Compact car; Built in Japan
  • 2-door coupe
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front- or 4-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $1,400*


1990 Subaru Justy


1991 Subaru Justy ECVT


1993 Subaru Justy


1992 Subaru Justy


1994 Subaru Justy

Pros:
  • Fuel economy
  • 4WD traction (GL)
  • Maneuverability
Cons:
  • Entry/exit
  • Noise
  • Rear-seat room
  • Ride

Apart from the ECVT unit, Justy is typical of low-priced minicompacts in most categories. With the exception of the 4WD GL, for a combination of low price and high fuel economy, other models would probably be more suitable, including the Ford Festiva and its 1994 Aspire replacement.

Overview

Through its lifespan, Subaru’s minicompact was perhaps best known for its available electronically controlled variable-transmission. Dubbed ECVT, it offered an infinite spread of gear ratios. Although the basic idea had surfaced decades earlier, and was used on the Dutch-built DAF in the 1960s, Subaru was unique for offering it in the U.S. market at this time.

Introduced in early 1987, the Justy initially came only as a 2-door hatchback. A 4-door hatchback joined for 1990, on the same 90-inch wheelbase. Both came with either front-wheel drive or on-demand 4-wheel drive.

All models except the base Justy got a 73-horsepower fuel-injected engine for 1990, instead of the carbureted 66-horsepower 3-cylinder. Fuel-injected models got a new intermediate front driveshaft to help reduce “torque steer.” A new “Fun Justy” appearance package was introduced for the 2-door model.

Having debuted in 1989, the ECVT unit was now available on 4WD models as well as those with front-drive. With ECVT, a metal belt connects two pulleys that continuously vary the ratio of engine speed to driveshaft speed. Operation can be described as similar to a dimmer switch, as opposed to a 3-way light switch. Justy also was available with an ordinary 5-speed manual transmission.

Yearly Updates

1991 Justy
After only a year in the lineup, the “Fun Justy” appearance package faded away. Otherwise, Subaru’s smallest model was little-changed. As before, the 2-door hatchback came in base or GL trim, while the 4-door hatchback was offered only as a GL. Displaying new interior fabric and color-keyed bumpers, the GL could be equipped with optional 4-wheel drive and the ECVT transmission.
1992 Justy
No significant changes were evident on the 1992 models.
1993 Justy
Only one engine was offered this year, as the base model adopted Subaru’s fuel-injected 73-horsepower 3-cylinder unit. Cloth seats replaced vinyl upholstery in the base model.
1994 Justy
Justy lost its innovative ECVT transmission for its final season on the market, leaving only conventional 5-speed manual shift. The lineup was trimmed to just two models: a base front-drive 2-door and an upscale 4-door GL with 4-wheel drive, which was activated by pressing a gearshift-mounted button. The base model gained a standard rear defroster and full wheel covers. Justy stuck with motorized seatbelts, rather than an airbag, to meet federal safety requirements.

Engines

transverse front-engine/front- or 4-wheel drive

Until 1993, base Justy hatchbacks used a carbureted 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine, rated at 66 horsepower. Other models, and the base Justy in 1993-94, got a fuel-injected version of the 1.2-liter 3-cylinder, which developed 73 horsepower. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard, but Subaru’s innovative electronically controlled variable-ratio transmission (ECVT) was available until 1994.

ohc I3
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.2/73
Engine HP 66
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 52
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual

33/37

ohc I3
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.2/73
Engine HP 73
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 71
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
CVT automatic
33/37
33/35
30.0

Road Test

Justy stood apart from other diminutive imports by offering 4-wheel drive and ECVT. Its fuel-injected engine also earned plaudits for efficiency, being one of the few naturally aspirated powerplants to eke out one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement. And, in fact, the engine is quite lively when teamed with a conventional 5-speed manual transmission.

The unique ECVT transmission manages to get more performance out of the Justy’s 3-cylinder engine than a conventional automatic ever could. It’s nearly as good as a 5-speed in acceleration. Even so, there’s little zip in the 25-50 mph range. The variable-ratio transmission responds readily, but lacks sufficient torque for quick, safe passing on flat surfaces. When heading uphill, the ECVT Justy loses its momentum rather rapidly.

Though easier to drive than a stick-shift in stop-and-go congestion, ECVT can be frustrating on freeways because the engine lags far enough behind the driver’s throttle foot, so you can’t move as quickly as the traffic flow.

EPA mileage ratings are impressive with either transmission. We averaged nearly 30 mpg with ECVT in a mix of city and highway driving, but the 5-speed Justy did better.

Like other minicompacts, such as the Geo Metro and Suzuki Swift, the Justy is noisy, suffers from a bouncy ride, and has a cramped back seat. Its biggest advantage over rivals is the standard 4-wheel-drive system on the GL model, which made it one of the lowest-priced, most economical 4WD vehicles on the market. If 4-wheel-drive is a priority, few other low-cost choices exist.

Ratings

Model Tested: 1993 Subaru Justy

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 2
20%
Fuel Economy - 7
70%
Ride Quality - 4
40%
Steering/Handling - 3
30%
Quietness - 2
20%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 3
30%
Room/Comfort Front - 4
40%
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
30%
Cargo Room - 2
20%

Other

Value - 3
30%

Total: 33

Specifications

2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
90.0 145.5 60.4 53.7
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
21.8 9.8 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.0 37.0 41.5 30.2
4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
90.0 145.5 60.4 53.7
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
21.8 9.9 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.0 37.0 41.5 30.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Front Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Dashboard lights
Description: If the 4WD transfer-shift rod is installed wrong, the 4WD warning light comes on when climbing hills or accelerating hard. (1990-91)
Doors
Description: The fabric for the door panels peels away and can be reattached with super glue. (1990-92)
Exhaust system
Description: The exhaust system rattles at around 2500 rpm due to a problem with the flex joint. (1991)
Transmission leak
Description: Automatic-transmission fluid leaks occur at the check balls mounted on the outside of the transmission. (1990)
Electrical problem
Description: Exposed electrical connectors are prone to corrosion and need to be cleaned then packed with dielectric silicone grease. (1990-94)

Recall History

1990-91
Description: Front seatbelt-buckle release buttons can break, and pieces can fall into buckle assembly, causing buckle to operate improperly.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.