Al-sigh-uh-nee: Subaru’s other sports cars were way ahead of the curve

When the BRZ and its Toyota 86 sibling muscled their way into the sports car market people lauded Subaru for "finally building a sports car". While the BRZ is a cracker of a sports car, it wasn't Subaru's first attempt at building one. 

Introduced to the world in 1985, Subaru’s first sports car went by many different names but had one central philosophy: bring new ideas to the sports car market. It was sold in front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive layouts, with Subaru’s EA82 four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engines in aspirated and turbocharged formats later joined by their ER27 2.7-litre flat-six in some markets.

 

Subaru North America dubbed it the XT, while Australia and New Zealand tagged it the Vortex, and it was the Alcyone (named for the brightest star in the Pleiades constellation, which makes up Subaru’s logo) in Japan. And, in case you're wondering, it is pronounced "Al-SIGH-uh-nee".

 

The dramatic wedge shape hid many aerodynamic tricks to give one of the lowest aerodynamic drag figures of the time for a mass-market production car (0.29Cd), including deflectors to direct air around the wheels and tyres, retracting flush-mount door handles, and a single wiper that hid behind the bonnet (hood) cowl line.

 

Inside there was a super-futuristic aero-inspired cabin featuring such 80s radness as a single-spoke steering wheel, a full digital dashboard on turbo models, a pistol-grip shifter, and both tilt and telescope adjustment of the steering and instrument binnacle. But for all the high-tech gadgetry the Vortex wasn’t really a sports car.

 

The NA models had just 72kW from their 1.7-litre four-cylinder, while the turbocharger added 11kW to that score for a disappointingly pedestrian 83kW of tepid performance. Even the “big six” model only produced 108kW and its variable-ratio assistance hydraulic steering and suspension blunted the weight of the two-door coupe, making it more “grand tourer” than a “lithe sports car” like Mazda’s MX-5.

 

In 1992 the Vortex/XT/Alcyone was replaced by the new, even more tech-laden Alcyone SVX model (which stands for “Subaru Vehicle X”). By the early 1990s the 1980’s hard neon wedges were out and rounded, smooth jelly bean shapes were in. Basically, the SVX didn’t look like it been designed to keep doors open, though it did retain plenty of quirks.

 

The two-piece curved side windows aren’t great at the drive-thru but were genuine supercar style of the time and, depending on where you lived, you got one of two all-wheel-drive systems: either the active ACT-4, or the more advanced VTD which used a planetary centre differential.

 

Packing a 3.3-litre EG33 flat-six and an electronically controlled four-speed automatic the SVX – like its forebear – available in front- and all-wheel-drive. With 172kW it had far more poke than the Vortex’s engines but the 1600kg kerb weight and automatic transmission blunted performance to make the SVX more of a grand tourer.

 

Subaru even built a wagon (or “shooting brake” if you’re from the UK) concept called the Amadeus in both 2 and 4-door variants though this was never put into production. While the Vortex/XT models sold nearly 100,000 units in six years, only 25,000 SVXs found homes in its four-year run. Only 249 were sold new in Australia, in part due to the hugely expensive price tag of between $73,000-$83,000 making it almost as expensive as a brand new R32 GT-R Skyline!

 

All up the Vortex and SVX were expensive niche vehicles which didn’t set the sales charts on fire when new, but have found a cult following in the years since thanks to their advanced ideas and reflections of the era’s fashions.

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