In the early ‘80s, it seemed every Japanese manufacturer was vying for consumers attention with a two-door, wedge-shaped coupe. Well, every manufacturer but one. Nissan had the 300ZX, Toyora the Supra, Mazda the RX-7, Honda the Prelude, and Mitsubishi the Starion. But Subaru had nothing. At least, the brand had nothing until the 1985 introduction of the XT.
A Wonderfully Wacky Wedge. That about sums up my feelings on the Subaru XT. A product consisting of equal parts creativity, innovation and oddity. At first glance, the XT may not seem all that unusual, except for the fact it only had one giant windshield wiper up front. The wedge-shape two-door coupe was all the rage in the 1980s and this car fit the mold, complete with pop-up headlights.
But step inside and things got weird…fantastic, but weird. First, it’s impossible to miss that asymmetrical steering wheel. I consider it one of the best wheel designs of all time, others consider it an abomination. Flanking the wheel are a series of buttons and toggle switches, controlling most of the car’s main functions.
A digital gauge cluster was optional and the interior door handles were near vertical, recessed pull levers. And speaking of levers, both the automatic and manual gear shift levers were unusually tall and pistol grip in design. The radio and HVAC were a bit more contemporary looking, but the seats did have a unique style to them.
Choices, Choices, Choices
The dirty bits of the XT were just as unique, peculiar, and to me, fascinating. During the XT’s short model run, three engines, three drivetrains and two transmissions were offered. Initially, there was a choice of flat four-cylinder engines, both 1.8-liters in displacement. The standard engine produced just 97 hp and did not back up the car’s sporty looks. For those wanting a bit more propulsion, there was a turbocharged version, but in North America power was only increased to 112 hp.
Both engines could be paired with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive depending on the model year. But the king of quirkiness was the turbocharged, all-wheel drive XT with the five-speed manual transmission.
Unlike virtually ever Subaru that came after it, the XT did not have standard all-wheel drive. It had a part time system. Remember that ginormous five-speed manual gear lever mentioned previously? Perched on top of it was a big button that would activate the all-wheel drive system. Not only did this spring the rear differential to life, it raised the XT up off the ground thanks to its pneumatic suspension. This part-time all-wheel drive was aimed more at escaping mud and deep snow than superior cornering ability.
Later in the vehicle’s life the turbocharged engine was replaced by 2.7-liter flat six-cylinder engine making a more respectable 145 hp. Sadly, this engine was only available with an automatic transmission in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive system was different than the previous turbo model as it was a full-time system, similar to what Subaru uses today. Although quicker cars, they lost some of the quirkiness of the previous turbocharged all-wheel drive XT’s.
But that’s like calling it the most normal member of the Adam’s Family. The XT6 was still chocked full of eccentricity and ‘80s flair. It defied convention and couldn’t care less what was considered normal. But most importantly to me, it was also the building block for one of my favourite cars of all time, the Subaru SVX.