MOTORIG / Auto Biography: The Subaru SVX in 0-60 seconds

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The Independent Culture
A WOMAN friend dubbed it the 'tartmobile', but it wasn't intended as speculation about either the professions or the guilty preoccupations of the Subaru's likely passengers - more an observation about its cosmetics and accessories. In an era of depressingly uniform car design, the Subaru SVX is definitely different. It came out last year, but the only one I've seen on the road was our test car and none of its many admirers had a clue what it was. But though it may be obscure, it's no freak. The Subaru SVX is a fine piece of automobile engineering that happens to be hitched to some pretty wild aesthetics. 'Tartmobile' doesn't quite square with some of the lofty language the motoring press has used ('futuristic' has been a popular adjective), but I reckon my friend is right. The SVX is unashamed about being flash. It definitely isn't a car that says something subtle and ambiguous about itself or its owner.

It's big, its styling is bold and memorable and its glass-encased cockpit has more in common with a helicopter than a coupe. It is a synthesis of the superb engineering, technological overkill and marketing uncertainty of Japanese manufacturers when they compete with olde worlde European notions of a sports car. The Mitsubishi 3000GT, another Japanese hi-tech vehicle in this marketing territory, is a similar mixture of brawn and micro-circuitry.

The SVX, therefore, has electronically-controlled four-wheel drive, anti-lock braking and an intelligent fuel intake system. It is fast (though not crazed), agile, comfortable (though with a sporty thump to the suspension) and as smooth in acceleration as a turbine. Like the Mitsubishi 3000GT, it carries so many electronic party tricks that the weight penalty is noticeable, but its cabin space, refinement, performance and luxuriousness put it in Jaguar class.

Appraisers under 30 in baseball caps practically fall on their knees before it. Older ones don't take it seriously. But though the Subaru SVX certainly has more in common with the Back to the Future time-machine than a car built by bespectacled artisans burnishing walnut, it's no clone of anything - for which three cheers - and it's terrific value.

GOING PLACES: Super-smooth advanced flat-six 3.3-litre engine, providing 226bhp at 5,600rpm. Four-speed automatic transmission standard, through full-time electronically-governed four-wheel drive. 0-60 in approximately 8.5 secs. Not shattering, but safe, progressive power.

STAYING ALIVE: Rigid shell, side-door beams (the doors have a noticeably truck-like heftiness), four-channel anti-lock (ABS) braking, automatic air conditioning. Very secure handling from the responsive four-wheel-drive system, and surprising agility, though power steering rather lifeless in feel. Visibility good.

CREATURE COMFORTS: Interior bland considering the Space Shuttle looks. Comfortable seating and soft furnishings, but dull instrumentation. Wood-trim dire. Wind noise low, leg room not bad for a coupe, seat adjustment electronic, ventilation and sound system good, cruise control standard.

BANGS PER BUCK: Excellent specification - power steering, ABS brakes, remote central locking, electric windows, leather seats, front seat heaters, electric sunroof, alloy wheels. Fuel consumption bearable for the engine size, approx 19mpg (urban), 30mpg at motorway speeds. Price: pounds 27,999.

STAR QUALITY: Nobody else has one. Charismatic design, excellent performance, comparable with the best in the class but with a price-tag just this side of absurdity.

TURKEY QUOTIENT: Too heavy, tacky interior finishing, dull cabin, dull power steering responses.

AND ON MY RIGHT: Jaguar XJS (pounds 26,200): old-stager with a lot of life in it, keenly priced for its svelte charms, but less machinery for your money. Audi S2 (pounds 29,094): faster, beautifully built, but not much personality. BMW 525i Sport (pounds 28,325): a little quicker, a little slicker, but lower specification.

(Photograph omitted)

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