The Subaru SVX was an ambitious project. It was the Japanese automaker’s attempt to move upmarket from the quirky all-wheel-drive wagons, hatchbacks, and Brat pickup trucks for which the brand had become famous. Launched in 1992, the SVX featured unique styling and an intriguing mix of luxury and performance. Intended as a grand tourer, it was everything you’d expect in a GT meant to take on Lexus and Acura. However, it was also built around Subaru’s strengths, including AWD and a flat-six engine.
Today, the SVX is a rare and unusual car most people have never heard of, let alone seen. It’s also a modern classic — a reminder of when the automaker swung for the fences with an upmarket car still distinctly Subaru.
A short history of the Subaru SVX
On paper, the SVX looked like a winner. Designed by ItalDesign founder Giorgetto Giugiaro, the car marked a dramatic change for Subaru while staying true to its roots, with a 3.3-liter flat-six engine and AWD. Introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show, it was intended to take on luxury coupes like the Acura Legend and the upcoming Lexus SC.
But the Subaru SVX faced issues after it launched for the 1992 model year. Problems included overheating transmissions, warping brake discs, and prematurely failing wheel bearings, HotCars reports. Yet it was still a fantastic car to drive. Visibility was excellent thanks to a glass canopy inspired by the F-16 fighter jet. It was also comfortable, and the AWD made it a capable all-weather cruiser.
Subaru SVX specs and performance
The SVX boasted Subaru’s all-wheel drive and a new 3.3-liter flat-six-cylinder engine producing 230 hp. Performance was decent, with a 0-to-60-mph split of just over seven seconds and a top speed of 143 mph. Though envisioning a flat-six might have you dreaming of a cheap Porsche 911 alternative, the experience was closer to the Porsche 928 and SVX rivals like the Lexus SC and Acura Legend.
Subaru also made a few front-wheel-drive models, offered in a lower trim level costing about $5,300 less than the regular SVX. However, the new models proved unpopular and were offered only in 1994 and 1995. Subaru hoped SVX sales would top 20,000 units annually but sold only about 14,000 stateside from 1992 to 1997.
Subaru offers a modern equivalent to its defunct touring coupe
Subaru pulled the plug on the SVX after the 1997 model year, choosing to stick to its bread-and-butter AWD sedans and wagons. In 1993, the company introduced a smaller car to compete with the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Mazda Protégé. Known as the Impreza, the smaller Subaru was slightly larger than its competitors and offered all-wheel drive. It quickly became one of Subaru’s most popular cars, reinforcing that the company should stick to what it does best, develop quirky, all-wheel drive performance cars based on its rally heritage.
In 2012, Subaru returned to the coupe market with the BRZ. It’s not a true successor to the SVX. Where the SVX was a luxury AWD GT, the BRZ is a lightweight rear-wheel-drive sports car. But it shares many of the SVX’s attributes, including a boxer engine, a low center of gravity, and a quirky personality in a fun-to-drive package.