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Earthbound Spaceship: The Subaru SVX

September 5, 2012 by Matt

Subaru Alcyone SVX Blue

Let’s talk some more about the Subaru SVX. Why? Because I want to.

Yes, it’s already been featured as part of the “Underrated Lookers” series, but I think the car is interesting enough for more than just one post.

Subaru Alcyone SVX Red Rear Back

I remain fascinated by its appearance. For all Subaru’s studied weirdness, for me, the ’92-’97 SVX is the one point of intersection between actual attractiveness and the automaker’s deliberate aesthetic nonconformity. In other words, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and the SVX represents one of those times for Subaru. The proportions are good, the slight fender flares a nice touch, and the whole car radiates a kind of pitch-perfect fighter-jet aggressiveness. Not only that, as pointed out in my earlier post, I challenge anyone to name a more spaceship-like car. Honestly—close up the wheel arches, graft on a pair of ion engines, strap in, engage the hyperdrive and you’re good to go. It’s nerd-tacular, and I love it.

Subaru Alcyone SVX Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The interior is subdued compared to the extroverted bodywork, but it still has a couple of odd touches, most prominently the decorative “door” for the stereo controls in the center console, as well as the handle-like, horizontal handbrake lever. Beyond that, it sports a nice bank of clear gauges and all secondary controls are laid out in a sensible manner.

Subaru Alcyone SVX Engine Motor EG33

The EG33 engine was Subaru’s first flat-6 fitted to a production car. A 3.3l, 230-hp mill, its basic design is very sound, but at the time of its release, Subaru had no manual transmission capable of handling its 228 ft-lbs of torque. So there was sadly no stickshift option available from the factory, even in Japan, which limited the car’s appeal among enthusiasts. Fortunately, for we shadetree mechanics, many later Subaru manuals (from the WRX, Legacy, etc) will bolt up, albeit with some modification needed to the shift rods and driveshaft. A swap isn’t an unattainable ambition, and kits even exist to facilitate the process.

Dynamically, the car is a bit of a mixed bag. Its permanent AWD system gives it sure-footed handling, but the front weight bias compromises the car’s balance, and its admittedly hefty 3,500 lb girth dampens the fun as well. That said, any prospective buyers hopefully aren’t expecting a light and lively sports car, but a larger, stylish, comfortable, competent-handling GT, and in the latter capacity the car excels. I have a penchant for cars with those attributes; add a dash of the SVX’s weirdness, and I’m sold.

Filed under: Subaru


  1. John D says:

    I don’t know about it being a GT with 230 hp. To me that’s just not enough power to live up to ‘GT’ status. A sporty sedan perhaps, but anything more than that I would have to disagree.

    Other than that, it is in a league all it’s own. I mean, there is slim to no chance of someone ever accidentally buying this car if they were shopping for…anything…else. It’s so far removed from any other car that to own one, one must be looking for it and it alone. It’s just that unique. I’ve always thought they were cool, but the kind of cool that comes from the automotive equivalent of hanging out in beatnik bars or having the back of your ears tattoo’d. You are doing it to be different for reasons that are only clear to you. Everyone else who knows anything about cars stops to admire and oogle this rare specimen, but no one else is going to go buy one because there are so many other cars out there that do so many things so much better. It’s just an odd duck that no one will blame you for buying and driving, but no one else will really understand why, either.

    • Matt says:

      Well, you have to take into account the era in which it was introduced. Back in 1992, 230 hp went a lot farther, so to speak, than it does today. Heck, the N/A Supra and 300ZX had less power, and even the C4 ‘Vette had to make do with barely 250 until the introduction of the LT1 in ’92. So for its day, the SVX was definitely in the sweet spot.

      So do you see a purchase decision as an expression of a kind of self-conscious, pretentious coolness? The way I see it, the folks who have that attitude gravitate more toward brands like Saab, Audi or VW. To me, all Subarus, including the SVX, have an essential dorkiness to them that would seem to counteract any kind of über-trendy, hipster vibe.

      • John D says:

        I see the person who purchases this car being very confident about who they are, what they want, not afraid to be different…perhaps a little proud of the fact that no one else ‘gets’ them (but not necessarily). I’m just saying there is a strong possibility that the purchasing personality of this particular vehicle has a certain smugness associated with their individuality and is probably the single biggest reason why someone would decide on this particular vehicle.

        • David B. says:

          Don’t over analyze us SVX owners too much. I have a very nice example in my garage (a 1997 SVX LSi with 41K miles). Not a daily driver for me, I am a Subaru Impreza guy WRX, STi, etc. for my daily driver for the past 10 years.

          My attraction to the car is not because I want to be different. It’s well made and a great design. A much better highway car then anything Subaru offers now and offered in the past.

          It was the flagship for Subaru then and the grandfather all things technical for the current models. I’m struck by it’s sheer high speed highway capabilities as a GT car. It’s quiet, fast, smooth, comfortable and can go almost 500 miles on a tank of gas. Subaru’s goal was to make the ultimate GT car, and they did. It’s very well made, better than any other Subaru I have owned. Just get behind the wheel of a well sorted one and go on a road trip. You will find very few, if any, faults.

          • John D says:

            Sorry David B…I perhaps did get a little too carried away with pinning down exactly who would own one of these things. I’ve seen so few of them that it makes me think that whoever did find one for purchase must have been very specific about what they wanted and why. If you’re happy with yours, that’s awesome and thanks for chiming in.

  2. could not agree more about this car being a looker. that rear three-quarter view never gets old.

  3. areopagitica says:

    Saw one at a Ferrari meet. It was a Giugiaro design, right? There were later Subi flat sixes but they’ve narrowed the borespan and made them more compact and lighter. And of course the new BRZ shared with Scion is a Subi job from the get-go, so this car has a flat four RWD successor. Oh yes, anyone who flies a light twin should be familiar with those side windows.

    • Matt says:

      I wouldn’t call the BRZ an SVX successor; they’re very different types of cars. Still wouldn’t object to the idea of Subaru shoehorning a flat six under the BRZ’s hood…

  4. areopagitica says:

    That puffy steering wheel was exactly like some of the things Ford was producing back then. Only the Mercury brands, not Fords got wheels color keyed to the upholstery, a bad idea from a windshield reflection standpoint.
    The SVX looked a lot like the Eagle Talon, Mitsu Mirage, and some oriental Dodge nameplate I have forgotten, but those cars had a smoother shape with more tumblehome. That was this car’s only visual downfall.

    • Matt says:

      The Plymouth Laser was the third of the DSM triplets, I believe. There are some similarities between the shapes, but the SVX is at once more nerdy, quirky, ambitious and mature. I prefer its proportions, obviously.

  5. areopagitica says:

    What size wheels and tires were available in 1992? This car looks a little under-tired to me, but of course that is a bolt on fix. I don’t believe Subaru was the same bolt pattern as the other Japanese cars, namely the Ford five lug 4.4 inch bolt circle.

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