The Alcyone SVX, also known outside Japan as the Subaru SVX, is a mid-sized GT coupé that was sold by Subaru from 1991 to 1997. It was Fuji Heavy Industries first attempt to enter the luxury/performance car market. Its intention was to combine two seemingly contradictory elements – comfort and performance. While a well-balanced sports car appealed to the driver in everyone, most people didn't want to sacrifice comfort and luxury. The Subaru SVX actually created a new passenger car niche – the balanced luxury performance coupe.
The name Alcyone refers to the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster, on which the Subaru logo is based.
The Subaru Alcyone SVX first made its debut at the 28th Tokyo Auto Show in 1989, as a concept car.
Legendary Italian Automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign designed the slippery, sleek bodywork, incorporating design themes from many of his design concepts, such as the Ford Maya and the Oldsmobile Inca. Subaru decided to put the concept vehicle into production and retain its most distinguishing design element, the unconventional window-within-a-window. Subaru called this an "aircraft-inspired glass-to-glass canopy." The decision to release this car for production would give the public the first opportunity to drive a "concept car" as originally conceived.
Subaru introduced the SVX in the United States in July 1991 (as a 1992 model), following up the U.S. debut with a Japanese market introduction in September of that same year. The model was designed and marketed as the replacement for their aging, envelope pushing Alcyone XT and Alcyone XT6 coupes.
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the base model 1992 SVX-LS was $24,445, with the top of the line model with touring package, the LS-L, listing at $28,000. This was $8,000-$11,000 higher that any previous Subaru. By the end of its production run in 1997, the price had risen to $36,740 for the top-of-the-line LSi.
Despite its high price, and the fact that it had made its U.S debut during an economic recession, sales in the United States were good; 5,280 cars for 1992 and 3,859 cars in 1993, although it was reported that Subaru intended to sell 10,000 SVXs each year. However, demand for the SVX dropped significantly before falling to just 640 units in 1997, at which point Subaru discontinued production.
Total sales of the SVX numbered 14,257 in the United States and a total of about 25,000 worldwide. 2,478 SVXs were sold in Europe (with 854 headed directly to Germany). Roughly 7,000 of all SVXs sold were right-hand drive models. Included in this number were the 249 vehicles sold in Australia, at a cost between approx. Au$73,000 to Au$83,000
As an investment, Subaru actually lost $3,000 on every Subaru SVX sold, for a total loss of around $75,000,000 on this project. However, they considered this a small price to pay for the increased awareness of Subaru's presence as a quality, forward-thinking auto manufacturer.
The SVX continues to be prized as a used car with unusual styling. Most examples can been seen in good condition, though one 1994 SVX in Seattle was put up for sale after being damaged in a televised police chase. The car was called a "future collectible" in Collectible Automobile magazine with strong, but not very high resale values.
In stark contrast to the boxy, angular XT, the SVX had curvy lines designed by Giugiaro and an unusual, aircraft-inspired "glass-to-glass canopy" with 2-piece power side windows. The windows are split about 2/3 of the way from the bottom, with the division being parallel to the upper curve of the door frame. These half-windows are generally seen on exotic vehicles with "scissor", "gull-wing", or "butterfly" doors, such as the Lamborghini Countach, De Lorean DMC-12, and the McLaren F1. The SVXs aerodynamic shape allowed it to maintain the low drag coefficient of .29cd, previously established by the XT coupe it replaced.
Unlike the previous model, which had been available with either a turbocharged 4-cylinder (as XT) or a naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder (as XT6), the SVX debuted with and remained available with only one engine, the EG33 model 3.3 liter "BOXER"
horizontally-opposed Flat-6 or H-6.
This engine was the largest ever produced by Subaru for its passenger cars and it held this record for 10 years after SVX production had ceased, until the EZ36 3.6L Boxer engine was introduced in the 2008 Subaru Tribeca.
Internally, the engine is essentially a six-cylinder variant of the EJ22 found in the first-generation Legacy and Impreza. The new 3.3 liter variant was equipped with dual overhead camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder, and had an increased compression ratio of 10.1:1, bringing horsepower up to 230 hp (171.5 kW) at 5,400 rpm with 228 ft·lb. of torque at 4400 rpm. Fuel delivery was accomplished with sequential Multi-port fuel injection with dual spray injectors. Engine ignition used platinum-tipped spark plugs and computerized management system with "Limp Home feature", which included over-rev protection, monitors fuel injection and ignition.
The exhaust system consisted of head pipes from each bank of cylinders with their own pre-catalytic converters, which entered a dual-inlet / single outlet main catalytic converter. A single 2.5" exhaust pipe exited the main converter and went into a resonator, and onto the main, transverse, single inlet muffler with twin exhaust tips in the bumper.
All versions of the SVX sold were equipped with automatic transmissions. Depending on the country, Subaru had two versions of their All-Wheel-Drive system for the automatic transmission, called ACT-4 or VTD. The first system, called ACT-4 by Subaru, was the same setup commonly found on other Subaru models of the period, and used a variable clutch pack center differential using a 90% / 10% power split front to rear, which could transfer up to a 50% / 50% power split for maximum traction if the front wheels started to slip. This AWD system was offered throughout the entire production run, and was used in vehicles manufactured for sale in the USA, Canada, Germany, France and Switzerland. A continuous traction delivery system, called VTD by Subaru, was used in vehicles for sale in Japan, England, the Benelux region of Northern Europe, Australia, Spain, Austria and Brazil. The VTD AWD system is a permanent AWD due to its 36% / 64% split. The Japanese-spec SVX was equipped with four-wheel steering (4WS) .
Subaru began to realize that the high selling price of the SVX was giving some buyers "sticker shock". In an attempt to attract more buyers, a Front Wheel Drive FWD version was offered on the SVX during the 1994-1995 model year. In 1994, FWD was offered on both the L model (X33 in the VIN) and on the LS model (X34 in the VIN). In 1995, only the L model was offered in FWD (X33 in the 5th, 6th and 7th digits of the VIN). Unfortunately, AWD is a core technology that buyers identify with Subaru, and offering the SVX with FWD didn't help yearly sales figures and so they were discontinued and only AWD versions were produced.
Acceleration from 0-60 mph was 7.3 seconds, with a standing 1/4 mile time of 15.4 seconds at 92.5mph (148.9km/h). The top speed of the 1992/1993 SVX was 182mph (293km/h), while in later models (1994-1997) the top speed was electronically-governed at 153mph (246km/h).
Though powerful enough for the time, the SVX was relatively heavy, weighing in at 3580 pounds (1624 kg), which is roughly the same as a Third Generation Outback wagon. It was only available with the 4EAT 4-speed automatic transmission, which adversely affected performance. A manual transmission, capable of handling the horsepower and torque of the EG33 engine, was not available at the time of production and was never made available as an option.
Subaru chose to use the boxer engine in the SVX, as well as most of their products to simplify the power train implementation of all-wheel drive and because of the natural smoothness of the engine design. According to Subaru, the engine sits in-line, or longitudinal, with the transmission, instead of being offset or transverse. This can be commonly found on other FWD and AWD vehicles, minimizing body roll. The weight of the engine and transmission are balanced instead of being offset, which causes the weight of the engine and transmission to be unbalanced in the engine bay in other vehicles. The boxer engine also affords a low center of gravity because the engine sits low in the engine bay and close to the ground, as opposed to other vehicles, allowing the vehicle to stay more stable in moderate to high speed maneuvers. Other manufacturers attempt to counteract the offset weight by making their power trains' weight evenly distributed, which overall causes the power train to be heavier than the Subaru layout, which is manufactured from lightweight aluminum. The boxer design also provides perfect vibration mitigation because the movement of each piston is exactly countered by the corresponding piston in the opposing cylinder bank, eliminating the need for a harmonic balancer attached to the front of the engine at the crankshaft. Torque steer is also reduced with this type of power train layout. This is achieved by having the front driveshafts being of equal weight and length, and extend from the transmission to the front wheels at almost perpendicular from the transmission.
Aftermarket conversion applications for the SVX engine, preferably the 1992-1995 OBDI Subaru SVX, have become very popular with aftermarket enthusiasts.
The horizontally-opposed engine is ideally suited for rear engine German vehicles, that were originally manufactured with this type of a flat "pancake" style of engine. The older engines, using earlier technology, were used by the Volkswagen Vanagon, as well as other models. Compared to the low power and torque of the original Volkswagen Vanagon engine, which had from 95-110hp (71-82 kW), the SVX engine provided 230 hp (171.5 kW) with about the same amount of torque.
The engine is also ideally suited for some small aircraft and ultra-light aircraft applications, due to the naturally-balanced nature of the SVX's horizontally-opposed engine, making for vibration-free operation. The SVX also has a high RPM rating, which contributes to achieving a much better performance rating than a lot of the older technology, original equipment engines.
The earlier SVX engines with OBDI engine management (from 1992 through 1995), are preferred for these types of conversions, as the OBDI technology is easier for conversion enthusiasts to adapt to. The 1996-1997 SVX used the later, more restrictive OBDII engine management technology, which is still in current use today.
In 1991, a Subaru SVX, driven by Ken Knight and Bob Dart, won the Alcan Winter Rally,
a race starting in Seattle to the Arctic Circle and back.
In the early 1990s there was a Subaru SVX PPG Pace Car . It featured a silver to purple fade paint job, silver wheels in the front, purple wheels in the rear, "SVX" windshield banner, roll cage and an amber roof light. It was evaluated by Wally Dallenbach Sr, Indy Car Chief Steward and PPG Pace Car evaluator. It was used as a promotional tool for Subaru, as well as a pace car. While most pace cars were retired after one season, the SVX proved to be such a worthy example and a favorite, it was used for several seasons. It now is in storage in the famous "Subaru Performance Attic" in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, near Subaru of America's headquarters. This is where many of the unique Subaru concept cars and Subarus of historical significance are stored.
Transmission failure in the early models, brake rotor warping and wheel bearing failures were all common problems with the SVX. At first glance, it is tempting to blame these failures on the weight of the car, but in actuality, these failures are mostly due to Subaru engineering errors (that in many cases Subaru fixed).
- Automatic transmission failures in the early models (1992-1993) were caused by a fine screen filter installed in the transmission cooler, which was located inside the radiator. Debris from normal wear would build up and clog the screen, reducing or stopping automatic transmission fluid flow, thus killing the transmission through overheating. Subaru later corrected this by removing the screen entirely and installing a proper external filter in the automatic transmission fluid circuit to catch any debris from the transmission, before it entered the cooler. In 1994 the transmission received several internal upgrades, taking care of its earlier reliability issues. With proper fluid maintenance and the addition of a larger aftermarket transmission cooler, this problem is preventable.
- Warped brake rotors were due mainly to uneven or over-torque of the lug nuts and inadequate thickness of the rotor.
- Rear wheel bearing problems surfaced due to improper lubrication. Bearings were shipped to the dealerships pre-greased. However, this was only a packing grease to prevent rust during shipment and storage, so if bearings are not properly cleaned and re-packed with high-temperature grease, the problem would come back. Since then, Subaru is now shipping all wheel bearings pre-greased with the proper high-temperature grease, so repacking is no longer necessary.
- The Subaru SVX is one of the few vehicles that likely requires an external E-ZPass transmitter. This is because the titanium dioxide coating on the windshield blocks the signal from the RFID transponders. This coating has been suspected in causing issues with radar speed detectors as well.