The Subaru SVX Debuted 1 of the Coolest Forgotten Car Features
The SVX was a quintessential grand tourer among Subaru’s quirky models like the XT and GL hatchbacks. Built around a powerful flat-six-cylinder engine, the SVX boasted styling by the legendary auto designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who conceived iconic cars like the DMC DeLorean, Lotus Esprit, and VW Golf. The Subaru SVX had numerous cool features in addition to all-wheel drive. They included an aircraft-inspired instrument panel, a glass roof resembling a fighter jet’s canopy, and, most notably, a “window-within-a-window” offering several benefits.
The Subaru SVX: A brief history
Subaru unveiled the SVX at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show. It marked a new direction for the automaker, which was attempting to move upscale into the realm of Acura and Lexus. The company hoped to sell 10,000 to 20,000 SVX coupes a year after its 1992 launch. But despite the automotive media’s praise for the car, it never really caught on with the public.
It was expensive for a Subaru, up to $10,000 more than its average model. The SVX’s performance was decent but hardly blistering. Packing a 230-hp flat-six, the car was hampered by a four-speed automatic transmission and AWD. Even so, it reached 60 mph from a standstill in about seven seconds and a top speed of 143 mph.
In all, Subaru sold only about 14,000 SVXs from 1992 to 1996. The company failed to attract more buyers even after introducing a front-wheel-drive model and cutting the price by $5,000. In the end, the automaker decided to stick to AWD sedans and wagons and grow its World Rally Championship program.
The window-within-a-window had practical benefits
The Subaru SVX’s airy glass canopy design added to the interior’s spacious feeling, but the shape presented a challenge. The large glass panes couldn’t slide down into the doors, so designers considered abandoning the canopy look for a more conventional roofline.
Fortunately, they came up with a more novel approach. Rather than reduce the glass surface, Subaru created a window-within-a-window design that retained the canopy look while providing a practical solution to retract the windows. In this case, the bottom two-thirds of the window retracted, creating a functional design element still conveying the fighter-jet aesthetic.
The bottom two-thirds of the front window slid down for an aircraft-like appearance. The bottom of the rear window also retracted, while the remainder was incorporated into the rear glass. The unique look allowed some of the massive windows to roll down.
Not only was the style unique, but it also provided numerous practical benefits. The large glass area improved outward visibility. Unlike the feature on the Lamborghini Countach and DMC DeLorean, the window’s retractable portion on the SVX was large enough to be usable. For instance, drivers could use it at drive-thrus and toll booths. It also allowed them to retract the window in the rain without getting wet. In addition, the window-within-a-window canopy “virtually eliminated wind noise when the windows were down,” Subaru says.
Like the SVX, the window-within-a-window never caught on
Unfortunately, the window-within-a-window never took off. The Subaru SVX was the last production car to use it. It’s difficult to know if the feature contributed to the car’s flop or if the car’s flop led to designers’ abandoning the unique window concept. Maybe both.
Since the SVX’s demise, car designers and automakers have taken fewer risks with design or trying novel features like the window-within-a-window. That’s not to say innovative car design is dead, but it’s definitely less adventurous.