First appearing in showrooms in the fall of 1984 as a 1985 model, the Subaru XT began turning heads at every traffic light and would continue to do so long after its last production run as a 1991 model. From the outset it defied any preconceptions consumers, critics, and the competition had about vehicles from Fuji Heavy Industries’ automotive division. Upon first seeing the XT, with its distinctive wedge shape, there was no mistaking the fact that this was not like any other vehicle that had ever worn the Subaru badge. The exterior was devoted to cheating air with a drag coefficient of 0.29, a figure still considered to be excellent even by today’s standards. Although the car’s shape was exceptionally efficient in aerodynamics, for many it was an aquired taste visually.
The interior was no less striking. With its multitude of buttons, twin control pods on stalks sprouting from the steering column, and a shifter consistently likened to a jet fighter’s control stick, the XT’s interior perhaps more than that of any other car of its day deserved the label, “cockpit.” Later a turbocharged version would add a digital instrument panel evoking further comparisons to high tech military planes.
Other features contributing to its slightly exotic appearance were flush door handles, retractable headlights, a single centrally mounted windshield wiper, tilt/telescopic steering and an instrument cluster which would tilt with the steering wheel keeping the instruments in sight regardless of the steering wheel’s position. It was afterall the eighties - among other things it was an age of transforming action toys, the birth of the CD, music videos, and the beginning of the home computing revolution. The car should have fit right in - but it didn’t.
For some reason (possibly the very styling Subaru had hoped would make it a success) the car never really caught on with the consumer public. Another reason was what was under the hood. The 1.8 liter flat four produced a paltry 97bhp and needless to say, the XT was quickly dubbed a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The EA82 powerplant was soon enhanced with a turbocharger, making it the EA82T, which developed a much improved 115bhp. Still there was room for improvement and in the fall of ‘87 Subaru debuted the XT6 for 1988, packing Subaru’s first flat SIX engine which produced 145bhp. The XT6 shares the same slightly updated exterior as the 1987½ XT and XT Turbo, and these newer sheet metal changes were purposeful. The XT6’s all aluminum 2.7 liter ER27 engine was essentially 50% longer, front to rear, than the 1.8 liter flat four, and this required a slightly longer “chin” area below the front bumper. Although the overall length of the car stayed the same, this slight body modification accomodated the ER27’s length with just enough room.
While the ‘87½ and up XTs and XT Turbos wore the same body panels as the XT6, under the hood there were significant differences. In addition to the bigger and more powerful engine, the XT6 also sported a beefier suspension, 5 lug 14″ alloy wheels, and very precise speed sensitive electro-hydraulic power steering. Known as “Cybrid” power steering, this system used an electric motor to drive a hydraulic ram to effect directional changes in the rack and pinion mechanics. As a result there was no more belt driven power steering pump, which also avoided a small amount of parasitic drag associated with belt driven accessories. The “Full Time 4WD”, a predecessor to the world renowned AWD of today’s entire Subaru line, provided phenominal handling in both the XT and XT6. This proved to be one of the car’s strongest advantages, especially in colder climates prone to accumulations of snow.
Although a turbocharged ER27 was never produced, it is possible this was simply due to the car’s lackluster sales and ultimate demise. Had the car gained popularity, who knows what Subaru might have done? A turbocharged XT6 may well have packed close to or possibly in excess of 200bhp. Speculation is nearly moot, but a few current owners have “ER27T” projects underway at this writing. In addition, with the WRX literally rocketing into the sport compact car world, enhancements to existing XT Turbos or even transplants are not entirely out of the question.
The XT/XT6 line came to an end in 1991. In a fittingly odd production note the XT6 skipped the 1990 model year, having been produced in 1988, 1989, and 1991 only. There were a handful of 1990 XTs produced. The car was sold as the Vortex in Australia and New Zealand, and in Japan as the Alcyone, where the car still enjoys a very strong “cult” following. In Japan the XT equivalent is the Alcyone VS, the XT-Turbo equivalent is the Alcyone VR, and the XT6 equivalent is known as the Alcyone VX. With Subaru’s logo being a stylized representation of the Pleiades constellation, it is interesting to note that the brightest of six stars is known as Alcyone. Such was the promise the car held for the company. In fact the more widely known, and possibly more exotic, direct decendant of the XT6 is the SVX (1992-1997), which carries on the name in Japan as the Alcyone SVX.
Few cars in recent years have been so well engineered and advanced for their day, while maintaining a high level of reliability and ease of maintenance. Even fewer could cause heads to turn more than a dozen years after rolling off the assembly line, and hold their own in a light to light showdown with many current sport compact models. The Subaru XT may very well have been the spark which ignited Subaru’s scorching sales figures over recent years. It represented a slight directional change for the company famous for its production of reliable yet uninspiring cars. Some of the models following the XT were the Legacy & Outback line, SVX, Impreza, Outback Sport, 2.5RS & WRX line, and the Forester. While only the SVX bore meaningful similarities, the design mindset had been challenged at Subaru and the future was certainly bright.