Subaru XT

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Subaru XT
1985 Subaru Alcyone VR Turbo 4WD.jpg
ManufacturerSubaru (Fuji Heavy Industries)
Also called
  • Subaru Alcyone (Japan)
  • Subaru Vortex (Australia & New Zealand)
AssemblyYajima Plant, Ota, Gunma, Japan
Body and chassis
ClassSports car
Body style2-door coupé
RelatedSubaru Leone
Wheelbase2,464 mm (97 in)
Length4,511 mm (177.6 in)
Width1,689 mm (66.5 in)
Height1,336 mm (52.6 in)
SuccessorSubaru Alcyone SVX

The Subaru XT was a 2-door coupé that was produced from 1985 to 1991. The XT was sold as the Alcyone in Japan, the Vortex in Australia and New Zealand, and the XT (with the EA-82 four-cylinder engine) or XT6 (with the ER-27 six-cylinder engine) in North America and Europe. All were available in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, depending on the year.

The Subaru XT was launched in February 1985 in the American market, followed by a June debut in Japan.[1] The Alcyone name comes from the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster, on which the Subaru logo is based. The XT range was replaced by the Subaru SVX in 1992.

XT series (1985–1991)[edit]

By the time the XT was launched, Subaru had already produced vehicles with very different styling compared to other vehicles of the time period. The XT, first introduced in February 1985 in the United States (June 1985 in Japan), was a wedged-shaped departure from the 1970s-influenced curves of the previous models, aimed directly at the styles emerging in the 1980s. The XT Turbo 4WD made its European debut at the March 1985 Geneva Motor Show.[2] When introduced, the New York Times called it "the ultimate in jazzy design", in contrast to Subaru's older "cheap and ugly" offerings. The XT was the first Subaru to stray from earlier models that offered a practical application, in that the XT wasn't designed to carry loads or for commercial uses. The 2.7-litre flat-six sold in Japan was the first Subaru to exceed government engine displacement regulations due to the engine being over 2000 cc, and as such was regarded as a luxury vehicle. It also obligated an elevated annual road tax due to the engine's size.


The extreme wedge body shape was possible due to the engine's flat horizontally opposed cylinder layout shared by all Subarus. Extensive wind tunnel testing was used to lower wind resistance and even "aircraft type" door handles were used that were totally flush with the outside of the door. To open the door, it was required to push a hinged panel out of the release mechanism's opening. There is one 22 inch windshield wiper, when not in use tucks under the hood, and rubber spoilers before each wheel well opening doubled as "mud guards" but really acted to direct airflow smoothly past the tires and wheels. The result was one of the most aerodynamic production cars of its time with a coefficient of drag or Cd. of 0.29,[1] improved fuel economy, and a quieter ride due to reduced amounts of wind noise.

Aircraft-inspired cockpit[edit]

The inside of the car had many aircraft-like features such as pod mounted lighting, climate control and wiper controls. The standard tilting-telescoping steering moved the instrument panel to keep it lined up with the steering column when tilting. The shifter was joystick-shaped and had a thumb trigger interlock and "on-demand" four-wheel drive button. The approach to steering wheel adjustment was also seen in the Isuzu Piazza and the Ford Probe introduced earlier in the 1980s. Turbo models featured a sort of artificial horizon orange backlit liquid crystal instrument display with the tachometer, boost indicator, temperature and fuel gauges seen as three-dimensional graphs tilting back out to the horizon. The aircraft cockpit approach reflected influences from Subaru's parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, which also manufactured aircraft, such as the Fuji FA200 Aero Subaru.

The XT was loaded with features rarely found on small cars, such as a turbocharger, a computer-controlled engine and transmission, adjustable height suspension[1] and an optional digital instrument cluster. The air suspension was inspired by various manufacturers who used Hydropneumatic suspension, such as Citroën, and Mercedes-Benz. The XT also had some features found on few other cars, such as an electronic in-dash trip computer, retractable flaps covering the door handles, and a single wiper blade for the entire windscreen. Pass-through folding rear seats and racing style front seats were standard equipment.


The 1985 XT was fitted with one of two engines:

  • EA82: 1781 cc H4 producing 97 hp (72 kW) at 5200 rpm and 103 ft·lbf (140 Nm) at 3200 rpm (9.5:1 compression ratio).
  • EA82T: 1781 cc turbocharged H4 producing 112 hp (83 kW) at 4800 rpm and 143 ft·lbf (194 Nm) at 2800 rpm (7.5:1 compression ratio; some sources say 7.7:1.) in North American specifications. In Europe the power of the XT Turbo was 136 PS (100 kW; 134 hp); the naturally aspirated model was not sold there. Starting in 1987, power for North American cars increased to 115 hp (86 kW).

These engines shared the following equipment and specifications:

The XT was available with both manual and automatic transmissions. 85-87 XT Turbos were available as either front-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive, while the 85-87 XT non turbo cars were only available as front-wheel-drive. The part-time four-wheel-drive system was selectable by a push button atop the shifter. In 1988, the turbo model was discontinued and replaced by the XT6. The part-time four-wheel drive then became available only on manual-equipped XT non turbo cars made in the 1988 and 1989 model years (1991 XT non turbo models were front-wheel-drive only). The full-time four-wheel-drive system, very similar to the AWD system that Subaru still uses today, was used on the automatic-equipped XT non turbo models, and on XT6 models as well. However, front-wheel-drive XT non turbo models were still available, and the front-wheel-drive XT6s were automatic only. Peculiarly, virtually no XT models were produced in the 1990 model year.

Features and options[edit]

As mentioned above, the XT was loaded with periodically unusual features. Included on all models were:

  • Retractable door-handle flaps
  • Single front wiper blade
  • Steering wheel with a single vertical and a single horizontal spoke
  • Pistol-grip shifter
  • an ECU for engine and transmission management
  • Steering wheel with both tilt and telescope adjustment
  • Instrument cluster that tilted with the steering wheel

Furthermore, some models were equipped with additional features:

  • Digital instrument cluster that tilted with the steering wheel
  • Headlight Washers (XT6 only)
  • Trip computer with range/fuel management facilities
  • Pneumatic suspension with height control
  • Push-button four-wheel drive (later changed to all-wheel drive)
  • Hill holder brake system, prevented rolling on hills in the manual transmission version.

Like other Subaru models of the same vintage, the North American market XT was sold in three models: the base-model DL, the better-equipped GL, and the top-of-the-range GL-10. Many of the options mentioned above were available only on the GL-10. European markets generally only received the XT Turbo 4WD, where the car was sold in small numbers as a halo model.

Two H4-powered derivatives were sold in Japan: the turbocharged Alcyone VR, and the non-turbocharged Alcyone VS.

The XT received a minor update in 1987 for the second half of the 1987 model year, roughly corresponding to the 1988 launch of the XT6. Early XTs are easily distinguished from later models by inspecting the taillight and reverse light configuration - early models had reverse lights in the rear bumper, while 198712-up models had the reverse lights in the center taillight panel. All wheel drive turbo and six-cylinder models can be distinguished by the shape of the headrests; base models had solid headrests, whereas the turbo AWD and six-cylinder models had a large rectangular hole through the center.

Subaru XT6 (1988–1991)[edit]

Subaru XT6

Although the XT was available with a turbocharged engine, performance from the 111 hp (83 kW) powerplant wasn't very competitive internationally. In 1987, Subaru introduced the XT6 as a 1988 model with the 145 hp (108 kW) 2.7 L flat-six ER27. The XT6 received additional upgrades, including heavier suspension to handle the larger engine and 5-bolt hubs and wheels to accommodate the extra torque.

The XT6 was also fitted with a unique Cybrid adaptive electrohydraulic steering system that changed the level of assistance based on the vehicle's speed. This system did not use a conventional belt-driven power steering pump, freeing up much-needed space in the XT6's already cramped engine bay. The Cybrid system also uses hydraulic fluid that is incompatible with conventional power steering fluid (which is usually automatic transmission fluid). This fluid is still available directly from Subaru at a significant premium over more common types of hydraulic fluid.

The XT6 has two electric fans to also help performance, compared to one electric fan and one belt driven fan on all other XTs. With these changes, the XT6 was given a higher amp alternator.

The XT6 was not available with the digital instrument cluster of the turbo XT models.

In the Japanese market, the XT6 was sold as the Alcyone VX. No front wheel drive Alcyone VXs were ever sold in Japan, and virtually no XT6s were sold in New Zealand. At least one example of an XT6, sold in New Zealand as the "Vortex ZZ6", is still on the road today. Subaru New Zealand did however bring in an XT6 as a demo, but as New Zealand's fuel options were 91 octane unleaded fuel or 96 octane leaded fuel, it was not a viable option to sell the XT6 as the 2700 cc 6 Cyl engine required 96 octane unleaded petrol.

Both the regular XT and the XT6 were discontinued after 1991 and were replaced by the much larger Subaru Alcyone SVX. The SVX continued the tradition of surprising gadgetry in a sporty coupe, albeit in a much heavier and more powerful package.

The Subaru XT Turbo was dubbed as the official car for the Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl XXII presented by SPORT magazine in 1988, eventually won by Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, and The Subaru XT6 was dubbed as the official car for the Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl XXIII in 1989, eventually won by San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Market appeal and production[edit]

Overall production of the XT remained low throughout its lifespan. Although the fuel crisis of the late 1970s and ever-tightening emissions regulations had severely limited power figures from all manufacturers in the mid 1980s, the XT's paltry 111 hp (83 kW) wasn't enough to attract serious attention from the automotive racing crowd. One of Subaru's ads from the 1980s read, The kind of car Mercedes might have built if they were a little more frugal and a lot more inventive. The car's extra features, which certainly had some novelty appeal, were uncharacteristic of this class of car and may not have contributed much to the XT's sales. In the 1980s, consumers with surplus cash in search of a better-equipped vehicle did not generally start shopping at Subaru.

Subaru produced 98,918 XTs, XT6s, and Alcyones.[3] Surprisingly, only 8,170 of these were sold in the Japanese market.

While the XT was an interesting design exercise, it did little to grow Subaru's sales. The company has seen much more widespread success in the significantly more mainstream Legacy, Legacy Outback and Impreza WRX models introduced in recent years.


  1. ^ a b c Long, Brian (2006). Subaru Impreza: The Road Car & WRC Story. Veloce Publishing Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 1-84584-028-3.
  2. ^ Kurki-Suonio, Hannu (1985-03-19). "Katseiden keskipisteessä" [Focus on the eyes]. Tekniikan Maailma (in Finnish). Vol. 41 no. 5/85. Helsinki: TM-Julkaisu. p. 26. ISSN 0355-4287.
  3. ^ Long, p. 24
  • Subaru Global history: Subaru Alcyone. Subaru's world site discusses bits and pieces of the entire model line through history. The site does not mention the XT, but this page gives specific details on the 1985 Japanese-market Alcyone.

External links[edit]