Subaru produces competent, sensible cars that sell well in doughty areas of America where climate commonly dictates what is worn, what is driven and how often one smiles in January.

The 1992SVX will change all that.

This is a pure performance coupe that brings Subaru sweeping into the flashy fast lanes of sunshine states where Nissan coupes roar, Corvettes take no prisoners and the motoring tradition is predacity and performance before transportation.

The SVX also is the fastest (143 m.p.h.), the most expensive ($25,000 base) and the most radically styled car (half windows hark to Lamborghini Countach and DeLorean) produced by Subaru in 23 years of only lightly impressing America.

Technologically, this Subaru is most impressive.

It is all-wheel drive with sensors for torque and traction that apportion engine power fore-and-aft to the wheels with the tightest grip on the best surface. The engine is a 230-horsepower flat six--or horizontally opposed six--a configuration that Subaru shares with early Bell helicopters, yesteryear's Tucker, and today's Porsche.

There are no gearshift buttons to switch acceleration modes from economy to sport. That little labor also is performed automatically by more computer wizardry within the SVX's viscera. The chip reads a gas pedal hard on the floorboards, recognizes the urgency and holds each gear to redline before upshifting.

Moreover, this transmission-engine management system momentarily shuts down one of the three-cylinder banks during upshifting so there is no power surge while going from one gear to the other.

From deep but fully supportive leather seats to a clean, wraparound, faux suede interior straight from a Sharper Image catalogue, the SVX is a genuine luxury vehicle. There's a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with memory, built-in burglar alarm, and an optional $3,000 Touring Package that buys leather interior, sunroof, six-speaker sound blaster with CD player, and speed sensitive power steering.

Although several shades of sound and discomfort removed from a raw sports car, the performance of the SVX is muscular enough. It accelerates to 60 m.p.h. in 7.7 seconds and has a standing quarter-mile elapsed time of 15.6 seconds.

As a 2+2, it certainly is not a car-pooler's paradise. Nevertheless, the SVX is one of the few sporty cars with a pair of rear seats that actually are inhabitable and able to hold adult bottoms for short hauls to the mall or Thai food.

But about those windows within windows. Full credit, or total blame, for the glassware goes to Italian auto designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. He first drew the SVX as a concept car for display purposes only and clearly was hung up on fighter plane canopies and domed skylights.

So Giugiaro's curious body design pivoted on the very first greenhouse effect--a passenger compartment that is more glass than metal. Its heavy curves --suction molded--flow up and around, and the edges actually are flush-bonded to the car's roof line and pillars as sections of transparent bodywork.

In real life, however, large, curved yards of glass don't roll easily into small, flat doors. The only answer is to cut a small, flat portion into a half window so it can disappear into the door.

Granted, the windows on the SVX offer more elbow and breathing room than the mailbox slots that came with the DeLorean and the Countach. Curvature of the glass certainly adds to the aesthetics and aerodynamic slipperiness of the car. There's also an element of truth in Subaru's explanation that gun ports allow doors and side windows to curve into the roof; therefore, there's less head-banging and room for taller parcels when getting in and out of the vehicle.

If so, the easier entrance and exit are scarcely noticeable.

When the black seam that separates window glass from door glass is at driver's eye level,i is a definite irritant to peripheral vision, especially at speed while checking blind spots.

Heavier curves on an over-glassed door, as Subaru has stated, do indeed keep rain and wind outside when driving with the little window down.

However, it is not an effective screen against smog, those occasional yells that reference our anatomy and ancestry, freeway din, Rolex snatching and other blights of commuting in darkus urbanus. These days, windows come down only when the police officer requests it. Then, only half way.

So see these windows as a styling excess at worst, a contrived distinction at best. They definitely are a feature some buyers will acceptas a touch of identity: Where else can one find a two-door with 10 windows? Other customers might shop elsewhere.

That will be their loss. For once jokes about speak-easy windows and driving anatrium have been survived, the SVX stands as a solid contender among today's performance luxury cars. Value is high. Gimmicks are minimal. The car is screwed together well and boasts several engineering and technological innovations.

A special system of suspension subframes and silicon mounts reduces road noise and vibration entering the cabin to a hiss and a rumble. The chassis also has been tuned to allow the rear wheels to toe-in a smidge during cornering. This produces the effect of all-wheel steer.

Even the SVX's anti-lock braking system has been refined to where the rasps and pulsing of emergency stops have been almost eradicated.

With every driving control precisely at hand and fingertip, with that contrasting swath of suede flowing around the midsections of doors and dashboard, few flaws are found internally.

A handbrake high and chunky in the center console upsets the visual balance a little. Backing up a driver's side air bag with mechanized seat belts will be seen as an equipment error by those who believe automatic shoulder straps are a constant reminder to forget lap belts.

Externally, the wedge profile of the SVX is noticeable and quite attractive. The rear end is short, blunt and built for business. The 16-inch wheels are cast alloy with five spokes raked forward, and the tires are speed-rated Potenzas by Bridgestone.

On the road, the SVX is quick and remarkably sure-footed.

Most of that comes from the flat-six displacing 3.3 liters, which growls somewhat like a Porsche and keeps the power ascending. The other portion of performance benefits comes from a perfect heft to the steering, complemented by a well-tuned suspension that produces security and comfort whether cruising a boulevard or waltzing back roads.

The SVX will be sold only with a four-speed automatic transmission until Subaru finishes development of a five-speed manual, which will only add to performance and the pleasure of the SVX's company.

SVX?

Like the windows, the designation is another hangover fro m show-biz days.

It stands for Specialty Vehicle X.

Straight from the Amazing Space Adventures of Capt. Buck Subaru.

1992 Subaru SVX

The Good All-wheel drive cornering talent. High-tech interior that's friendly and comfortable. Exhilarating power and handling. Subaru's coming of age.

The Bad Windows within windows without much reason. A little pricey.

The Ugly Oversize, obtrusive handbrake.

Cost Base: $25,000. As tested, $28,924 (includes leather upholstery, power driver's seat, sunroof, power-assisted steering, automatic air conditioning, cruise control, driver's side air bag, premium sound system with CD player, delivery and dealer preparation).

Engine 3.3 liters, 24-valve horizontally opposed six developing 230 horsepower.

Type All-wheel drive, 2+2, high-performance coupe.

Performance 0-60m.p.h., as tested, 7.7 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's estimate, 143 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city-highway, 17 and 25 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,525 pounds.