Car reviews - Subaru - XV - 5-dr hatch
Accomplished dynamics, efficient drivetrain, entertaining handling, overall refinement, spacious cabin, value pricing, useful ground clearance, chunky good looks overall
Room for improvement
Small cargo area, dreary cabin ambience, sorted chassis cries out for more power, rear bench too reclined for comfort, gawky nose styling
25 Jan 2012
THE FRAGMENTATION of the already niche SUV segment continues.
Subaru – pioneer of the ‘Outback’ concept that turned the innocuous Liberty wagon into a crowd-pleasing pseudo off-roader – has applied the same winning formula to its upcoming Impreza IV.
“So what!” you say? “Hasn’t that happened before with very lukewarm results in 2001 (gauche RV) and 2010 (original Impreza XV)?
Correct. But this time – according to the program manager out from Japan for the XV II launch – Subaru has started from scratch by envisaging and engineering the regular hatch and crossover SUV at the same time, thus ensuring less compromise and more effectiveness.
And you know what? It shows from the moment you set eyes it.
Unlike the rather grotesque current-gen Liberty, the oversized bits on the XV enhance rather than detract from its generally clean lines, infusing a sense of presence and purpose that more effectively communicates what the model is all about. Believe it or not, in person, and especially after a run in the dirt, the latest Subaru looks likeably chunky.
If you peer underneath you’ll notice a useful 220mm of ground clearance. That’s well above what other sub-compact SUVs (to use Subaru’s term) like the Nissan Dualis and Mitsubishi ASX offer, and it just might prove to be the XV’s biggest saving grace.
Why? Two reasons. For starters, so much air between road and undercarriage means the Subaru can go over dirt trails that preclude virtually all of its competitors front or all-wheel drive, plus larger SUVs like the Ford Territory.
Conversely – and here’s the brilliant bit about the XV – being about 40mm higher off the ground than your regular crossover or small car is no longer a one way ticket to queasy street.
Not only does the Subaru not handle and grip the road like a ponderous hippopotamus, it actually is fun, involving and utterly controllable to drive.
Whether on smooth bitumen or loose gravel, or over straight roads or bendy tracks, the steering impresses with heft and feedback making for responsive and involving cornering.
The ESC stability system gives the car some slack for a bit of looseness over dirt, but the XV is controllable enough for the driver to feel secure and confident even with all the electronic aids extinguished. It really is an unexpectedly entertaining yet responsible experience.
You can thank an exceptionally low centre of gravity afforded by the company’s trademark horizontally opposed boxer engine and symmetrical full-time AWD, according to Subaru.
Indeed, there’s so much on offer dynamically that the chassis invariably feels like it can easily use more power. We’re sure that’s coming soon in some hot WRX-style turbo variant, but for now the new-gen FB 2.0-litre Boxer is a smooth and refined though not particularly sparkling unit that provides sufficient performance.
Unlike some previous naturally aspirated Subaru engines, this one’s torque delivery is quite linear so the powerplant does not feel like it is falling into a hole in the 1500-3000rpm range. The springy long-travel gearshift is also slicker than before, and the same applies to the light clutch.
The CVT auto, on the other hand, does well for what it is, with only minimal droning and a fairly responsive character in most driving situations.
Where the drivetrain does shine is in its extremely impressive official (91 RON unleaded) fuel consumption (and in turn carbon dioxide emissions) figures, decimating the Dualis/ASX 2.0L equivalents and placing it within cooee of some diesel-powered competitors.
That’s partly due to the XV’s 240kg-plus weight advantage over its (AWD-equipped) foes. Our driving course precluded economy testing, but if the numbers stack up then the Scrooge and Greenie in you are likely to be as happy as the driver.
More good news is reserved for the cabin – from its large easy-entry doors and commanding driving position to Preschooler-friendly switchgear and controls – though only an eight year old can decipher the flashy trip computer graphics.
Standout points include excellent front seats, good front and side vision (thinner and more sympathetically placed A-pillars help here), and a soft upper dashboard surface that adds a degree of quality to what is a functional but pretty conservative and flair-free fascia.
And then – for some people at least – the XV really falls flat on its face, from the rear seat back to be precise.
While the rear bench is nicely shaped and pleasingly spacious to match, it is too reclined for comfort if you’re a person of average height and mass.
Worse still, however, you might be nothing less than totally alarmed to learn that the boot space is a piddling 310 litres. That’s significantly smaller thah the already cargo-challenged Dualis. Plus the floor is too high (a full-sized temporary steel spare wheel lives underneath), making loading a chore for some folk. And folding the rear seats might make for a level area but the whole space is shallow.
That’s why we wonder whether Subaru will actually find 600 customers for its otherwise better-than-expected newcomer, or whether many will just shrug their shoulders and cough up the extra $2500 for the far more volumous Forester X.
That’d be a shame, because the base XV 2.0i represents exceptional value for money when you factor in the AWD, five-star safety gear, and comprehensive standard features list that includes those striking 17-inch alloys. We’d have one. Seriously.
Subaru pointed out that equivalently equipped rival crossovers – including the Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35 – cost at least about $2500 extra, and the value quotient just keeps on getting better the further up the range you explore.
We like the chunky looks, generous spec and eco drivetrain, and love the way the XV hustles along. It’s the most involving small Subaru in a while, and one of the most endearing. If the dearth of cargo area capacity is an issue, you can always buy a roof-mounted box. Buyers can do a whole lot worse for the dosh.
Whether it is ultimately different enough from the new Impreza remains to be seen, but this version sure bodes well for the company’s comeback in the… err, what class of SUV is this thing again?
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