The most iconic Subarus are turbocharged rally monsters or low-key all-wheel-drive wagons. The Subaru Vivio GX-T, complete with a three-part convertible Multi-Top, is none of those things, and all the more wonderful because of it.
(Full Disclosure: Our friends at Duncan Imports invited us to their shop in Virginia for a week to drive some of their finest wares. They’re extremely good folks with a mind-blowing selection of import cars, so check them out if you’re in the market.)
Welcome to our new video series Bubble Cars! Let’s Go!, where we test some of the finest and weirdest cars of Japan’s automotive golden age. Last week we tested one of the wildest kei cars ever made, the Mitsubishi Minica Toppo, a van with a 9,000 RPM 20-valve Dangan engine. We continue with kei car wonderment this week.
I’m going to be extremely honest right up front. This particular Vivio GX-T with the Multi-Top (with its T-Top center, the ‘T’ standing for Town) came with Subaru’s e-CVT. Now, this was innovative tech for the time. At the height of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Bubble Era Subaru made a deal with Fiat to build these transmissions for some of its littlest cars, as Subaru could build CVTs smaller and more efficient than anybody else. Other sources note these went into Nissans as well.
What the e-CVT was not was, well, fun. Everything that was exciting about the supercharged four-cylinder 660cc engine in this kei car was sucked up and vaporized.
But that’s slightly beside the point.
Because this Subaru Vivio GX-T is more than just a car. It’s an idea. It’s a physical manifestation of the idea that small cars don’t have to be boring.
Kei cars were dreamt up in the aftermath of World War II as a kind of a one step up from scooters for a resource-strapped Japanese people. These cars are meant to be as small as possible, as simple as possible, as practical as possible.
Looking at its legal formula (restrictions on car size, engine size, and engine power) and building something out of a Richard Scarry book, with a t-top and a folding hardtop rear section, four seats, a trunk and a supercharger, is just wonderful.
It goes to show that during the Bubble Era, so much money was getting thrown around, so many new cars were getting scooped up in the booming Japanese home economy, that a car like this made sense.
Well, it did if only for a few short years before the bubble burst and Subaru went back to never making a car like this again.