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Car reviews - Subaru - XV - 2.0i-S

Our Opinion

We like
Efficient and smooth drivetrain, easy and fun to drive, equipment level, heroic off-road ability, life-preserving qualities
Room for improvement
Silly cup-holder design, ride not as good as the related Impreza, no parking sensors

19 Jul 2012

UNFORTUNATELY for us, six hours of our week-long test of Subaru’s XV compact crossover were spent stranded in a forest on a six-degree winter’s afternoon without mobile reception and hopes of rescue fading as fast as the daylight.

We should point out that none of this was due to technical failures on the Subaru’s part, and the Japanese firm’s reputation for unburstable reliability remains intact.

Nor did the XV’s class-leading 220mm of ground clearance or proven permanent all-wheel-drive system leave us bogged.

A ranger had locked us into a 4x4 trail after we entered it, then gone home for the weekend, unwilling to return to our aid when a couple of passing dirt bikers heeded our request to find help.

We later found Ray from Vic Park had left us a voicemail permitting us to contact friends to get us out using bolt croppers to break the lock, which was of zero use due to the aforementioned lack of telephone reception. Nice one, Ray.

Fortunately, the XV’s dogged reluctance to consume fuel – it really is surprisingly frugal for an all-wheel-drive, 2.0-litre petrol compact SUV – meant we had plenty of juice to run the engine and keep us warm.

Also, our test car being the top-spec 2.0i-S variant, we had plenty of creature comforts like heated seats and dual-zone climate control, which came in handy for fending off hypothermia as we had not left home prepared for a night exposed to single-digit temperatures.

Had we planned for this eventuality, we would have brought along some DVDs to watch on the in-dash player that forms part of the combined audio and satellite-navigation system.

Said navigation system eventually proved useful as, once we had found a nearby location from which we could access our mobile phone’s ‘emergency calls only’ facility, we were able to provide the call centre with our GPS coordinates and summon the relevant emergency service.

Compared with some competitors, the range-topping XV lacks toys like automatic headlights and wipers, keyless entry and start, or parking sensors (although there is a reversing camera).

Even so, considering the quality and quantity of extra equipment the top-spec XV gets for its $6000 premium over an automatic transmission-equipped base variant, we reckon it represents decent value for money.

Our trip to the bush to test the XV’s off-road credentials was prompted by how much it impressed us on-road.

After driving it back-to-back with the closely related Impreza, we found the XV’s ride a bit jiggly – no doubt a compromise to ride-height and off-road ruggedness – but we soon got used to it.

Subaru’s ability to engineer cars for a low centre of gravity meant the XV gave little away to the fun handling and flat cornering of the Impreza and, of course, slippery winter streets were no hassle with the confidence of all-wheel-drive.

We and other members of the motoring media lamented the lethargic nature of Subaru’s efficient new FB 2.0-litre petrol engine after driving the XV and Impreza at their respective Australian launch events earlier this year, but now we suspect the powerplant just needed a little more running in.

Even linked with the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), we found the engines of the XV and Impreza had matured like a fine wine, providing adequate pulling power around town, enough grunt to cope easily with a trek up Victoria’s Lake Mountain and sufficient ‘welly’ for maintaining momentum on sloppy mud ascents when off-roading.

At all times the four-cylinder Boxer was smooth, free-revving and quiet, with a more pronounced flat-four thrum accompanied by CVT whine only as revs climbed above 4500rpm under load.

We liked the contrast of our test car’s bright orange paintwork against the two-tone black and silver alloy wheels and textured dark grey cladding on the bumpers, wheel arches and sills.

These additions over the Impreza hatch, plus the boosted ride-height, lend the XV a purposefully chunky appearance, but we can see the interior’s bland, black bleakness being a let-down to some.

Compared with the cheaper-feeling, try-hard designs of the Forester and Liberty, the XV’s cabin is a step in the right direction and even has a Volkswagen-style soft-touch upper dash covering to add a bit of class.

Unlike Subarus of old, thoughtful features like double sunglasses holders, cargo nets, dash-top compartments and well-designed cupholders are sadly lacking and the XV’s boot is surprisingly small, with a capacity-robbing raised floor we suspect would be lower in markets where the (space saver) spare wheel is omitted.

Recesses in the door bins are unable to hold water bottles of a meaningful size and the central holders are apparently shaped to accommodate cartons of flavoured milk or drive-through takeaway buckets rather than the small coffee cups favoured by Australians, which lose their lids on the way in and are free to rattle around once in situ.

The XV’s leather upholstery is not exactly luxurious to the touch, but at least it adds another level of wipe-clean ruggedness – which came in useful when we spilt coffee for the umpteenth time as the aforementioned cup-holder knocked the lid off.

Anyway, the reason we got trapped in the woods was to report on the XV’s off-roading skills – and we (eventually) came away impressed.

Although the XV bangs over larger pot-holes in a way the larger Forester doesn’t, felt twitchier on gravel roads than its big brother (despite a 20mm longer wheelbase) and its relatively long front overhang caused a few graunching concerns about approach angles, the high ground clearance provided confidence on rutted tracks and when straddling boulders.

Best of all was the all-wheel-drive system and Subaru’s electronic stability and traction control systems, which kept the XV on the straight and narrow with incredible accuracy while reacting impressively quickly to the ever-changing dynamics of driving on slippery, rain-soaked trails with long sections consisting of deep mud.

Without low range, hill-descent control, locking diffs or special tyres, the XV confidently tackled terrain that would probably be unpassable – or at least with a great deal of effort – for most of its competitors.

At the XV’s launch, Subaru said it expected to sell 500-600 units per month but since then the car has far outperformed this projection.

This is despite the popular Forester going into runout to make way for a fourth-generation model as we write and receiving a sales-boosting special edition with extra kit and driveaway deals that price it almost on a par with the entry-level XV.

We think the figures speak volumes about how the XV’s many talents and honest, no-nonsense demeanour have struck a chord with the Australian car-buying public

It is not just down to our six-hour bonding experience with the car that we didn’t want to give it back.

In case you were wondering, two hours after making the emergency call, two friendly, key-wielding police officers in a Ford Territory rescued us from the woods and escorted us back to civilisation.

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