By on May 9, 2022

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe General began selling the Suzuki Cultus hatchback with Chevrolet Sprint badges here starting in the 1985 model year, with the later versions becoming the Geo/Chevrolet Metro. Even though gasoline prices had crashed during the middle 1980s, the three-cylinder Sprint sold well enough that Subaru decided to bring their tiny three-cylinder car to our shores. This was the Justy, and I’ve found this ’90 in a self-service yard in Subaru-crazed Denver.

You could buy the Justy here for the 1987 through 1994 model years, with the four-wheel-drive version appearing in the 1988 model year. At $8,156 (about $18,405 in 2022 dollars), it was the cheapest four-wheel-drive car you could buy in North America that year (yes, the $7,999 Suzuki Samurai was a bit cheaper, but it wasn’t a car).

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis being Colorado, I find plenty of 4WD Justys in the car graveyards here; the front-wheel-drive examples have been much harder to find.

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, 3-cylinder engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile the Metro eventually got a four-cylinder engine, every Justy sold new on our continent was a three-banger. This engine displaced 1,189 cubes (centimeters, that is) and had 73 fuel-injected horsepower (the entry-level Justy DL had a carburetor and 66 horses).

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, gearshift lever - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThere was a version with a continuously variable transmission available in 1990, but this car has the five-speed manual. Check out that big 4WD button on the shifter, a feature you saw in a lot of Subarus of that era.

Though Subaru had just begun selling cars here with true all-wheel-drive systems by 1990 (and went to all-wheel-drive in all their North American offerings for 1996), most 1990 Subarus that could send power to all four corners did so via a system that required the driver to select between front- and four-wheel-drive manually. If you drove for long periods on dry pavement with the car in the 4WD setting, you’d tear up the tires and maybe the drivetrain. I find it interesting that the 4 in this badge could be read as an A; the “all-wheel-drive” term hadn’t come into widespread use at the time, but Subaru saw it coming and— presumably— didn’t want to be forced to design new decals.

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, speedometer - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHow many miles did it have when its career on the road ended? Thanks to this five-digit odometer, we can’t know.

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Justy was available in North America as a hatchback with three or five doors. In Taiwan, car shoppers could get a notchback version called the Tutto.

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe interior in this one still looks pretty good, despite the rough handling given to car upholstery by the High Plains sun.

There’s rust where you’d expect it, though, and that’s a death sentence for a tiny hatchback with too many pedals.

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, HVAC controls and radio - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAir conditioning? Factory cassette deck? Not in this car!

1990 Subaru Justy 4WD in Colorado junkyard, RH side view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt took Subaru a few more years to completely ditch the idea of selling bargain-basement miserable econoboxes here.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, check out the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images by the author]

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26 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Subaru Justy 4WD GL...”

  • avatar

    This is what a ton of vehicle looks like (curb weight 1,920 pounds or thereabouts).

    [Torque-to-Pork Ratio is still not impressive]

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Ah, the days when Subaru was still making inline engines, and AWD was optional.

    I think the automatic available in these was one of the first CVTs available for sale. The stick was a much better choice.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Subaru was building Flat-4 cylinder horizontally opposed boxer engines going back to the FF1 which was imported to the states in 1970 to replace the 360 city car.
      The drive train in this would make a great replacement for a Saab 93 with the two cycle three cylinder.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I vaguely remember that when a five digit odometer turned over that one of the digits would then permanently remain slightly offset from the others, so that the discerning buyer could confirm that it was over 100k.

    Others can confirm or correct or provide more information regarding this.

  • avatar

    My brother-in-law had one of these–but FWD–in the mid-90s, for some reason I borrowed it once for a 60-mile trip. While motoring down I-5 one of the exhaust mounts let go, I had to pull over in the dark and hunt through a borrowed car for something to tie it up long enough to get home. Even before this incident it was not a terribly enjoyable ride.

    I generally like small hatches, but Just Say No to Justy.

  • avatar

    I bought my wife a new 1991 Justy that looked exactly like this one, with AC and the CVT, right off the dealer’s lot for $10k (Canadian). Peppy little car that held its own on the highway, held off the rust monster in a tough climate, and was unfailingly reliable for almost a decade. CVT troubles led directly to its demise, however – various mechanics told us it would cost more to just crack open the tranny than the car was worth at that point.

  • avatar

    Subaru still offers Justy in it’s home market. AWD is an option. It’s now made by Daihatsu and sold by Subaru, Toyota and Daihatsu.

  • avatar

    A friend/co-worker had one in the late 90s early 2000s. AWD and was pretty good in the snow for such a light car. One time another car backed into the front right fender…barely touched it, but there was a dent. My friend/co-worker unbolted it in the warehouse and pounded it back with a mallet. He handed it to me to feel how light it was…it was like an aluminum cooking tray in weight and “sturdiness”.

    • 0 avatar

      “pretty good in the snow”, – check. Body repairs not requiring high dollar collision repair center costs – check. To be fair, that fender repair likely cost him a beer or a cigarette…

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Back in the day we ridiculed these for having only 3 cylinders and a CVT.
    Now, almost every damn car has 3 cylinders and a CVT.

  • avatar

    When these were new I thought they had a unique/odd combo of technologies in one car: 3-cyl, CVT, AWD, fuel injection. I think there was a turbo model too, but not in the US (?).

  • avatar

    Great little cars back in the day, almost unstoppable in the snow unless ground clearance was an issue. There is actually one of these just down the block from me, 90′ model year, very good shape with 4wd and a 5 speed stick. Apparently it’s parked now due to carb issues, but otherwise It’s nice that some of these little 4WD econo-boxes are still kicking around.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Never drove a Justy but I handled the trade in of my brother’s ‘Bandit’ style Trans Am in exchange for a new 3 cylinder, automatic Chevy Sprint. My brother was not a car guy, considered maintenance to be a nuisance. Just put gas in and drove until whatever car he was driving started to give him problems.

    The Trans Am would be nice to have kept but it was beat to ………

    He drove that little Swift for years, without any issues. Occasionally I would take it to the rapid lube, or change some filters or the spark plugs, run it through the wash or rotate ( or get new) tires, and give him the bill. More out of sympathy for the car than for him.

  • avatar

    Is it me or the upholstery looks in great shape for a 32 yr old car?
    It wouldn’t surprise me if the mileage was 59K or 159K tops.

    Also, I think I didn’t know these existed in 5dr guise. I had only seen 3dr

  • avatar

    When people call small economy cars “penalty boxes” I bet they’re thinking of the Justy.

    Back in 1990 we were at the local VW-Subaru dealer getting our new Passat (loved that car, automatic seatbelts and all). In between the salesperson’s trips to the manager, we wandered the showroom and there was a Justy inside. God alone knows why they chose to feature it like that. It was the barest bones, most depressing car I had ever seen. I asked the salesperson why that car was even being sold and he said some people just HAVE to have a Subaru, no matter their budget. Well I guess so.

    • 0 avatar

      Some people see beauty in simplicity. Less to go wrong is the philosophy. In fact, I bet a number of people on this site would go for something like a barebones pickup even though they could afford something with more features.

  • avatar

    So 4WD was used only when it got stuck in dirt or snow?

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Ideally, the driver switches from 2wd to 4wd BEFORE getting stuck.

      Just like most 4wd pickup trucks, the 4wd is engaged when wanted. Unlike AWD vehicles, there is no center differential to allow the front and rear wheels to turn at different rates, such as when making sharper turns.

      4wd is betterfor getting going, worse at turning, and no better than 2wd for stopping in slippery conditions.

    • 0 avatar

      2-wheeling in style or 4-wheeling in the wild.

  • avatar

    When I was in high school, my dad (located in Europe) bought a Justy with the 1.0L engine and a five-speed for banging-around duty. There was very little that was more hilarious than driving the Justy in European city traffic trying to keep up with him in his Audi V8 Quattro. 4000rpm launches from every light, both gas and clutch pedals treated as switches, and the feeling of a short-track race… all without seriously exceeding the speed limit.

  • avatar

    I remember reading a review of a justy with a CVT by one of the automotive rags back in the day. IIRC it had a side bar on how a CVT works. That coupled with the review, that criticized mostly the CVT and not so much the Justy, made my decision to never buy a vehicle with a CVT.

  • avatar

    “There was a version with a continuously variable transmission available in 1990”


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