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Subaru XT

Subaruxt1 After skipping yesterday, I was going to try to reward Car Lust's few but long-suffering readers for this week's weirdness (AMC Eagle? Honda Ridgeline?) by presenting a lovingly crafted piece on the Lotus Esprit S1. However, after a few minutes of writer's block, I realized I didn't have the superlatives in me today to laud its inspired design. So, instead, here's the Subaru XT. It's as wedgy as a Lotus Esprit S1, only without the superlatives.

Actually, if you cross your eyes a little, the XT's spec sheet made it look a lot like something like its famous grandchild, the Subaru WRX. It started off with a light, compact, extremely aerodynamic body, all-wheel-drive, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Subaru XT6 replaced the turbo four with a horizontally opposed (or flat) six--a configuration that, as Subaru breathlessly reminded us in XT6 ads, is the same as that used in the Porsche 911.

Subaruxt2 Combined with its wildly edgy lines, reminiscent of the exotics of the 1970s, those advanced specifications make the XT a budget supercar, right? Well, no. The XT was sporty only in relation to Subaru's other, more agricultural, contemporary offerings, and is a crude, slow implement compared its more competent sporting Subaru successors, the SVX and WRX.

I really like the XT, though, precisely because it's such an oddball. It's as if somebody mixed together an original Esprit with a dollop of 1980s Japanese techno-geekery and mixed in Citroen's design ethic. Its look is absurdly otherworldy both inside and out. I love the flying-wedge look; its chunky Japanese detailing is oddly reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica. On the inside, its uber-digital dashboard and bizarrely asymetrical steering wheel give it the feel of The Last Starfighter. The video below walks you through the dashboard, which was a knockout at the time.

Subaruxt3 Performance-wise, the XT was underpowered and an average handler. The XT turbo could muster only 110 horsepower; the XT6 upped the ante to 145 horsepower, but even that was only good for a 0-60 time in the 9-second range--barely average in its class. Still, while it wasn't fast, the XT combined all the sturdy goodness of 1980s Subarus with some weirdly compelling details.

At the time, Subaru was one of the automotive world's eccentric genius, smart enough to be ahead of the curve on all-wheel drive, but yet still free-spirited enough to come up with a strange flight of fancy like the XT. Today's fast turbo Subaru Legacys and Foresters wear the XT designation. That's probably coincidence, but I'd like to think it's a tip of the cap to Subaru's first sports car.

If you've ever wanted to put together a Subaru paper model--and who hasn't?--your wish has now been answered.

--Chris H.

P.S. By the way, Our Cars Week starts Monday. We've had so many good responses that I may end my posts about my own cars at the end of next week but continue the reader posts for another week or so. As long as you keep sending me good posts, I'll keep posting them!


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pneumatic suspension, wedge shape, artificial horizon, star-wars instrument panel... I believe that subaru offered warp drive as an option in some later models.

If I remember correctly, these cars could raise and lower their suspensions, right? I actualy saw one yesterday.a little rusted, but still working.

At least some 1980s-90s Subarus had a pneumatic leveling system built into the suspension. There was a button on the dash that you could push to get another inch or two of ground clearance.

For months after we got our '90 Legacy, we used to like to watch it sink down as the leveling system depressureized after you shut the engine off. (We were young and easily amused.)

They can also levitate with an antigravity feature, unlock wormholes for inter-dimensional travel, and invert space-time at will. I did hear that the high-energy-laser-powered-cappuccino-maker was not especially reliable sometimes requiring more than 10 nano-seconds to brew.

It's looks are what always got to me. The little Japanese guy that styled it did an acceptable job on the nose, then the peyote he dropped at lunch kicked in when he designed the rear section.

A friend of mine had a later model of one of these. I always thought it suited her perfectly: a little odd but fun. It certainly was distinctive. Then she got a Saab which was totally not her.

I had a subaru XT when I was stationed in (West) Germany in the late 80's. I ran it on the autoban for 2 years. It wasn't the fastest car on the road, but it was far from the slowest. And it was lots of fun to drive.

Major Bill

The problem with '80s Subarus was that, technologically clever though they were, they could rust on the Moon.

I had a subaru XT when I was stationed in (West) Germany in the late 80's. I ran it on the autoban for 2 years. It wasn't the fastest car on the road, but it was far from the slowest. And it was lots of fun to drive.

Major Bill

With oil at $111 a barrel, maybe it's time to re-visit some of the innovative aerodynamic ideas from this car, like the completely flush door handles.

The XT actually only had part-time 4wd.

The XT6 had the AWD system and the H6 and the air suspension. It also had the same 5x100 lug pattern as the later Subarus had.

Although the XT and XT6 looked similar, almost no parts were interchangeable.

The MT version had an electronic locker for the center diffy to lock it 50/50 which we wouldn't see again til the 2004 STi.


i had an 85 xt turbo and now have an 86 xt turbo as well as an svx. the xt turbo gets great mileage at 28-30 around town (5 spd), i love the car, wish it wasn't so hard to get parts for.

I just watched 'BIG' with my kids (5 and 7) and the Heroine Drives an XT, it got me thinking (I drive a Spec B Legacy 3.0) as I'd forgot they existed - so thanks for this column I feel educated now. Incidentally, if you thought Subaru had come over all corporate and had lost their oddness, then ruminate on this - the new diesel they offer doesn't fit the chassis of any other manufacturer. Just as the world's car makers become more cost effective and homogeneous, Subaru does its own thing. Again.

Good to see that a few people still remember the Subaru XT "The Wedge"

I have a XT6, as well as it's predecessor the SVX (and a few other Subarus)

With a CD of .29, it was the lowest CD in mass produced cars when it came out....


Great to see so many recent comments on the XT, I just brought a XT6 which is currently off the road getting a new clutch. I am planning on getting it back up to scratch and making it look great. Its actually Twin turbo, not the prototype version but the former owner put the extra turbo on it and upgraded them both. Its currently just under 300hp. I'd love to share photos and video's with anyone thats interested, it also has a digi dash, which isn't standard with the XT6 model. Give me an email at if your interested in seeing more. I love the car, needs alot of work but I'm keen to get it done! :)


I have an 86 DL
it is 2 seats FWD five speed

weighing in at under 2300 pounds it pulls pretty good for 96HP

her name is Winona and I will have this car fifty years from now when I am 80 and cannot get in and out!

hi.. its wonderfully written. i really like it.I appreciate it. thanks for sharing .

I love these cars. I own a 1987 XT.
Interior is almost like new.
Been sitting for awhile because fuel pump is broken.
Can anyone tell me where I could find a manual on how to replace? I would like to get it back on the road.
Would love to find a 4WD for sale.

That's my XT Turbo in the little digidash video. This is my daily drive, when not on the DR250, and the car is still quick and a pleasure to drive. The air suspension works and yes, the car is self leveling whether in the high or low position and still works as designed after 23 years and 170k miles. The joystick-shaped shifter has a red 4wd-on-the-fly switch ahead of the lock button and reminds me of a fire button. Rumor has it that the car was designed by SOA CEO at the time, Harvey Lamm.


BTW, the 1.8 liter turbo models had 134lbft of torque @2800 rpms and a top speed of 125mph. A fun little sports car indeed!

I have owned 3 xt6's. an 88, 89,& 91 not one had the leveling control. Could someone post a pic. so I may see what it looks like and local?

The XT6 was sold in North America and Europe. All were available in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Subaru XT was introduced in 1985 and it was the first vehicle that didn't share exterior body.
This was the most favorable car.
Interesting post, I like the information you have collected & thanks for sharing with us.

Aaron, My understanding is that the "height control" which came on all US 85 and 86 4WD XT's (turbo and non-turbo) sold in the US, was limited to only XT6's sold in Canada. It was controlled by a button on the left pod and the "high" position was overriden at speeds above 55. At 55 mine lowers automatically and waits till the speed drops below about 50 to return to the high suspension setting.
As for "self-leveling", all 4WD and AWD models were "self-leveling" which levels the car to the same height on each strut no matter how many passengers or how hard you cornered(though it might take several seconds).

Thanks Elroyjetsn. It's funny since it says to use that control when reseting the height control computer.

Another piece of XT trivia... In New England a magazine add was made with a farmer asking his about his new XT Turbo, "I thought you were going to buy a Subaru". The XT in the picture is an 86' model identical to the car I own and drive daily. It has a hood scoop, but the 85' car used in the corresponding TV ad didn't have the scoop.

Subaru added the scoop in 1986 to vent the heat from the turbocharger, presumably to prevent heat damage to plastic parts under the hood. Now you know why every Subaru Turbo vehicle since has had a hood scoop.

BTW, my cat loves sitting on the scoop on cold days.

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