Subaru is still the official car of Vermont, but odds are it’s not this model that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of 4WD Subarus. The Japanese automaker, which owes its early history stateside to importer Malcolm Bricklin, may have made four-wheel drive in its passenger cars a common feature at a time when AMC and just a handful of others were doing the same. But in Subaru’s case it extended the technology to models that, on paper, competed with the likes of the Ford Festiva.
The Justy arrived in the US in 1987, just in time for trading down into a smaller car following the stock market crash, even though the first-gen model debuted globally in 1984. But unlike other Japanese hatchbacks of its day, which were still the standard commuter choices stateside, the Justy offered the option of four-wheel drive as well as a CVT, with the manual versions featuring a five-speed gearbox.
Actually, four-wheel drive arrived stateside for the 1988 model year, and only for the upscale GL and RS trims. In addition, the early cars were all three-door hatches, until the refresh of 1989 that also brought the option of a five-door bodystyle and the CVT, in addition to sleeker bodywork.
The example we spotted is an early, pre-facelift model, and judging by the lack of a 4WD decal on the door we’d have to assume it’s front-wheel drive.
Stateside Justys had the 1.2-liter inline-three to play with, rated at 65 hp at launch—admittedly modest to motivate a four-wheel drive system—while elsewhere a 1.0-liter inline-three was on the menu as well. But most other Subaru offerings of the day weren’t exactly performance cars either, with a couple of exceptions.
Car and Driver called the Justy a “pleasantly unpretentious utensil filled with honest value” in its 1987 review, and with a base price of $7066 it was impossible to find a less expensive car with four-wheel drive, unless you lived in Canada and could buy a Lada Niva.
When did Justys visibly fade from our roads?
The answer is complex as Subaru’s dealership network was not quite as nationwide in the mid 1980s, when the Justy arrived, as it is today. So some parts of the country didn’t have a lot of them to begin with. Also, the Justy was certainly a player in its segment, but it was arguably upstaged by a cast of cheaper offerings like the Geo Metro. There were certainly a couple of rarer Japanese hatchbacks that it competed against, such as the Daihatsu Charade, but the Justy was perhaps not the most obvious choice for a commuter hatch.
The Justy was offered all the way through 1994, but we have a hard time remembering them crowding dealer lots as new cars so deep into the 1990s. We certainly remember seeing a few on the road in the late 1990s, but not really beyond then.
Have you seen a Justy on the road in the past few years? Let us know in the comments below.
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