Rare Rides: A Subaru XT Turbo 4WD From 1985

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Subaru started its first full decade in North America in the Seventies, where it sold the microscopic rear-engined 360. By the Eighties the company had found its niche among crunchy granola types and professors with four-wheel drive wagons like the GL. But Subaru wanted more; specifically customers with more money. Enter the XT.

The more upscale and sporting XT was a departure from Subaru’s standard fare in the mid-Eighties. Customers were used to seeing wagons, trucks, and hatchbacks from the brand, but the XT was the company’s first-ever coupe when it debuted for 1985.

Subaru chose not to apply its dorky and chunky styling theme to the XT. Rather they opted for a wedge-shaped, modern design with pop-up headlamps and a heckblende. Subaru’s engineers were steadfast in their pursuit of aerodynamics, and gifted the XT with completely flush door handles which popped out via a release panel. The single windshield wiper was 22 inches long, and tucked under the hood for less interruption of airflow. Underneath, the air suspension was height-adjustable.

The interior was a departure as well. XT’s multitude of buttons were arranged around pods, in an interior which could easily be described as wacky. The pods were attached to the steering column, and moved with the wheel to keep controls in reach of the driver. On XTs with digital gauge clusters, gauges were lighted in orange and had an aircraft-style artificial horizon effect.

Standard power for the XT was provided via a 1.7-liter boxer four which produced 97 horsepower. Customers who spent a bit more would find a turbocharger screwed to the same engine, which upped the power to 112. Transmissions included a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual. Based on a front-drive platform, lower-end models were front-drive only, and Turbo versions had optional part-time four-wheel drive. Turbo models were available only through 1987, as 1988 saw the introduction of the XT6 version. Subaru produced their first-ever H6 engine for the XT. The 2.7-liter displacement exceeded the limits for lower taxation in Japan, which meant the XT6 was taxed as a luxury car in its home market. The H6 provided 145 horsepower, and its additional weight was supported by a sturdier suspension setup.

Drivetrain changes accompanied the introduction of the XT6, as the four-wheel drive system was only available on XT models with a manual transmission for ’88 and ’89. Automatic XT and XT6 cars switched to full-time all-wheel drive. There were also front-drive versions of both XT and XT6. The holy grail was of course the XT6 with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission.

Though consumers were spoiled for choice with XT variations, the coupe’s Subaru branding and price (about $40,000 adjusted for inflation) meant slow sales. The angular Alcyone headed into the sunset after the ’91 model year, but Subaru had a successor in the wings. And that’s an SVXy story for another day.

Today’s Rare Ride is located in the Netherlands, because there weren’t any good XT examples for sale in North America. With a low 32,000 miles it’s in spectacular condition; graph paper wheel covers are intact. Yours for $22,000.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Jul 29, 2019

    Subaru’s sport coupe to compete with the Prelude, MX-6 etc. Someone on my street had one in the early 90’s. Base model XT front wheel drive with steelies. It had no rear seat, just a color matched particleboard panel with a warning label stating that no passengers should sit there, just small parcels, like an old business coupe.

  • Icantdance Icantdance on Apr 20, 2021

    My dad for some reason got to test drive two models of this vehicle for Subaru when we lived in Japan back in 1985. We had it for a good six months. It was a really sweet ride.

  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh WHAT !?
  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.
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