Car reviews - Subaru - XV - 2.0i
Spacious, quiet, interior quality, smooth ride, dynamically engaging, fuel-efficient, excellent infotainment
Room for improvement
Slow acceleration, tiny boot, hard seats, Velcro Isofix shields won’t last, no parking sensors or AEB
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2 Nov 2017
Price and equipment
The Subaru XV range opens at $27,990 plus on-road costs for the 2.0i variant tested here.
It is kitted out as standard with a 6.5-inch multimedia screen providing access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration via USB, a CD player, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and the reversing camera display.
There is also single-zone climate control with pollen filter, cruise control on the multi-function steering wheel, 17-inch alloys, front fog lights and LED daytime running lights, keyless entry with push button start, tyre pressure monitoring, X-Mode off-road driving selector, an electronic park brake, electric windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Upholstery is contrast-stitched cloth.
Of course being a Subaru, permanent all-wheel drive is standard, as is a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with paddle-shifters providing seven virtual stepped ratios. Wheels are 17-inch alloys with Yokohama rubber.
Going for the $30,340 (plus on-roads) 2.0i-L gains a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen along with the latest version of Subaru’s EyeSight active safety and driver assistance system comprising autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance, collision-mitigating throttle control, pre-collision braking assistance and adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition. Also included are dual zone climate control and a plusher grade of cloth upholstery.
Another $1800 upgrades to the sunroof and sat-nav package known as Premium spec, with the top-range 2.0i-S (costing $35,240) getting leather upholstery with heated front seats, additional EyeSight features – rear cross-traffic alert and AEB while reversing – automatic wipers and dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights, heated door mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone tyres.
Rear parking sensors are an eye-watering $900 dealer-fit upgrade.
Subaru has addressed the few criticisms levelled at the original XV compact crossover, except for the ridiculously small boot, the seats-up capacity of which remains unchanged at just 310 litres. With the split-fold rear bench folded, there is still only 765L to play with.
Gambling types might ditch the 17-inch space-saver spare wheel and surrounding polystyrene padding to lower the boot floor, but as it comes from the factory the XV boot floor is at least flush with the bottom of the tailgate opening and this extends to a completely flat load area with the rear seats down. There are also handy hooks for securing shopping bags and recessed areas to place smaller items lest they roll about.
Why did we start with the boot? Because most people prefer the bad news first, and our report from the XV’s passenger compartment gets much better.
Only two gripes from the cabin itself: First, the seat padding is a little too firm, although we soon got used to it. Second, the Isofix child seat anchorages on the outboard positions of the rear bench are behind flimsy fabric flaps that are affixed using Velcro. The aperture through which the connectors are passed is crudely finished.
Honestly, we struggled to find further fault. OK, perhaps the plastic steering wheel feels a bit low-rent compared with the leather-wrapped items fitted to most competitors.
On the move, the XV is possibly the quietest car in its segment and one of the most refined, too. It’s remarkable how well it deals with even coarse-chip country roads without allowing rumble or drone into the cabin. The XV is already cracking value for money, but you cannot put a price on the level of peace enjoyed by XV occupants.
People who love information at their fingertips are well catered for, with three digital displays offering multiple combinations of trip computer functions, entertainment system status, the drivetrain’s vital signs and quirky additional info just because Subaru could. It is all easy to navigate and all information is presented clearly, which includes the analogue speedometer and rev-counter.
For example, there is the option to monitor which of the XV’s lights are turned on via an animated screen that even shows when the brake and indicator lights are illuminated. It is either a useless and distracting gimmick or genius way of reminding people their headlights are off or their fog lights are on.
Infotainment wise, Subaru is one of the few mainstream manufacturers to absolutely nail touchscreen functionality and smartphone integration.
They have packed heaps of neat features into the XV’s infotainment system, such as the ability to simply punch in a radio station frequency. But there’s an old-school rotary controller to tune the radio as well, as well as a station list and heaps of other methods of finding something to listen to. Brilliant.
For those who think radio and broadcasting in general are quirky relics, Subaru has included both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. We only tested the iPhone version, but it was one of the most seamless integrations we have yet used.
Where some infotainments can conflict with CarPlay, the Subaru’s various shortcut icons and buttons lead to the relevant CarPlay screen. When accessing non-CarPlay functions, a small icon in the screen’s top-right displays current track information. Our only disappointment was that the icon did not double as a shortcut back to CarPlay.
Interior storage is pretty good, with four door bins that are all deep, wide and designed to hold drinks bottles, a reasonably large glove box, big bin beneath the central armrest and a grippy smartphone tray in front of the gear selector with convenient access to USB and other connection ports.
Subaru has binned the old XV’s odd-shaped cup-holders and installed a pair of decent-sized items that can hold cups or bottles, while the fold-down rear central armrest also houses another two. There’s just one map pocket, though, on the rear of the front passenger seat, and no sunglasses holder.
The two front seats only have rudimentary adjustment but are well angled and we had no problem finding a good driving position, helped by plenty of steering column adjustment. Despite their firmness, we suffered no aches or pains even on journeys longer than two hours.
Rear accommodation is impressively spacious, although the bench is too narrow for three adults to spend a long time sharing it. A tall rear occupant has ample knee-room behind an equally lofty driver, and headroom is similarly generous.
Even better, a rear-facing infant seat does not impinge on front occupant space, which is rare, especially in a vehicle of this size. We mentioned the less-than-ideal Isofix point covers, but the anchorages themselves are at least easy to use and the child seat easy to install thanks to sensibly-located top tether points on the rear of the backrest.
We also found placing and strapping a child into their seat a breeze due to the good headroom and wide rear door openings. Shame then, that their stroller took up almost the entire boot.
The XV’s cabin layout is logical and all surfaces made from quality-feeling hard and soft plastics, with few unpleasant textures or hollow-feeling cheapness. To nit-pick the fake carbon-fibre and seat-fabric combination on the door trims perhaps let it down a little, but it all felt solidly constructed and generally easy on the eye. It’s some time since we could say all that about a Subaru interior.
Engine and transmission
Subaru clearly feels it has no point to prove performance-wise, having the WRX range in its showrooms, but the XV is a slug when accelerating off the line or up a hill. In the dry, and perhaps even in the wet, there’s not enough grunt to overcome the permanent all-wheel-drive system’s traction levels.
The 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine is responsive enough, it just gathers speed at a leisurely pace.
Keep the foot planted and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) allows revs to rise above 4000rpm, where it comes to life a bit (this is where peak torque is developed, with peak power coming in at 6000rpm).
Thankfully it remains refined and quiet at higher revs, otherwise getting a move on would be pretty painful.
It’s funny, because despite it generally keeping revs low, the well-calibrated CVT masks the engine’s lack of performance pretty well – helped by the engine itself being smooth, refined and quiet all the way to redline – and we never really had much trouble keeping up with round-town traffic or cruising on the motorway.
Neither did it frustrate us that much during our dynamic tests, which were conducted with the transmission in manual mode and shifts effected using the steering wheel paddles. Manual shifts are not exactly lightning-quick but they are much more predictable than previous Subaru efforts, lacking the odd surging sensation of old as each virtual ratio is selected and free of unconvincing rev-flaring after each change.
Despite all the hard work, the engine is remarkably economical. Subaru’s official combined-cycle figure of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres seems bang on, as our on-test average spent a lot of time in the high sixes and only went into the low sevens after our dynamic thrash session.
Also, the idle-stop system automatically cut the engine when the vehicle was stationary and restarted it upon release of the brake pedal with a smooth seamlessness that put almost every other system on the market to shame.
But we look forward to the day when the Levorg’s smooth, punchy and similarly economical new 1.6-litre turbo unit slots under the XV bonnet.
Ride and handling
The latest XV is so free of quirks and minor annoyances that Subaru could almost be accused by rusted-on fans of selling out to join the mainstream.
Until you give it a hiding on a country lane, that is. At this point, despite riding on Subaru’s first all-new platform in two decades, the balance, poise and predictability its cars are known for shine through.
But this is not at the expense of ride comfort. Regardless of speed, it smooths out road imperfections with aplomb and the XV remained serenely settled even on roads that shake the hell out of most cars. It was also totally stable on rippled or broken corner surfaces. In fact, stable and settled were the words persisted in our minds while driving this car.
The steering, while not full of feel or feedback, is direct and accurate. The front end responds well to being asked for more lock mid-corner, too, while additional rotation can be effected through the throttle. It’s a playful and nimble little thing, the XV.
A keen driver is kept well informed of what the tyres are doing – or about to do – through the seat of their pants, the much stiffer new chassis communicating plenty. This results in plenty of confidence to push harder, which is rewarded by the aforementioned predictability and adjustability.
Unlike our road test of the previous-generation XV, we were not able to get this model’s tyres caked in deep, wet mud. But a gravel-road blast assured us of the new car’s impressive all-wheel-drive traction, while the surefooted bitumen road dynamics translated into easy control over low-grip surfaces.
The steering is a little too responsive in this environment, though, requiring mental recalibration that could perhaps be addressed by a VW-style off-road mode that works at higher speeds than the XV’s X-Mode system that is borrowed from the larger Forester and only works – and makes sense – when negotiating steep and slippery terrain.
Quick throttle response from the engine is useful on gravel, and the XV’s pedal-adjustability and predictability also pays dividends here.
Braking performance also inspired confidence when driving at higher speeds, although the pedal feel is rather wooden during light applications at round-town velocities.
There is plenty to please all-comers here, from someone who just wants a comfy and stable way to get about, to someone who enjoys a country road thrash on both bitumen and unsealed roads.
We’d also wager this little Subaru would go pretty well on the beach, but that’s a story for another test.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Subaru XV a maximum five-star rating, scoring it 35.8 out of a maximum 37 points based on 14.8 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a perfect 16 in the side impact test and the full two points in the pole test.
Whiplash and pedestrian protection were both considered ‘good’.
Safety ASX equipment includes seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution.
Autonomous emergency braking is not standard at base spec but is available higher up the range.
A three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is provided with one year of roadside assistance and three years’ sat-nav map updates.
Service intervals are 12 months or 12,500km, with a three-year capped-price servicing program priced at $348.30 for the first maintenance visit, $601.59 for the second and $348.30 for the third (correct at time of writing).
As we’ve alluded to throughout this review, Subaru is getting better and better at appealing to and satisfying mainstream customers without alienating its die-hard brand fans. And the new XV is perhaps the greatest example of this to date.
It almost feels as though modern Subaru has come of age, having transitioned from plucky buccaneer in the 1990s and early 2000s through a difficult maturing process during the past decade and emerged with new-found confidence – and competence – with the latest Impreza and XV showcasing the company’s all-new underpinnings.
The benefits of this brand sticking to its guns with boxer engines and permanent all-wheel drive in a world of ever-increasing homogenisation of platforms and powertrains are there to be enjoyed by drivers of all types.
And people fascinated by and who care deeply about automotive engineering practices and heritage also have cause to celebrate.
There’s much to like here, on many levels. The XV is a great car with few major disadvantages.
But we reckon the 2.0i-L with its EyeSight safety and driver assistance tech, plus a bigger touchscreen and nicer cabin trim, is the value sweet spot of the XV range compared with the base variant tested here.
Hyundai Kona Elite 2WD: $28,500 plus on-road costs or Active AWD: $28,000 plus on-roadsA stylistic departure for Hyundai but one that drives in the well-rounded and conventionally competent way the brand is respected for. As a result it vies with the Subaru for title of least-compromised offering in this segment. For base-spec XV money you have a choice of well-equipped front-drive Elite or base-spec but turbo-powered and all-wheel-drive Active. Depends whether you like gadgets or go.
Mazda CX-3 Maxx AWD $26,890 plus on-road costs or sTouring 2WD: $28,990 plus on-roads Good standard safety tech, fun handling, a lovely engine and transmission combo plus decent equipment make it easy to recommend the CX-3. A tiny boot, cramped rear passenger accommodation and too much road noise and vibration are the biggest downsides. Like the Hyundai there is a choice between equipment and all-wheel-drive, but the engine outputs are the same for both, hence the AWD option being more affordable.
Honda HR-V VTi-S: $27,990 plus on-road costsDecent value, with a well thought out, practical and polished cabin plus a combination of strong engine and keen handling. This little Honda is a the segment’s quiet achiever and now packs an attractive five-year warranty package to rival Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Mitsubishi ASX LS ADAS 2WD: $28,500 plus on-road costsThe welcome addition of active safety and driver assistance systems at an affordable price keeps the ASX relevant, but it feels old, the interior quality is third rate and its gutless driveline is unsuited to hilly urban areas. Plus points include practicality and the availability of some killer deals during Mitsubishi’s regular discount fests. All-wheel drive comes in north of the $30K mark.
Toyota C-HR 2WD ($28,990 plus on-road costs)The least Toyota-like Toyota in recent memory, in many good ways. Polarising looks and a slight practicality penalty plus its weedy 1.2-litre engine’s unhappy marriage to a continuously variable automatic transmission the main flies in this otherwise impressive car’s ointment. Surprisingly generous in terms of standard git and it is generally great to drive. Like the Mitsubishi, all-wheel drive is a $30K-plus price proposition.
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