By on July 29, 2019

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]

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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Subaru XT Turbo 4WD From 1985...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    This looks like the designer of the TR7 collaborated with Citroen’s interior designer during a drunken weekend.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My then-GF-now-wife test drove a used XT6 when she was looking for her first car. I remember it being really cool looking, and relatively rare in the sea of GM and Ford vehicles in West Michigan. I liked it, and the funky interior. Plus 145hp was a lot – back then – compared to the ’87 Stanza I was driving, or the average college-kid Cavalier that was bombing around.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    This car is the epitome of the 80’s. You can almost hear the Flock of Seagulls playing.
    Great find, but what’s up with that G-Spot shifter. That car wouldn’t be allowed in Alabama, Mississippi, or Texas.

  • avatar
    A Scientist

    I remember seeing a small handful of these running around in the wild back in the day, but I don’t believe I ever saw one up close. That steering wheel is just about the most ’80s-iest thing ever.

  • avatar
    jmo

    It’s not a real XT unless it comes with the digital dash:

    https://i.redd.it/gnvomgpukpy01.jpg

  • avatar
    V16

    The XT would look good as a vehicle used in “Stranger Things.”

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    This car had a plethora of mechanical features for 1985, but I still can’t imagine who was paying $17K for them. Most Subarus sold at the time were wagons and sedans, and they were fighting for scraps from cars that didn’t break four figures. I worked at a dealer in one of Subaru’s better markets in 1989. I don’t recall there ever being an XT in new car inventory, unless it was a base FWD automatic. The big deal then was the new Legacy, which seemed like it might be the first Subaru ready to compete with regular cars.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Absolutely gorgeous.

    The gauge pods were all the rage in the early to mid-80s and were copied extensively from the 1979 Giugiaro designed Ace of Clubs of 1979, AKA the Isuzu Piazza that went into production the next year.

    GM even offered a single year Camaro trim (with the bizzaro cassette player on a stick) with the gauge pod arrangement.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Plus the blue interior? So much awesomeness here. My brother had a Civic and my neighbor had an Escort… both with blue interiors. Today? No way, you are only getting black or maybe tan. With a sports car you might find some red leather seats or contrasting stitching on the interior, but that is it.

      I don’t remember these things much, but Subbies have never sold well down in FL. Looks like a take on one of my favs the late 80s Honda Prelude (which I owned).

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I definitely see the engineering heritage between these and the SVX. I thought the SVX was a really neat car when it came out, although the ink was barely dry on my driver’s license (so I thought a lot of cars were really neat).

    The interior and the driver controls of this car seem like life imitating art- art being the Jackie Chan’s race car in The Cannonball Run.

  • avatar
    chris724

    How did they manage to get so little power out of a turbo?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I think that was reasonable of power for a 1.7 turbo at the time. That same year you could buy a Honda Prelude with about 100hp out of a 2 liter engine (not a turbo). Volvo 2.1 and Saab 2.0 turbos were around 130-145hp that year. Just a bit of comparison.

      The ’81 Escort 1.6 on one of the other features today had 67 horsepower, on the low side for a small four cylinder at the time, but another data point for what was “normal” in the mid 1980s.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Non-intercooled, not being able to cool the charge makes a BIG difference in output of turbo motors from what I’ve observed.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Yep, you could get a dealer-installed intercooler on the turbo Volvos soon after the turbos appeared in the U.S. market. I don’t remember what the aftermarket was like or what factory and/or dealer support was available for other marques though.

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          Yeah, but Mopar took the 97hp 2.2l and pushed it to 142/146hp depending on the application and with the intercooler took it to 175hp.. Granted there is a half liter displacement difference, but it hardly seems worth paying for the turbo on the Subie.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Yeah, for the mid ’80s that was pretty good. We’re spoiled now. Though I *do* wonder why C&D just celebrated Merc just managing to squeeze ~247hp out of a 2.0 turbo4 for 2019 when Saab was getting 250 out of 2.3 in 2004…

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        …247hp out of a 2.0 turbo4 for 2019 when Saab was getting 250 out of 2.3 in 2004…

        Because how HP was calculated was changed in 2004 (calendar year) to follow the SAE J1349 standard and the Saab number would probably be lower today (calculated earlier in the model year).

        SAE J1349 is why a number of vehicles had a decline in HP in the mid-2000s despite no mechanical differences.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          APaGttH, that’s interesting. Do you know what the numbers looked like? I know that the Saab numbers for 2005 (the year of my old car) were 230-ish for the mid-level and 250 for the Aero, so that should have been post-change anyway?

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I always liked these quirky coupes. Never drove or even sat in one though.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    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.

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