Graded – 1980s Subarus

Welcome back to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Subaru was at the height of the brand’s quirkiness in the 1980s. Snubbing the proverbial nose at convention, Subaru’s were about as far away from the mainstream as possible. Kei car vans, pneumatic suspension sports cars, rebadged SUVs, pickup trucks with seats in the bed – there was a real hodgepodge of offerings.

Below are eight models from that decade that I have selected with no real process or stipulations. Each has received a grade with my rationale behind it.

Subaru BRAT

Grade: A

One of the coolest vehicles to every wear the six-star badge, the BRAT was an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter. It was basically a compact pickup truck powered by four-cylinder boxer engine with four-wheel drive. What made the truck exceedingly cool, besides its looks, were the pair of jump seats bolted into the bed of the truck, allowing it to circumvent the import tariff in North America.

Subaru Sambar

Grade: B-

Kei cars are usually boring, basic transportation. But some are useful, if not cool. The Subaru Sambar could be had as a mini pickup truck or a van. Built on a rear-engine design, it was available with four-wheel drive and either a two- or three-cylinder engine depending on market. Many have modified the four-wheel drive van into a mini-off roader.

Subaru XT Turbo 4WD

Grade: A-

The XT was one of the most unique sports coupes offered in the ‘80s. It could be had with a turbocharger, push-button four-wheel drive, a pneumatic suspension, digital dash, and a single blade front windshield wiper.

Besides cool features, the XT also had a lot of unique design elements like an asymmetrical steering wheel and pistol grip shifter. The only thing holding this car back from a higher grade is a rather weak turbocharged engine.

Subaru Leone Turbo

Grade: B+

Before the Legacy and Impreza, Subaru’s most normal car was the Leone.  Despite having a more conventional appearance, under the skin the Leone was still pure Subaru. A turbocharged boxer engine, all-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission were available to make this unsuspecting compact car much more interesting. The wagon earns extra cool points.

Subaru Justy

Grade: C

In 1988, the subcompact Justy stood out from the crowd by offering optional four-wheel drive. Not much else separated this small hatchback from other Japanese small cars and it was an otherwise snore to drive. But when it snowed, with such a low curb weight and tiny wheelbase, the four-wheel drive Justy was a blast to rip around on fresh powder.   

Subaru XT6

Grade: B+

For the 1988 model year Subaru fixed the XT’s power problem by installing a 2.7-liter 145-hp flat-six engine. But with this update, some of the old Turbo’s trick technology was gone like the digital dashboard and pneumatic suspension. As well, the new trick adaptive electrohydraulic steering system didn’t work that well. Still, the XT6 was unique, even if it lost a bit of the Turbo’s quirkiness.

Subaru REX SuperCharged

Grade: B

In the late 1980s it seemed every Japanese car had to have some form of performance version, even Kei cars. Enter the Subaru REX Supercharged. Increasing horsepower, torque and usable power, the REX wasn’t just more powerful, it also featured a slick exterior overhaul to match its new performance.

Subaru Bighorn

Grade: C-

Now for something completely different. Despite all of Subaru’s four-wheel drive prowess, by the late 1980s the brand did not have a true off-road SUV. So, like every other automaker seemed to be doing at the time, Subaru called up Isuzu and asked for a rebadged version of the Trooper. Called the Bighorn, it was only sold in Japan for a few years with a 2.8-liter turbo diesel engine.  

Thanks for visiting

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