Quirky Classic: 1996 Subaru SVX

During the 1980s and 1990s, many car manufacturers introduced cars that they referred to as “Halo” models. Their stated aim was to bring a level of prestige and performance to the brand, with the cars then generating “trickle-down” sales for their more run-of-the-mill models. Subaru followed this path when they introduced the SVX to the world in 1991. These are a rare and unusual car, and I really have to thank Barn Finder Roger for referring this one to us. It is located in Escondido, California, and is listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner is asking $4,900 for the Subaru, which is a very long way short of what the car would have cost when new.

The SVX promised so much, and Subaru themselves saw it as a viable alternative for those people who were considering purchasing a BMW or Lexus. The styling of the car is quite distinctive and flowed from the pen of renowned designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. The side window treatment, with the “window within a window” execution, left you in no doubt as to which car you were looking at. This SVX, finished in Brilliant Red, presents very nicely. There are no real issues to report with the body or paint, and as you would expect from a car of this age that has spent its life in California, there are no rust issues to consider. Overall, it is just a nicely preserved car that seems to exhibit all of the hallmarks of careful ownership.

The interior of the Subaru presents really nicely, and I really like the way the paler shade of grey on the dash then sweeps seamlessly around to highlight in the door trims. Being a later example of the SVX, it also features a pair of front airbags, which is a nice little piece of security for the occupants. Some of the plastic trim has discolored slightly, but that’s about the only criticism that could be leveled at the interior. The interior of the SVX featured a number of quirky little design features, and my favorite is the hidden stereo, which resides behind a door just below the heater controls. This car also comes with some nice equipment, including air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, a tilt and reach wheel, and left and right electrically adjustable exterior mirrors.

Under the hood of an SVX, there was only one engine and transmission to be had, and it probably had a leaning more towards the luxury sector than the sporting market. The engine is a flat-six engine, with a capacity of 3.3-liters. It produced 230hp, which was sent to all wheels via a 4-speed automatic transmission. This engine was the largest capacity that the company had produced to that point, and even though the all-wheel-drive configuration promised sporting credentials, Subaru was left with no choice but to specify an automatic transmission for the car. The truth was that they simply did not have a manual transmission at their disposal that could cope with the horsepower produced by the engine. Apart from the price, this was one of the issues that did impact on potential SVX sales. The presentation of the engine bay of this SVX is extremely nice, and once again appears to be in the sort of condition that you would expect from a car that has been well maintained. The seller doesn’t specifically mention how well the car runs and drives, but he does say that you could pick up the car from its current location and drive it home. That seems to indicate that this is a car that is in pretty sound mechanical health.

Sometimes “halo” cars are a true success, but sometimes circumstances contrive to cause such cars to be sales flops. Sadly, the latter situation was the case with the SVX. There was nothing inherently wrong with the car, and they were unerringly reliable. However, with new prices sitting just shy of the $30,000 mark, they were just too expensive when new. Add to this the lack of a manual transmission option, and many a sporting driver went searching elsewhere for a performance car. Subaru’s stated aim was to sell 10,000 cars per year in the USA, but the final reality was a very long way short of this target. It turned out that 1992 was the model’s best year, with 5,200 cars sold. From there sales dipped sharply, and the decision was made to end manufacturing of the SVX in December of 1996. Today, these are a relatively rare car, and while this one is probably priced right at the top end of the market, its condition would seem to justify this. The price is also a very long way short of what the owner would have paid for the car when it was new.


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  1. h5mind

    Subaru’s are fun, quirky cars. I had an XT with the rear seat delete and it was a terrific hauler of pretty much anything. Apparently later model Subaru manual boxes can be adapted to work in the SVX.

  2. Gary Koupf

    I had one of these – a 1992 model. They had two weak points – the rear wheel bearings and the transmissions. Failure rates were high, though they may have “fixed” these by the 1996 model year. I am aware of some owners adapting manual gearboxes and clutches to their SVXs when their automatic gave out.

    Like 1
  3. Keith

    Well let’s see….Owner says the car was driven 6,500 miles a year since 1996? Let’s do the math: 6,500 Miles x 23 Years = Almost 150k miles! Looks good for 150k miles!

  4. JP

    Thing is, I don’t think this is a ’96 – probably a ’94 or ’95 which were the only two years FWD was offered as well as a cloth/all-grey interior. By ’96 they’d returned to AWD and leather so something ain’t right…

    Like 1
    • davew833

      You’re right. I’ve had two ’94 FWD SVXs. This looks like the lowest trim “L” model with the cloth seats rather than the “LS” model which had imitation suede (ecsaine) seats or the LSi model which was AWD and full leather. If the seller had listed the VIN # it would be easy to tell. Seller says its his accountant’s car, so it’s possible the year hasn’t been verified.

      Perhaps the biggest challenge in owning an SVX now is that the windshield was a $1200 titanium-coated dealer-only item. Good luck finding one now if you break it!

    • M

      ’95 and ’96 L models came equipped with the “Active Safety Group” option which had AWD.

      Source? I own a ’95 L with this exact interior and AWD

  5. Billieg

    I don’t think “Classic & Subaru” go together…..

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