By on March 2, 2010

Always hankered for a Citroen? The Subaru SVX is the closest thing we’ve gotten to one these past few decades. I find the resemblance to the XM more than coincidental. Which is a bit odd (or not) considering that the XM beat the SVX to the market by a few years (1989). And the XM was styled by Bertone, while arch-rival Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital design did the SVX. A case of great minds thinking alike? Or just the styling cliches de jour? Given the Subaru’s “aircraft-inspired glass-to-glass canopy” with the very unusual windows within windows, the SVX was actually more “Citroen” then the real thing. No wonder it’s such a curious oddity today.

A replacement for the almost-equally “progressive” XT Coupe (coming to CC soon), the SVX was an ambitious attempt to show the world that Subaru could do more than crank out funky little AWD wagons for Vermonters and Oregonians. It turned out to be too ambitious, especially at its price. The LSL version stickered at $28k in ’92 ($42k adjusted). That was problematic, given that it appeared in the middle of a recession. The SVX never lived up to Subaru’s sales expectations, and only some 14k of them were sold during its five years (’92-’97) on the US market.

The SVX’s engine was a further development of the boxer six that first showed up in the XT6 a few years earlier. Now it sported DOHC heads and 3.3 liters, but its 230 hp weren’t exactly earth shattering, even for the times (and price). And due to its struggle with weight (3600 lbs), performance was more garde than avant. Zero to sixty came in 7.3 seconds; the quarter mile in 15.4/92 mph. Obviously, the SVX wasn’t going to offer the performance to bucks ratio of a Mustang GT.

Subaru’s manual transmission wasn’t up to the H6’s twist, so it was automatic only. The word on the street is that the automatic is overstressed too, and very fragile. Buyer beware! And although conceived of as an AWD all-the-time coupe, Subaru sold some FWD versions during ’94-’95 in an effort to keep the price down. It was still too steep, and the market for cars like this was just melting away during the nineties.

It’s said that Subaru lost some $3k per SVX sold, or a total of $75 million. But a major part of its existence was to be a halo car, and in that respect, those numbers aren’t exactly terrible. The next Subaru coupe, the Toyabaru, will presumably hit the sporty coupe market closer to the sweet spot, with competitive prices. And the SVX will increasingly be seen as the unique oddity it always was, the Japanese Citroen.

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46 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1992 Subaru SVX...”

  • avatar

    As the owner of a ’99 Impreza RS, I have a thing for 90s Subarus, and this is the crown jewel. The documented tranny issues are always a worry, and no manual box has kept me away unfortunately.

  • avatar

    Yeah there’s a part of me that loves these: “The I love all the automotive freaks gene.” But what a tough restoration one of these would be, does anybody know what the aftermarket support is for these things? Are all the parts now JDM only or not related to the rest of Subies lineup?

  • avatar

    When these were on dealer lots, I really wanted one. Now looking at it 15 – 20 years later I ask myself “WTF was I thinking?”

  • avatar

    The bumper stickers suggest the uniqueness of the SVX probably matches the driver, or her opinions of herself at least.

    More cars should come in hunter/british greens. I know only a small percent of people go for actual colors for their car, but if you can offer snot green as an option you can offer a jade.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on hunter green or British racing green. I actually found myself lingering over an X-Type Jaguar just cause it was in British Racing Green. Are those things as big a POS as I’ve heard?

    • 0 avatar

      The X-Type Jag does not have a single redeeming feature adds insult to injury by being apocalyptically unreliable.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second the call for more cars to be offered in BRG. My grandfather had a Morgan that was resplendent in BRG. It was ultimately passed down to my father who had it restored and changed it to fly yellow. While it looked great in yellow, there was just something proper about the car in BRG.

      Anyhow, thanks for posting the SVX, Paul. I coveted these as a car crazed teen when they first came out. I went on a test drive in a beautiful, pearlescent white one with my old man when they first hit the dealer. It was a really nice car that we both liked, but he ultimately went with a more sporting, and manual equipped, RX-7. The Mazda was undoubtedly more fun, but there was something about the weirdness of the SVX that left a tiny part of me wishing he had bought the Subie.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this car has fewer unique bumper stickers that I’ve ever seen on a Subaru from the 1990’s. I think it may be a legal requirement, but this car seems to be short of the minimum of one per year. Still, it’s a beautiful car, I hope the 086a / 216a is at least half as interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, didn’t the SVX have Alcantara interior bits before that was common practice and Alcantara was even a brand name? I seem to recall the armrest and part of the dash was covered in the stuff. The interior pic seems to confirm that, but it’s hard to tell from the tiny pic on my cell….

    • 0 avatar

      Ford has a deep green color on offer now – Atlantis Green, that you can get on the Taurus and Fusion. It is a few shades darker than BRG however, and looks absolutely gorgeous when the light hits it right. Unfortunately, the rest of the time it sort of looks like a dusty black car.

      As far as the SVX goes, I love these things. I test drove one once (well, from the passenger seat, my friend was actually test driving it) and thought it was very cool with the funky styling. This ranks right up with the Isuzu Vehicross, VW Thing, and Delorean for cars I would buy if I had enough money to throw some away on a fun little money pit.

    • 0 avatar

      We got into her Subaru away we started rolling
      I said, “How much you pay for this?”
      Said, “Nothing man, it’s stolen”

  • avatar

    I love this car – my cousin had one, transmission issues and all – and I actually saw one on GA400 this morning. I noticed two things – like most other SVX’s that I see, it was not well maintained and also that this cars’ rear end pre-dates the BMW “Bangle Butt” by several years.

  • avatar

    To my eyes, this is the most beautiful car of all time. Nothing else comes close. The only thing stopping me from buying one is lack of manual gearbox.

    • 0 avatar

      These guys make a conversion to manual. Your going to lose your butt on it. But for you. (and only you) I would recommend it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen at least two of these on ebay with 5-speed conversions.

      I seriously looked at a very nice low-mileage (70K) 92 SVX this same color a couple of years ago. By the time I’d read up on it and found the right questions to ask about it, it had been sold. The drive was quite reminiscent of a V6 Accord – quite smooth, powerful, decent handling.

  • avatar

    I remember one of the TV comercials for these. I always wondered how many people went out and bought one becasue they bragged about it being a 120MPH Subaru and capable of driving off with no harm after jumping through barn doors.

  • avatar

    I always loved the Tuxedo two-tone paint jobs on these with black over pearl white.

  • avatar

    I love those taillights. Alas, I will never experience the joys of Subee ownership because I haven’t been in one yet that I fit in properly.

  • avatar

    I almost forgot about those horrible mouse track seat belts that were used back in the late 80’s, early 90’s.

  • avatar

    My favorite design as well (without the bumper schtickers). Too bad about the mechanicals.

  • avatar

    I only knew one person in my life that drove a subaru. during the early 90’s my x sisterinlaw had an 86. can’t remember the model name, but it looked a lot like a downsized late 80’s camry.
    That sucker did run good, had the horizontally opposed engine with a 5 speed.
    I tuned it up for her, the plugs and distributor were very easy to reach. The body felt like a tin can though, and it rusted away pretty quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      My uncle had an 85 Loyale Wagon with the manual shift 4X4. Purchased new, rusted very quickly in Ohio winters but kept running, rusty, patched up, but he easily put 300,000+ miles on her. He kept it for the 4×4, his job as maintenance supervisor for a factory meant he had to be there at 4am, come hell or high water. After his divorce he promptly went out and bought a Legacy GT wagon.

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen one of these in ages! Such a cool, off the wall design. I like the XT/XT6 as well, can’t wait for the write up on that oddball.

  • avatar

    I also happen to live in ohio, if a person wants to know about which vehicles rust just ask an ohioan. :o)

  • avatar

    Looking forward to the XT review, I drove an XT Turbo for awhile until one of the heads warped.

  • avatar

    Paul, didn’t this car also have (as did many of the japanese cars of the period) a RWS option?

    p.s. I still think it looks cool…esp the driver’s window and the wrap-around taillights.

  • avatar

    The transmission problems were fixed for the later years. My 96 LSi didn’t have the annoying seatbelt arrangement either so that must have been changed in the later models as well. As for restoring the beast (Which I plan on doing like a fool) from the sites I have been on there is very limited support in the US. The price was what killed it though. When I got mine 2 years ago it still had the price index from when it was new and it was just above 36K which is more than a fully loaded Legacy.

  • avatar

    I last had a close look at an SVX about a year ago, and the window and door seals were rather deteriorated – more rubber than usual is exposed to the elements with this window design. I would be surprised if anyone offers aftermarket seals for this car.

    Did anyone else here see the Ford Aurora station wagon displayed at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair? Very similar window arrangement – I’m sure photos can be found online.

  • avatar

    This is the only Subaru that I ever thought of as being cool. The styling is so odd, yet so beautiful. I thought it was great looking from the very first time I saw it. Given the low production figure and the 13 years since it was last produced, there can’t be very many left.

  • avatar

    The engine in that particular car will, one day, make its way into the the back of a VW Vanagon.

    I need the stripper that owns this car to give me call when her transmission gives out :)

  • avatar

    I used to have one of these–a 1996. I think the tranny issues were all sorted out by 1994. But my a/c conked out, and I had to wait a month for the part to arrive from Japan. In June. And let me tell you, those windows may look like fun, but they don’t let in a lot of air.

    It chomped through rotors.

    I never should have sold it. It wasn’t fast from 0-60, but it could haul from 60 to 100. Stable as a Mercedes in concrete. It got through winter snow like a polar bear.

    Gloriously weird. Sigh.

  • avatar

    My departed 1992 SVX LS-L is the only car of the two dozen or so that I’ve had that I want back and that group includes a 1973 Datsun 240Z, a 1969 BMW 2002ti, 1989 Ford Taurus SHO, and a 1973 Porsche 914 1.7. The SVX did suffer a failed transmission and wheel bearings, but the car is just so right in most respects, esthetically and functionally. The SVX was not a canyon carver, but an elegant GT, a superb high-speed cruiser and a peerless car in winter. If Subaru should offer an equivalent model again, I’d buy it.

  • avatar

    +1 on the equivalent car. Subaru now could likely built it solidly enough to make it worth the purchase.

  • avatar

    When this car came out,
    Styling = Win
    Weight = Fail
    AWD = Win
    Engine = Fail
    Manual Transmission ? = FALSE = FAIL
    Auto Transmission = TRUE = UBERFAIL
    Price = FAIL,FAIL,FAIL

    Like others, its appeal is in it oddballishness(tm)
    not, its execution.

    • 0 avatar

      I wanted to like these, but when they came out they had those disgusting motorized seat belts. And no hatch despite appearances. And I don’t think they had cloth seats, only leather.
      So I got a 90 Legend Coupe, cloth, manual, very nice, very reliable….

  • avatar

    I had that exact car: 1992 – check, green – check.

    It was a fantastic car. People always commented on the funky windows. It was comfortable to drive, easy to maintain, and smooth on the road. My example was acquired nearing 90,000 miles and I had it until 140,000 or so.

    The previous owner, whom I knew, had the transmission issue and it was replaced under warranty I think. A couple of CV boots and a timing belt were to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the power steering leak that was incurable by the shop. This was the only maintenance blemish that was probably more the shop than the car. I wanted to get a bigger car because while these cars have character in spades, they don’t have trunk space.

    I liked it.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a 92 SVX LSL new in spring of 93 and I still have it.  I had read an article in Automobile magazine about the SVX in early 92 sometime and was totally taken with its looks and with all the luxury items Subaru had put into the car. Not only does it have all wheel drive but it has things such as variable assist speed sensitive power steering, speed sensitive intermittent wipers, climate control, heated outside mirrors, projector style headlamps and even a door to cover up the stereo from prying outside eyes! (to name just a few).  Most of those things are commonplace on cars of today but back in 1992 this stuff was pretty cutting edge!   In spring of 93 they were offering deals on the 92’s still on the lot to make room for the 93’s coming in.  I test drove a 92, fell in love and got the $30K ride for $23K (expensive, but not too bad)  My car is in the teal green color that is pictured here.  I love this car and I won’t be selling it anytime soon. It has 95K on the odometer and runs strong. Yes, it has had the tranny replaced (warranty some years ago) and the front rotors tend to go quickly.  The rear wheel bearing problem seems to have been solved with the TSB’s that Subaru has put out on the subject over the years. I think the positives far outweigh the negatives on this car though.  I have gotten more looks and have been asked more questions about this car than I can recall .. quite the conversation starter. It isn’t the fastest thing out there off the line but it is smooth, handles well and I love how it really moves out in the 60-100+ mph range! It’s comfortable on long drives and I still get 27-28 mpg on the freeway with cruise control.  I’m in my mid 40’s now and I can honestly say out of all the cars I’ve owned since I was 16, this has been my absolute, overall favorite.  Hopefully Subaru’s next coupe will be a head turner as well!

  • avatar

    When I was researching these I discovered that there are several enthusiast sites online. They know the serial number after which the transmissions had coolers attached, and other such arcana.

    As far as rust, I saw several east coast SVX’s on ebay, and the rust problems – at least the visible ones – looked relatively minor.

    Whether I’d have liked owning that SVX or not, I’m certain that the experience would have been interesting.

  • avatar

    Bought a ’94 SVX in ’96 in Nashville, blue FWD/cloth, with 19K miles for $14K. Drove like an absolute dream on the interstate, and mileage wasn’t bad, either.

    Would still have it, were it not for its insatiable appetite for rear wheel bearings. Subie dealer replaced them under warranty with every oil change (you could hear them grind after 3k miles). Said it was a common problem w/SVX’s. Decided it would be too expensive out of warranty as the odo approached 36K, so I fixed it one last time and traded in.

    Other than that, the ownership experience was excellent. I did really enjoy that car!

  • avatar

    Just read this post by Paul, and yes I do see that resemblance! thanks, I have an ’89 XT and also see a the design ques of the 1977-82 Lancia Gamma coupe (by Pininfarina) in my car, check one out and you will see..

  • avatar

    I remember when this post first came out a few years ago. I wondered then why anyone who had ever not owned an SVX would advise against owning one. I can assurevprospectivevbuyers. Go ahead! You’ll love bit!
    In 2010 we had Just gotten back to Calif ( northern calif the real California) from 2 years in Ohio and SE Michigan. I I Bought a “tuxedo” black & white 93 within a few months of returning. Great car. No problems at all.
    In northern Calif we have no rust. Went to AZ State and obviously there’s no rust there either. But boy oh boy you upper Midwesterners do indeed face rust. It’s nuts. Cars that last 50-60 years in rust free America don’t last 15-20 in that upper Midwest salt laden ice and snow mess you call winter. Here we get a lot more snow (in the Sierra mountains anyway) than anyone in the Midwest gets… but salt is illegal on California roads…. so we just do not suffer rust. So: here’s my point:
    As long as it comes from a rust free part of America the Subaru SVX is a fine car. Yes you must find one with a new transmission. Yes… do that …. it’s because the mostly reliable 4EAT just gets beaten to death by many SVX drivers and yes… then eventually it does give up the ghost. The clutch discs just plain wear out. So what?
    So… …if you replace it once every 100k it’s part of ownership. And it doesn’t have to cost more than about $1,500 if you can find the right shop. me!….. ……everything else is fine. If you can find a good one from rust free America buy it! Stay away from one brought into a rust free area from the rust States. Avoid them. Then… things like rear wheel bearing will not need constant replacing. And now that radiators are cheap thanks to 1-800-Radiator… all the mainline parts chains now have cheap radiators. The only thing we’ve needed in four years is an alternator. BFD.oh and maybe a battery. Yep we did buy one, that’s right.
    The engine is freakin bulletproof. And the big thing that’s been unmentioned in this thread is that this engine… because it’s a stretched 2.2 it’s non-interference and the head on the 3.3 is hyper reliable. No one ever complains about this engine. The HVAC system is worry free it’s wonderful. I have no idea why my newer Outback(s) don’t have this automatic temp control system. It’s great.
    All this talk about how an SVX is an unreliable car. And it’s by people who don’t own one. Well I’ve owned a couple. And believe me… once the trans is replaced and maybe a rear wheel bearing (all of a two hr repair big deal) then the SVX is a wonderfully reliable car that’s a joy to drive. And as far as high number of repairs: nope. Just isn’t true. It’s a great car and it really is cheap to keep on the road. If you can fix most small things it just isn’t a costly car to own.
    Last point: you can’t go anywhere without turning heads… without people asking about it with envy in their voices. It’s an amazing car. Especially from 20mph to about 130. It’s an amazing car in everything except off the line. Take it easy until it gets to about 20 mph then let loose. Have fun! And be careful. :)

  • avatar

    Oh… I’ve owned three Citroens in my time too. A long time ago. An ID19 and a couple DS21’s. Talk about amazing cars. If parts were available id be driving one now. But powerhouses they never were. The vom

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