The Carchive: Subaru XT Turbo

XT1

It’s time to scoop out some more detritus from the inner reaches of the Carchive, this time from the bowing shelf marked Japanese and JDM.

I’m a massive hypocrite, I’ve suddenly realised. In so much of what I write I offer much salutation to those marques who manage to keep their product simple and effective. Needless complication and the addition of strange and peculiar ingredients rarely makes for a nicer tasting dish. On the other hand, I remain absolutely fascinated by those cars that came embellished with every single gizmo the company could think of, just because.

The Subaru XT, for example, which turned gadgetry into an art form.

XT2

“Subaru precision and performance has never been more breathtaking than it is now in the form of the new 4WD XT Turbo “

This is a 1985 brochure, for the first of the XTs to make it to British shores. Ours were simply named XT, not Vortex or Alcyone, and as far as I know all came with the four-cylinder engine. It also came with the most astonishingly linear wedge-styling. The vast majority of design-houses had moved onto CAD technologies by the mid-80s, one can only assume that Subaru used a studio full of Etch-A-Sketches and had regular paper-dart folding competitions. However, it certainly didn’t share any of its looks with any production car, prior or post.

The looks actually did amount to a functional objective. Subaru were after aerodynamics, and the XT managed a Cd of 0.29. That was pretty good, though I’m pretty sure this could have been managed without having obeyed their straightedges and set-squares quite so slavishly. Actually, if you look at the rear windscreen they actually left a curve in the glass just aft of that slim “C” pillar. I can only assume this was an accident, as the rest of the car is resolutely free of voluptuousness.

XT3

“Four-wheel drive takes on an exciting new dimension. Now it means extra safety, extra traction for rain, mud or snow”.

You could have a choice of all-wheel-drive or two-wheel motive power from the front. The FWD variant came only with the 5-speed manual transmission, and the reduced drivetrain losses gave it a 5mph top-end advantage over the 4WD version. If you wished for further blunted performance, or had just the one leg, you could opt for the automatic, which seems a shame but is actually quite nicely in keeping with the tech-heavy demeanour of the thing.

There was other technology, too. Foremost was the electro-pneumatic suspension system with the aim of improving “control and stability”. It also offered automatic levelling from front-to-rear, side-to-side. You could also, of course, raise and lower the height depending on road speed, and the firmness of the ride could also be fiddled with.

XT5

“Subaru’s new turbocharged engine is designed for smooth response even at important low-to-medium RPMs”

Well, hang on; that doesn’t seem very exciting, does it? A look at the spec reveals the 1.8 litre Boxer to have just 134hp to say for itself, happening at 5600 revs. 125mph could be coaxed out of it, though, thanks to the windcheatingness of it that motorised-cheddar styling. I would have to assume that the engine was tuned for economy, emissions and tractability rather than all-out thrills. In fact, the six-cylinder model only pumped out a dozen or so more horses when that arrived. But anyway, the Killer Feature for the XT wasn’t actually anything to do with the shape, the tech or the grunt.

XT5

“A high-tech interior is a Subaru Tradition”

Or, a bewildering scattering of random controls and sake-influenced styling cues has come to be expected of anything from Fuji Heavy Industries; well, until the Impreza came out and everything went a bit boring. CHECK IT OUT! Madness prevails throughout, from the “gun-grip” joystick gear shifter (W or W/O AWD selector button in RED on the top), utterly mental asymmetric steering wheel for, er, no explainable reason and fingertip controls for those features you don’t really need immediate access to, while the stereo requires that you take an eye and a hand off the wheel to operate. There is also seat fabric that looks like Garry Gasparov’s worst nightmare.

XT6

But, of course, the defining characteristic is THAT (optional) LCD instrument cluster. With the ride-height indicator dead-centre, because it was THAT important, a turbo gauge that illuminated like a fairground test-your-strength machine, and two equally crap tachometers. Crap? Well yes. One of them worked as a reverse bar-graph, the forced-perspective computer-game display reading data in the wrong direction to be useful, and the other one was a real-time read out of the actual number of revs the engine is spinning at, the drawback of which being that the display will simply read 888, 1888, 2888, 3888 as the digits whiz frantically round under heavy acceleration. Even the temperature and fuel gauges had an amusing 3D look to them. Conversely, the ODO and trip-meters were good old-fashioned mechanical rotary tumblers like on your ’70s cassette tape-counter.

“The Subaru XT Turbo is fun to drive no matter what your physical build”

Well, that’s a relief, because I’m a really strange shape. My knees are as high off the ground as some buildings and my tib, fib and femurs seem to have kept on growing while my torso packed it in when I hit 16 or so. Also, because I’m a great lover of beer and pies, and having reached a certain age, my waistline has now reached amber alert status and need to be kept in check lest I become a big fat bastard (BFB). The kindly Subaru folk reckon all this is OK, and thanks to their adjustable steering wheel angle I should slot in just fine.

This is good news, because I’d love to try one of these strange and compelling vehicles. Racking my brains right now I think I’m OK to say I’ve never seen one in the flesh. In my mind I want it to sound like an STi (the car, not the consequence) and look fantastic. If you’re reading this and have one of these, and live within inexpensive-to-travel distance of Colchester, please hit me up.

There’s a lot of XT love in the Hooniverse and throughout the wider web beyond, more now than then, I imagine. During its production life most people thought the XT to be “a bit silly” and kept on buying more humdrum, proven machinery instead Nowadays, though, we can celebrate the flying chisel for what it was. And, as used to be quoted in R.A-S.H (remember that?), whether or not I ever get the chance to drive an XT, At Least I Own The Brochure.

(Disclamer: All images are of original manufacturers publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Subaru, who owe us a ludicrous sports car. The BRZ doesn’t count)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

16 Comments

  1. XT + GD STi drivetrain = win x 1000
    Alternately, any super-lifted XT with 28" knobby tires (with a spare on the roof) is also win x 1000

  2. There was one of these for sale here around christmas time. It was red with what looked like peeling clearcoat and sedate grey interior. The add proclaimed it was very rare and had been parked for the last five years and was not running but his asking price was an insane $8500.

    1. Geez I feel bad now.$8500.00, wow! I sold my non-running, non-turbo 87 XT DL for 50.00 & cost of title transfer, to a neighbor. Guess I should have waited.
      The neighbor worked on it for about 3 weeks, & managed to get it running, and inspected, only to sell it for about 400.00. He had more in parts in it already.

  3. On a somewhat related topic, a SVX drove past while I was walking back to my car from the station last night. Made my evening just a little bit brighter.

  4. Before we scoff too much at the engine, 134 hp was really not bad for 1.8 liters in 1985. The contemporary Volkswagen GTI made all of 112 hp DIN (without a turbo) and I think the Subaru engine was tuned for mid-range torque, rather than top-end power.
    Also, most high-end Japanese coupes of the time (see also Toyota Soarer, Mazda Cosmo) were no less gadget-laden; where Subaru was brave in that regard was exporting most of the gadgets outside the home market, which many rivals did not.
    On the other hand, the package, down to the one-spoke steering wheel, suggests that somebody read a bunch of magazine articles about modern Citroëns and said, "We can do that, too." As for the styling, its proportions aren't far removed from other contemporary Japanese coupes of the time, like the Honda Prelude, albeit executed in a way that suggests one of those books that shows you how to make a paper airplane that looks sort of like an F-15.

  5. Someone needs to resto-mod one of these things, stat. That 80's styling needs to live with some modern underpinnings.

  6. When I was a valet in college around 1990 I got to drive one of these. I don't remember much other than how crazy the interior was and that I spent several minutes after parking it looking for the 'ride height' control so I could jack it up to the heavens.

  7. my 88 XT non turbo has an after market exhaust and sounds A Lot like a highly tuned 2.5RS. doesn't have that power though!

  8. My 88 4wd Subaru WRXT is a flying wedge. Yes, it maybe quirky, but reaches 100kmph in under 5 seconds with a running gear transferred from a WRX STI brother. silly, mmmmm. Quirky… yes but none the less, not a boring everyday production line offering that everyone else has

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