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1996 Subaru SVX

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Since even government encourages us to fantasize about prosperity these days are those lottery "winner" commercials blatant or what? Auto buffs may want to consider this bit of wishful thinking to lighten winter's pall.

The big buyout finally comes through at work. Your first purchase: a 230horsepower Subaru SVX sports coupe.

You polish the Ray Bans, grab the gold card and blast off for Aspen.

"What? Careering around the Rockies in a high-powered sports car in winter?" I can hear a no nonsense reader snort.

"Ridiculous. Surely you mean you buy Subaru's new all-wheel drive Outback wagon/sport-ute."

But that's the beauty of the SVX, amigo. It, too, has full-time, computerized AWD. In fact, this all season stormer really only comes into its own when the flakes start to fly. And don't call me Shirley.

For the Canadian market, the big coupe, virtually unchanged for the 1996 model year, is offered in but one trim level loaded.

(A less lavishly equipped, front-wheel drive SVX has been sold in the U.S. since 1994, but Subaru Canada doesn't bring it

in.)

Standard goodies include a seamless, four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission (a five-speed manual box is unavailable); four channel anti-lock disc brakes; speed sensitive rack and pinion steering; leather interior; ozone friendly air conditioning; heated front seats; sunroof and the usual power accessories.

Plus, of course, that eye of God all-wheel drive, with viscous limited slip differential for better grip in rain or snow. It monitors every variable in sight to keep you pointed in the right direction and moving with appropriate velocity.

The price: $44,995.

"This is our flagship and our only car with a six-cylinder engine," says Joe Anwyll, Subaru Canada's vice president for sales and marketing. "It typifies grand touring."

The problem, he admits, is that when people think of $45,000cars, Subaru doesn't spring to mind.

"Buyers in this segment tend to look at the Lexus SC400 or something in the BMW or Jaguar line. If the SVX had a BMW 'propeller' on the nose, we could sell it for $95,000." A week with a red SVX with beige interior gave me a heady sense of mobility. Weather reports lost their power to intimidate you know you're going to get through.

The two-door's distinctive, low-rider styling has a Hollywood cachet about it that guarantees attention.

"Hey, mister you got a cool car," a street urchin called out as I parked the wasp waisted tester in Bloor West Village. I complimented the lad on his sense of esthetics.

The car's generously glassed canopy features an unusual window in the window that takes some getting used to. Other makers haven't rushed to copy the idea not a good sign.

The design allows an oversized door for easier entry and quiet cruising with the panes down. It also reflects the SVX's year-round vocation; even fresh air freaks aren't going to lower the glass much from November through March.

On the other hand, some may find the black border where the windows meet intrusive. And I discovered that sticking your head out to check for obstacles when backing up can be a bruising experience unless done carefully.

Under the hood is the pinnacle of Subaru engineering: a smooth, responsive, 3.3 litre flat six engine.

The "boxer" layout is, as Subaru never tires of informing the world, the same configuration used in the Ferrari Testarossa and

Porsche 911.

This beautifully finished, premium fuel power plant offers double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The crankshaft runs north to south, with three cylinders lying to the left and three to the right.

The arrangement centres the engine's weight lower to the ground for better balance. And the punch in/punch out action of the horizontal pistons hence, the "boxer" name applied to this design helps tame vibration.

As well, various engine subsystems can be mounted on top of the block for more convenient servicing.

Try it you'll like it.

The SVX's snug but comfy interior is more conventional than the dramatic exterior would lead you to expect. Gauges and controls are well arranged, and the four spoke leather-covered wheel, which tilts and telescopes, is about as holdable as they

get.

The climate buttons are obscure to the uninitiated. The car's message seems to be: pick the temperature you want and leave the rest to me. Another jarring note is simulated wood grain on the dash and doors; plastic just doesn't cut it in an automobile of this calibre.

A powerful six speaker AMFM radio/cassette/CD player lives behind a panel in the centre stack.

The back seat, of course, is for short hauls only or for somebody you've got a grudge against. But the seat back does split 50/50 to provide handy access to the good-sized cargo area.

The small but heavy trunk lid sports a massive spoiler. Hard to say how functional it is at legal speeds, but it looks neat and makes a great trunk handle.

The coupe rolls on sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE95s of the P225/50R16 kind. Aluminum alloy wheels are standard.

Subaru Canada expects to sell 150 to 180 SVXs in the current model year. The car is built in Gunma, Japan.

Architects are overrepresented among the affluent professionals with a taste for the different who account for most of the North American sales, although Anwyll doesn't know why.

The '97 edition will receive a facelift, along with engine and interior refinements, that will carry it through 1998.

"We'll stick with the window in the window," Anwyll says. "That was the way to go."

As Subaru's "halo" car, the SVX, which debuted as a '92 model, will exert greater influence on the rest of the line, as the brand’s image tilts toward performance, he promises. (Subaru's recently crowning as 1995 World Rally champion should help the tilt considerably.)

What comes after 1998 for the SVX Anwyll isn't prepared to say.

These are, after all, tough times for sports cars. High prices, steep insurance rates, a shift away from conspicuous consumption and aging Baby Boomers' need for minivans and sport-utes to haul their families have conspired against the genre.

Some two doors may fade from the scene, but if there's any justice in autodom, the senior Subaru will be among the survivors.

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