as it was known in its home market. Imagine a third-gen Honda Prelude, but edgier, cooler, and available with a turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive. Deeply faddish, exceptionally quirky, and home to a ‘futuristic’ interior with a bizarre lopsided steering wheel, it’s one of Subaru’s coolest former models today – but what followed it was even better.

You see, the XT was replaced in 1992 by the SVX (again, known as the Alcyone SVX back in Japan). This, too, featured four-wheel drive, but where the XT had been powered by a 1.8-litre flat-four turbo with 136bhp, the SVX got a naturally-aspirated 3.3-litre flat-six with 24 valves and double overhead cams, that thumped out 227bhp - or the same as the Escort Cosworth. Even before the Impreza came along, then, Subaru was punching well above its weight.

Subaru SVX

But it wasn’t just the way it went that made the SVX so cool. The way it looked played a huge part, too. It was styled by legendary Italian design guru Giorgetto Giugiaro, who gave it a scowling front end, chunky, kicked-up rump, and plenty of de-rigeur horizontal slashes. But the SVX’s most notable feature was its panoramic windows, which stretched right the way around the car, the glass even covering up the pillars. As a result of the curvature, those signature additional frames were needed, to ensure that the window glass was flat enough to slide down into the bodywork. The intended effect was that of a fighter jet canopy. Whether it achieved that aim, we’ll leave you to decide, but one thing’s for sure: it stood out from the crowd by a mile.

Inside, too, the SVX was unusual. Not only was there a surfeit of light as a result of those huge windows, but also a swooping dashboard, upholstered in Alcantara, and a truck-load of kit, too.

Subaru SVX

So what was the SVX like to drive? Well, make no mistake – this was a grand tourer rather than a sports car. With its standard automatic transmission, soft suspension setup and nose-heavy handling, it wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box. That four-wheel-drive system took its weight up to a lardy 1.6 tonnes, too, which didn’t exactly help.

It wasn’t a car for hooning along a snappy B-road, then, this. But then again, it wasn’t designed to be. Rather, it was intended to be Subaru’s interpretation of the perfect grand tourer – capable, comfortable, sure-footed, a little left-field, and above all, fast. It was all of those things, and what’s more, it was deeply cool, too. The only problem was, nobody really seemed to get it at the time. The SVX barely scratched the surface of the public consciousness and sold slowly, and although Subaru persevered with it for five years, in 1997 the plug was pulled, and one of the most interesting cars of its time dropped out of production.

Subaru SVX

So it was a bit of a flop, and it didn’t handle, then? Pretty much. So why is it a hero of the ’90s? Well, there aren’t actually an awful lot of cars from that decade that stand out as being truly interesting and original. But this is one of them. It dared to be different; it tried something new, and it went about the business of being a muscular grand tourer in its own unique way. And while its ethos was about as far removed from its successor - the BRZ - as possible, it serves today as a reminder that Subaru’s heritage isn’t just about fast Imprezas.


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