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Magazine cover

30,000-Mile Test

Long-Term Subaru SVX

Life with the Caped Crusader's Cape...ah, Coupe.

Car and Driver * September 1992 * Pages 119-121


Pic of SVX

So. You and Batman good friends?"

That was the question asked by a McDonald's drive-thru waitperson when our Gotham-black Subaru SVX--with its weird window-within-a-window concept--was but a month old. Nine months later, the unsolicited smart-aleckry is little abated: "Hey, can I cash my paycheck at this window?" So let's dispense with this little matter straight away:

1. Yes, cruising at 80 mph in the SVX with the windows lowered, you can still conduct bedroom-decibel conversations.

2. You can lower the windows when it's raining and not get wet at tollbooths.

3. The windows allow Subaru to install fixed "upper-canopy" glass that bends gently into the roof, an effect that renders the SVX's otherwise claustrophobic cockpit both airy and expansive.

4. We still hate them.

From any angle, the SVX is at least a provocative Giugiaro design, wrapped around almost as much automotive

technology as exists in a Porsche 959. Standard: a 230-horsepower, four-valve, all-alloy flat six, computer-controlled four-speed transmission and full-time four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, limited-slip diff, Cd of 0.29, projector-beam halogen headlamps--on and on, an array of features that looks like a Pentagon shopping list. Frankly, to add gimmicky Bat windows to a car so laden with practical technology is like equipping an F40 with curb feelers.

Once C/D's editors got beyond the Window Discussion, a queue formed nightly at the sign-out board. Scan the comments in the car's logbook and you'll see why:

"Perfect ride/handling trade-off."

"I would not be surprised to find Lexus or Infiniti badges on this car."

"This and the Lexus SC400 are my favorite high-speed luxo-sport tourers in all the world. Just terrific."

"One of the finest long-distance cruisers I've driven-smooth, refined, quiet, great stereo, spectacular seats."

There was more, but it went on in that vein until reading it became tedious.


Dog with SVX

Our black SVX (a color we chose because it de-emphasizes the weird window frames and matches the mandatory black roof) was hauled in for scheduled servicing five times, at a cost to us of $270. All five visits were routine: to replace fluids and filters--including one unnecessary new air filter at 15,000 miles--and to check belts and emissions systems., The rear ashtray lid broke early in the car's life (Subaru admits this is a common snafu) but was replaced at no cost. We do not smoke in our cars, which is lucky because the ashtray parts arrived only after a five-month wait.

Our first stop for unscheduled maintenance was to replace the SVX's standard sixteen-inch Bridgestone Potenzas, which did not distinguish themselves in Michigan's snow. The 4wd system's power apportioning--nominally a 60/40 front/ rear split--was inclined to direct too much power to the fronts, causing the SVX to plow when no such service, however meteorologically appropriate, was demanded. SVX owners in northern climates should expect to install four BFGoodrich Comp TA VR4s, as we did. Which helped. But even so, this is one four-wheel-drive car (the Mitsubishi 300OGT is another) that is no Audi Quattro when what's falling from the firmament is white.

Our other unscheduled stops were for minor matters. The SVX required wheel balancing at 22,000 miles to cure a front ,shimmy at around 80 mph. At 29,000 miles, when we discovered we could no longer lock the doors--with either the key ,or the infrared remote--we had to replace the battery in the key fob's transmitter. The latter two items were covered under Subaru's three-year/36,000-mile warranty.

Slightly more serious wag a quarter that fell out of someone's pocket and lodged in the driver's seat track. As soon as the electric seat adjuster sent the seat scurrying along its rails, the quarter was bent and chewed-Subaru's electric motors are evidently built by Amtrak-before the mechanism jammed tighter than Madonna's jeans on a hot June night. Subaru fixed this (the car, not Madonna's jeans) free of charge, even though our negligence was to blame, The dealer even gave us back the remains of our quarter.

Engine


SVXs are rare; this was the only way we could get two in the same shot.

SVX with billboard

At 20,000 miles, the antitheft alarm malfunctioned, this after virtually every driver had triggered it unwittingly at least once, usually on a first date or at two in the morning or both. One weekend, the alarm decided to flash the SVX's lights--attracting the attention of, naturally, absolutely no one--until the battery was, as flat as a Senate filibuster, A previous SVX we tested (C/D, September 1991) did the same thing. Although Subaru replaced the alarm module without charge in one hour, this system remains so counterintuitive as to be useless. We eventually circulated a memo explaining how to deactivate the thing--by pushing the button marked Security, which then glows an angry red and looks for all the world like it is anything but deactivated. While the alarm was tended to, Subaru also replaced the lid atop the center console, whose releasing button wasn't. And still isn't.

And, finally, at 22,000 miles, the windshield wipers began making an unhealthy clunking, as if the wiper linkage were binding. Our dealer replaced the wiper blades first (they are evidently rare, because it took thirteen days to obtain them), then fiddled with the linkage. Then a C/D liberal-arts major (me) triple-lubed the whole works with WD-40. Between Subaru's ministrations (free) and ours ($2.99 for a can of WD-40), the clunking has been 80-percent exorcised.

Otherwise, a remarkably worry-free 30,000 miles. This from a car packed with so much technology and with so many pieces unshared with other Subarus that we fully expected serious mechanical ruptures in its first year on the road. Didn't happen.

Our long-term SVX was ordered with the optional $3000 Touring Package but only because we refused to live without the electronic speed-variable steering, whose weighting and tracking are "almost as brilliant as a Carrera 2's," wrote one editor. For reasons that are clear only to marketing personnel, the Touring Package also includes leather and a sunroof and an 80-watt AM/FM/CD player with six speakers. We didn't care about the Panasonic stereo at the time. Then we heard it. Believe us, you want the Touring Package.

Interior

Interior is a paradigm of ergonomics and luxo-feel.


Even with rear seats upright, the trunk swallows a Toro 105 Plus.

Trunk with mower in it

Our long-term SVX, as tested, cost $28,924. Today the same car goes for $30,905. You needn't pay that much, however. Subaru has sold only 3074 SVXs since September 1991--about 7000 fewer than expected. Some showroom horse trading is appropriate. We know of one buyer who drove away in a no-options SVX for $22,000. Which may be the best deal since Bill Seward co-signed the note for Alaska.

When we bade farewell to our SVX, it was two-tenths of a second slower, both to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile (and this production SVX was 0.6 second slower in both tests than our early-production road-test car). But it was still averaging 21 mpg and was as rattle-free as the day it arrived. This car's torsional

rigidity--with steel roof pillars and crossmembers that essentially form a cage around the cabin--is subjectively equal to a Porsche 928's. What's more, the SVX's leather seats and faux suede inserts were, after 30,000 hard miles, neither discolored nor worn.

It is wrong to think of this most expensive of Subarus as a 3614-pound sports car, although the editors in this office now prefer it to the 4wd Dodge Stealth R/T and Mitsubishi 300OGT VR-4. It is a luxury-tourer that swallows ground faster than Big Brutus the electric shovel, a car that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Acura Legend Coupe, the Lexus SC300, and the Cadillac Eldorado.

The SVX is so good, so competent, such a pleasure to drive, such a bargain for so much mechanical hardware, that what is holding it from greatness is only its name. See, when your neighbor asks what car you drive, you have to reply, "Well, a $30,000 Subaru." Of course, Batman doesn't worry what the neighbors think.

Snowy SVX

Stock Bridgestones were unimpressive in snow.


Counterpoint

Because development money ran short, Subaru designed only one transmission for the SVX, a four-speed automatic. That decision probably doomed most of these strange, beautiful creatures to commuter duty for podiatrists and tax attorneys. The automatic changes gears effortlessly and keeps the flat six burbling happily at speed, but a hefty five- or six-speed would mesh perfectly with its Carrera-like stability and steering. Niche vehicles, especially those as sweet as the SVX, need manual shifters. Let the doctors and lawyers buy XJSs.

--Martin Padgett Jr.

I'm glad Subaru is building the new SVX. It decorates the road quite nicely and helps to alleviate the boredom of seeing another Probe in its place. But for $30,000, it can decorate someone else's garage. In my ledger, this car's lovely high-speed road manners, all-weather grip, and unique styling

do not offset its ordinary acceleration and the constant vexation caused by those confounding motorized belts, that officious alarm, and the many quirky ergonomic features. If Subaru fixes these things, it will have something. In the meantime, sayonara, SVX

--Frank Markus

The SVX is destined to become one of those exceptional cars that remain rare despite their reasonable price. Its portfolio of virtues simply doesn't correspond with the expectations of most American coupe buyers. Every time I slid behind the Subaru's wheel these past few months, I was impressed by how securely and serenely it drove. But people don't buy coupes for security and serenity--they buy them for excitement. Unfortunately, my eyes find little passion in the SVX's lines and my internal g-meter is far from pegged by its performance. In the end, the SVX, to both its credit and detriment, is truly a Subaru.

--Csaba Csere


Vehicle type:

front-engine, four-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door coupe

Price as tested:

$28,924 (base price: $25,574)

Engine type:

DOHC 24-valve flat 6, aluminum block and heads, Subaru engine-control system with port fuel injection

Displacement 202 cu in, 3317 cc
Power (SAE net) 230 bhp @ 5400 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic with lockup torque converter
Wheelbase 102.8 in
Length 182.1 in
Curb weight 3614 lb

Performance:
new

30,000 miles

Zero to 60 mph
8.2 sec
8.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph
22.4 sec
23.9 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph
8.3 sec
8.7 sec
Standing 1/4 mile
16.3 sec @87 mph
16.5 sec @85 mph
Braking 70-0 mph
174 ft
181 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad
0.83 g
0.81 g
Top speed
137 mph
134 mph
Road horsepower @ 50 mph

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