A Japanese sports car from the 90s that was all bark and no bite | Taza Khabre


  • The Subaru SVX failed to sell well due to its performance compared to Japanese competition and its design as a grand tourer rather than a simple sports car.
  • The SVX’s unique design, including its distinctive window placement and whimsical interior elements, failed to sway buyers away from more established sports cars.
  • The SVX can now be found at a bargain price, with an average selling price of just $8,865, making it an interesting and unique option for those looking for a cheap used car.

The early 1990s were an interesting time if you were looking for a Japanese coupe. The obvious choices were the Toyota Supra, Nissan 300ZX, Mazda RX-7 and Mitsubishi 3000 GT, all capable sports cars. Subaru also wanted to get a piece of the action with his signature SVX.

Unfortunately, Subaru’s attempt to do things differently ultimately failed as the SVX failed to sell as well as the brand had hoped.

There are several reasons why Subaru’s risk failed to pay off, the first of which is its performance compared to its Japanese competitors.

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Was the Subaru SVX fast?

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The Subaru SVX had the largest engine the manufacturer had ever built at the time, a 3.3-liter six-cylinder opposed engine. This was different from the conventional four-cylinder engine that Subaru usually used in its Legacy model and later in the infamous Impreza.

It produced 230 hp. and 288 lb-ft of torque, which allowed it to hit 60 mph in about eight seconds. It’s likely that the SVX could have performed better if it hadn’t been equipped with an automatic transmission. Subaru only ever offered the car with a four-speed automatic transmission because it struggled to develop a manual transmission that could deal with the power of its new engine.

Subaru’s flat-six opposed engine held up well against the naturally aspirated engines used by its main competitors, the SVX producing slightly more power than the equivalent 3000 GT, 300ZX and Supra models. Mazda’s RX-7 did make more power, around 250 hp, but that car’s 1.3-liter rotary powerplant came twin-turbo from the factory.

The sports cars from Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota were also introduced in upgraded turbocharged form, with these versions boosted to an output of around 300bhp. They also featured manual transmissions, which provided a more engaging and fun driving experience compared to the automatic unit in the SVX.

Subaru designed the SVX to work better as a grand tourer than a regular sports car. This was illustrated by the fact that the SVX’s suspension was also softer compared to the competition. The problem was that it felt too much like a sports car, meaning that many potential customers were hoping for a different driving experience than what was delivered, leaving them disappointed.

The fact that the SVX had the same power level as the standard versions of other Japanese coupes also failed to clear up this case of distortion, nor did the fact that it was launched at almost the same time as its rivals in 1992.

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The SVX is too unique for its own good

Featured Image Subaru SVX
via Secret Classics

The SVX concept drew attention when it was unveiled at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. Surprisingly, the production version looked almost identical to the concept. This is something almost unheard of in the automotive industry, as concept cars are usually built to make noise, while a production car is usually significantly downsized to make it cheaper and easier to mass produce while meeting emissions and safety regulations.

The main thing that set the SVX apart from other coupes of the time was the unusual placement of the windows. Subaru wanted to create a glass dome effect around the SVX.

So they introduced a new double-paned window setup that saw the regular windows found on the doors joined by additional ones that served as front jambs. Narrow black seams ran down the middle of the window to create strength, while the roof and pillars at the front of the car were painted black to give them the appearance of tinted glass.

The rear glass assembly has a similar arrangement, with only a small portion in front of the rear seams opening and the rest of the clear window locked in place. This is illustrated in a YouTuber’s SVX review video Doug DeMuro.

Subaru continued to incorporate surprising elements into the interior of the SVX. First, there was only one button on the key fob that included the lock and unlock functions, as well as a panic setting that activated an alarm if held down for a few seconds. The SVX also had a generous amount of Alcantara material, with the door cards and glove box fully covered.

There was also a handy little button in the driver’s footwell that allowed the wipers to move to a spot on the screen that could be heated before the driver turned the car off. This meant that if the weather was freezing the next time you drove the car, the wipers would still be able to move and wouldn’t need to be defrosted first.

Another interesting feature of the interior was the design of the climate control selector. Instead of a traditional button panel that controls everything, the SVX has a small circular panel with control panels that allow the user to raise or lower the temperature in the car. A small button to the right of the panel also allows the user to see the outside temperature in real time.

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In 2023, a used Subaru SVX cost an average of $8,865

subaru SVX -Rear quarter
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The SVX’s uniqueness failed to lure buyers away from Subaru’s more established Japanese rivals. Many decided that the sportier ride of the RX-7, 300ZX and Supra around the world was more appealing than the milder approach of the SVX, and that was reflected in the Subaru contender’s sales numbers.

They just were 14,257 copies were sold in the United States over a six-year period, while Nissan sold twice as many 300ZXs over the same period at just over 31,000. Mitsubishi fared even better, selling 65,964 3000 GTs at the same time, and Mazda also outsold its RX-7s.

Further complicating the situation for Subaru was the high production cost of each SVX, mainly due to the uniqueness and complexity of the design. Subaru lost about $3,000 for every car sold, totaling a loss of about $75 million by the time the project finally ended in 1997.

The positive news that comes out of the Subaru SVX debacle is that any interested gearhead can pick up a used one for very little money these days. In 2023, the average price of a used SVX over the past five years was just $8,865. according to Classic.comwhich includes 39 sold during this period.

Most SVXs listed on the site have at least 60,000 miles on the clock, though even the lowest-mileage cars can be had for less than $10,000. A few cars with higher mileage even sold for less than $4,000.

Overall, the Subaru SVX failed to capture the world’s imagination due to its limited ride, in contrast to its sporty and purposeful exterior. The fact that it is not as highly regarded as the legendary RX-7 and Supra, and it is not as exciting and dynamic as the 300ZX and 3000 GT, plays into its hands.

The SVX can now be found as a bargain used car, and it’s hard to find something this interesting and unique for so little money.

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