Subaru's Forgotten Performance Car: The SVX

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Subaru SVX road driving

Enthusiasts refer to the Subaru SVX as the Japanese automaker's flagship sport-luxury coupe that never met expectations. First seen at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show wearing the Alcyone SVX Concept moniker, the Subaru SVX made its production debut in North America for the 1992 model year — wearing fancy design cues from the original concept car.

Designed by famed Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the SVX has quirky side windows similar to the DeLorean DMC-12, the world's most iconic movie car that Giugaro also penned. The split-opening front and rear side windows have a fixed upper glass portion that promises a silent ride unperturbed by wind noise.

Subaru was a rising star in the early 90s, but the SVX was a wake-up call. It was supposed to be Subaru's halo car, a sport-luxury coupe meant to lock horns with high-performance Japanese and German contenders like the Lexus SC, Nissan 300ZX, and Mercedes-Benz SL, meant to signify the brand's leap into the premium category.

When expectations meet reality

Subaru SVX parked grass

The Subaru SVX had the style to command attention, but didn't have the performance merits to justify its costly price tag. Purists may scoff at Subaru's decision to resist turbocharging the SVX's potent 3.3-liter Boxer six-cylinder engine, but there's a justifiable reason for that. 

Producing 230 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque, Subaru didn't have a manual gearbox to handle all that twist. Instead, Subaru shoehorned a four-speed automatic in the SVX, a decision that left performance buyers disappointed and looking somewhere else.

Moreover, Subaru reportedly lost $3,000 for every SVX sold in the United States, hard to believe considering the SVX retailed for $36,000 in the 1990s. Weak sales and unsustainable economics made Subaru cancel the SVX in 1996 after a short five-year production run, making it the brand's most well-known sales flop.

However, the limited production run has made the SVX a desirable collector's item that won't break the bank, but only if you can find one for sale. As it stands, the Subaru SVX is fetching $5,000 to $10,000 in the vintage market.

Bargain rare exotica

Subaru SVX parked side view

Looking past the love-it or hate-it side window design, the Subaru SVX is more of a luxury grand tourer than a sports car. The cabin is resplendent in suede, and the standard four-spoke tiller screams "touring" than "dragstrip." Despite its posh accouterments, the SVX has a 143 mph top speed and could rush from 0-60 mph in under seven seconds — decent numbers for a 1990s performance car.

Furthermore, the SVX has a front-biased all-wheel drivetrain that sends up to 90% of the available torque to the front wheels, or can switch to a 50:50 split between the front and rear axles. If only it came with a manual stick, the story would have been different for the SVX, but fans uncovered a hack that could give the SVX the legs it deserves.

As it turns out, the five-speed manual from an Impreza WRX fits nicely with the SVX's burly 3.3-liter Boxer-six, but you'd have to be a purist to commit and set up the manual transmission swap. Otherwise, Subaru fans love the SVX for breaking the norms of the automaker and respectably challenging established flagship sports cars.

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