I’ve come to the conclusion that the Subaru SVX is the weirdest Subaru ever made. I came to this conclusion after I spent the day with a Subaru SVX, courtesy of a viewer in Orange County, California, who has a truly pristine one. I poked around it, I drove it and I decided it was weird.
The SVX is weird for a few reasons. A big one is its styling. Not only is it a pointy-nosed coupe from a brand primarily known for making practical, rational family vehicles, but the SVX had a bizarre glass canopy over the side of the car that gave it four distinct side windows: two (front and rear) that roll down, and two (front and rear) that are fixed in place, above the roll-down windows. It’s a tremendously unusual piece of design to see on a modern production vehicle — or any vehicle, for that matter.
But then there are the other reasons why the SVX is odd. One is market position: even in the early 1990s, when the SVX came out, Subaru wasn’t much of a sports car manufacturer. Yes, true, they had built some sporty models in the 1980s, namely the XT, but that was going away in favor of practical, conservatively-styled family cars like the Legacy and the Impreza. And then, out comes the SVX.
Weirder yet, the SVX wasn’t offered with a manual like its Japanese sports car contemporaries — the Nissan 300ZX, the Mazda RX-7 and the like. It was automatic-only, and it came with a long list of standard equipment that weighed it down. It also had just 230 horsepower from Subaru’s flat six, which was, in itself, kind of weird, since the brand hadn’t expanded to six cylinders before. It was intended to be a luxury grand tourer halo car, rather than a sports car.
So I drove the SVX, and here’s what I discovered: it’s fine. It was probably great back in the day, but 25 years later, it’s hard to get excited about a 230-hp car with a 4-speed automatic transmission. The styling is a novelty, sure, and the handling is sharper than I expected, but the SVX isn’t particularly thrilling. It has reasonable power, and the one I drove felt well-kept, not worn or janky in any way, but it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for attacking the back roads.
With that said, there’s still a major cool factor to the SVX — the styling, the rarity, and the "OG" Subaru experience that’s a remnant of a brand from a bygone era. I think I’d get more enjoyment out of the idea of having an SVX, and looking at it when I park it, or when I’m walking up to it, than I would from actually driving it frequently. I’d also be curious to see how onlookers would respond to it, though the owner told me he doesn’t get as many comments on the car as you might think.
One big issue with the SVX is the transmission. Because the SVX was the most powerful Subaru ever made at the time it debuted, it seems Subaru didn’t have a transmission that could really handle the power — so the SVX is notable, in part, for its rampant transmission failure. I think a manual swap, not chosen back in the 1990s due to its "touring car" nature, could really liven up the SVX — and I think more engine power would also be a benefit.
But in its stock state, the SVX is mostly cool for its novelty, for its weirdness in Subaru’s history, and for those bizarre windows. And even though it may not be the best car to drive, in my book, those things certainly still make it cool.