Recently I published a list of 9 of the best performance Mitsubishi cars that aren’t the Evo.
As mentioned in that article, although the Evo has long been Mitsubishi’s performance flagship (even though the model is dead and buried and apparently not likely to come back any time soon) there are many other great fast Mitsubishis from the company’s back catalogue.
The same applies with Subaru, with their most famous performance car being the WRX – particularly the WRX STI.
In this article I thought I’d shed light on some of the best performance Subarus that aren’t the WRX.
You might also like to read my article on the fastest Subarus ever built.
Table of Contents
The Subaru Alcyone SVX (Alcyone in the Japanese market) was never a particularly big sales success but deserves recognition as one of the brand’s more interesting performance vehicle attempts.
Built from 1991 to 1996, the SVX was styled by legendary designer Giugiaro and was an attempt to break into the grand tourer market, competing with the likes of the Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT.
Unlike most modern performance Subarus, the SVX took the ‘no replacement for displacement’ route and featured a whopping 3.3L boxer H6 engine.
Unfortunately (apparently because Subaru didn’t have a gearbox robust enough to deal with the torque of the engine) it only ever came fitted with a four speed automatic that allows for relaxed cruising and adequate kick down for highway passing, but which robs the driving experience somewhat.
0-100kph comes and goes in around 7.3 seconds, which is still decent by today’s standards.
In my view, the futuristic styling of the SVX still holds up, and because of its relative obscurity and being completely overshadowed by the WRX you can get your hands on one for a better price.
If you don’t care about originality, it’s also possible to swap in a manual gearbox to improve the driving experience and performance, typically taking the transmission from the WRX that released not long after (what a shame, once again, that Subaru didn’t have this transmission at the time of the SVX’s development)
Although the XT badge is more commonly associated with higher performance variants of models such as the Outback and Forester, the original ‘XT’ (and later XT6) was actually a standalone sports coupe.
Debuting in 1985 and running until 1991 with a facelift in 1987, the XT was also sold as the Alcyone and Vortex in some markets.
Pre-facelift cars were available with a 1.8 NA or 1.8 turbo engine, with the turbo producing as much as 140hp depending on the market.
The XT was front wheel drive, launching prior to Subaru’s push to range-wide AWD, but turbo models had switch button on the gear selector that would activate part-time four wheel drive.
Post 1987 the turbocharged engine was dropped and buyers who wanted a more sporty drive could opt for a 2.6 boxer six cylinder engine producing 145hp. Most reviewers argue that the earlier turbo is the car to have.
I find the styling of the XT to be somewhat reminiscent of the AW11 MR2, and I love the boxy lines. It also has one of the coolest dashes ever:
Although the XT is hardly potent by today’s standards, considered in the period of its release it was a sophisticated piece of kit and supposedly a good drive.
For many years, Subaru has been famous for its range-wide ‘Symmetrical AWD’ system.
In fact, the ubiquitousness of AWD across Subaru’s range is one of the reasons why the brand has a small but loyal following. For example, here in New Zealand every second car seems to be a Subaru as buyers value the rugged dependability of the time-tested AWD system.
But when it comes to sports cars, one of Subaru’s more modern entries is actually RWD – the now-legendary BR-Z.
Developed in conjunction with Toyota (selling it as the 86) the Subaru BR-Z was a smash hit on launch and has developed a cult hero status.
Along with its Toyota badge engineered version, the BR-Z rewards drivers with precise handling and a level of driver engagement that is unmatched by many cars with significantly higher price tags.
The BR-Z is hardly the last word in straight line performance (although there are plenty of potential modifications if you want to extract a bit more speed) but even in a stock example you won’t care as you’ll be having so much fun in one of the best-rounded and most competent “old school” sports cars in recent history.
You can learn more about the BR-Z by reading our buyers guide.
Gaudy blue metallic paint? Check.
Massive bonnet scoop? Check.
Gold wheels? Check.
Big boot and heaps of space? Wait what?!
Subaru created an instant cult classic in 2004 with the launch of the JDM-specific Forester STI.
Unlike the JDM spec WRX STI of the era, which used a 2.0 turbo, the Forester sported a 2.5L turbo that was found on export WRX STI (presumably the engineers at Subaru figured the larger Forester would benefit from the extra torque of the EJ25 versus the EJ20).
Naturally, drivers would have to change gear themselves with a slick six speed manual.
Everything from the suspension to the brakes to the wheel and tyre selection was tweaked and enhanced to make the Forester STI a genuine powerhouse and not just a sheep in wolf’s clothing … this car is like Evander Holyfield, ‘the real deal’.
As with any STI product, Subaru went to town with the visual modifications – both exterior and interior – and but ultimately what you are paying for is that legendary AWD grip and bonkers power. The Forester STI could dispatch 0-100kph in as little as 5.2 seconds, which is still very impressive nearly 20 years later.
Although there have been various other “hot” Foresters since the model’s launch, the STI is the one to have.
You can enjoy basically all of the performance of the comparable WRX STI sedan but in a package that lets you load up the kids, dog, camping gear and whatever else with ease.
One contemporary review said that this was the fast Subaru to buy if you couldn’t get the WRX STI past your significant other.
You can learn more about the 2003 to 2008 STI Forester by reading our buyers guide.
One of the newest models in Subaru’s lineup, and primarily sold in the Japanese market (but with some models exported to New Zealand and Australia) the Levorg is a mid-sized wagon that shares a platform with the WRX and Impreza. In effect, the Levorg is a WRX wagon.
The first generation Levorg was available to JDM buyers with two engine options – a modest 1.6L turbo with a focus on economy, and then a much more powerful 2.0L turbo producing nearly 300hp (export models were slightly less powerful – the Levorg is readily available here in New Zealand both as an ex-Japan import and as an NZ-new car, for example, and if you want the best possible performance you’ll want to go for the JDM model)
The most common criticism of the Levorg is the fact that it has only ever been sold with a ‘Lineartronic’ CVT gearbox. While offering a smooth driving experience and superior fuel economy, enthusiasts have long been crying out for a manual Levorg.
Gearbox aside, buyers can enjoy the classic Subaru formula of a punchy and powerful turbo engine and intractable AWD grip.
The second generation Levorg released recently, but in export markets this is better known as the WRX/WRX GT wagon:
Subaru’s hero performance sedan of the mid 1990s was unequivocally the WRX (more particularly, the WRX STI)
However, in some markets buyers could also have opted for the ‘RS-B’ sedan, itself a Bilstein suspension wearing version of the RS.
Boasting 276hp from a 2.0 twin turbo engine (as opposed to the single turbo of the WRX) the RS-B wasn’t quite as razor sharp but offered a more balanced driving experience.
I’m going to share a shocking confession – if I had the choice between a mint condition Legacy RS-B or a mint condition WRX STI of the same era, and I wasn’t thinking about resale or investment value, I’d pick the Legacy any day of the week.
I’ve always loved the more subtle styling of this era of Legacy, as well as the slightly more practical sizing and superior comfort.
In the real world I doubt there is a massive difference in terms of usable performance, and I’m not a good enough driver to extract it anyway.
The Subaru Outback is a genuine icon, but not exactly the last word in performance.
Most Outbacks are equipped with a mundane 2.5L engine (I can use that term as I have a Legacy with the same engine).
However, over the years there have been Outback and Legacy options with larger and more powerful options, such as the fourth generation 3.0H6 or the fifth generation and onwards 3.6.
The 3.6L Outback dispatches the 0-60mph/100kph sprint in X seconds, which is very respectable performance indeed. While handling isn’t great owing to the higher ride height and body roll, with the larger engined Outback you won’t get caught short trying to pull a passing manoeuvre.
I guess you could argue that the 3.6L Outback isn’t really a performance vehicle, but for a go-anywhere family wagon with great ground clearance, heaps of space and excellent safety the straight line performance is pretty darn good in my opinion.
The Legacy GT is one of those cars with numerous different variants and limited edition models, depending on exactly which generation and model year you are buying.
You could have a sedan or a wagon, but all GTs feature at least turbocharging and Subaru’s permanent AWD system.
Keep an eye out for some of the more interesting special models.
For example, Subaru collaborated with Porsche in the design development to develop the ‘Blitzen’ sedan and wagon.
JDM buyers could enjoy the fifth generation Legacy in ‘DIT’ (Direct Injection Turbo) tune which used the same engine as the WRX and Levorg of the era but in the more spacious and practical Legacy body.
I have a soft spot for fast wagons, and the Legacy GT wagon – in its various guises and sub-models – has to be one of the best Japan has ever built.
When I was growing up my dad had a never-ending succession of Subaru Legacy wagons as company cars. Every couple of years he would come home with a new Legacy, and every couple of years I’d be hopeful that somehow the people at the dealership would muck up and give him a Legacy GT instead.
Alas, this never happened – I’ll just have to save up my pennies and buy my own one instead.
Recap – Best Subaru Performance Cars That Aren’t The WRX
Much as with Mitsubishi and the Evo, when it comes to Subaru the WRX has long been the pack leader in terms of performance cars.
However, hopefully this article has shed some light on other fast Subarus that are worthy of consideration.
While none of them are quite up to the mark of the WRX STI in pure performance stakes, whether it is the added practicality of a wagon like the Legacy GT-B or the quirky rarity of the SVX, an aspirant ‘modern classic’ Subaru owner should consider some of these other models.
If you have any corrections or suggestions, then feel free to leave a comment below – it would be great to hear from you!