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Car reviews - Subaru - XV - range

Our Opinion

We like
Fun, competent crossover wagon, real interior space, middling off-road chops
Room for improvement
2.0-litre engine could be stronger, interior noise levels a bit high


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20 Jun 2017

PARK a new XV next to an old one and, from the side, I challenge you – or, more accurately, someone you know who’s not as into cars as you are – to tell them apart.

GoAuto started hearing whispers some months before the second-generation XV dropped at the Geneva motor show that things wouldn’t be shaken up too much, but from the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things were as still as a millpond at Subaru HQ.

Of course, that’s not the case, with the XV scoring the new Subaru Global Platform and a completely redone version of the company’s venerable 2.0-litre flat-four engine.

Even though exterior changes are limited to revisions to the front bumper, valance and headlight cluster, as well as the rear lights and bumper, the interior is all new.

To start, there’s 26mm more leg room and a 100mm wider (and 40 litres bigger at 350L) cargo area than the previous car. The XV’s width of 2019mm from mirror to mirror hasn’t changed, but the actual car has grown by 20mm to 1800mm, reflecting its donor Impreza’s measurements.

This nets an extra 30mm of internal width, too, which is key in a category where interior size is often a deal maker or breaker.

The presentation of the XV’s interior has also stepped up. In a category where some of the players can qualify for long service leave, the XV is a breath of fresh air, with sculpted soft-touch plastics, a bevy of info screens and a very funky set of seats.

The central TFT screen between the dash dials, for example, is terrific, and offers not just a digital speedo, but an indication of the current speed limit next to it. It’s a real ‘why didn’t someone think of that earlier?’ moment.

The large multimedia screen, too, is crystal clear, with large icons that are easy to see and to push. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both feature – though the Android version of car integration is still nowhere near as good as Apple’s – while a small screen above the main one seems a little bit redundant.

One of the standout elements of the XV is its interior space, particularly behind the wheel. A long-reach steering wheel, lots of width and sufficient headroom – even with a sunroof fitted – make the XV a comfortable drive.

Rear legroom and shoulder width is good for adults and great for smaller humans, while headroom is great as well.

The XV range is mostly fitted with the third generation of Subaru’s own twin camera-based EyeSight driver aid system, which incorporates adaptive cruise control, lane departure control and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) –including rearwards on the top variant. The base model 2.0i does miss out for the moment, though Subaru – aware of the impending rule changes for five-star ANCAP achievement – says its coming.

All XVs are powered by the same 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that has been reworked from oil pan to cam covers, netting an astonishing 12kg weight saving in the process.

The Euro 6-compliant engine does miss out on Subaru’s Intelligent drive throttle mapping system, and it’s only offered with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) – strike another blow for manual gearboxes – and in all-wheel drive.

On the road, the XV’s biggest win comes from its new platform, which is claimed to be up to 90 per cent stiffer in twist in some places and it feels it too.

The longer limbed suspension is about 50mm higher at 220mm than a regular Impreza, and the stiffer chassis has allowed Subaru to soften the springs and dampers a bit, so the ride is cosseting and compliant for such a relatively small car.

The electric steering isn’t as accomplished in the XV as it is in the Impreza, though, with an overly light feel, as well as being far too sensitive just off-centre.

The powertrain is good around town, though the conservative engine tune does leave the XV straining to get up to speed from a standstill. Maintaining a highway cruise up hill and down dale can be tiresome though, thanks to the flaring of the CVT and the lack of mid-range torque.

It’s not underpowered, per se, but the chassis is patently capable of dealing with more.

The XV has scored the X-Mode system that’s also used in the Forester, which utilises traction control and torque splitting to give added grip when the going gets sloppy.

It won’t turn your XV into a Mercedes-Benz G-Professional, but it’s a capable enough in moderately muddy and sandy conditions, and will negotiate rutted fire trails easily if driven carefully.

Tyres are often the limiting factor, and the moderately all-terrain-esque 17-inch Yokohamas on our 2.0i Premium grade tester did pretty well at road-going pressures in loose, steep gravel. They fare less well on the highway, though, transmitting a surprising amount of road noise back into the cabin.

In all, though, Subaru’s expectations of adding around 25 per cent to its monthly sales tally – taking it to around 1100 units, or about the same numbers that the Impreza does – are well founded. The XV is arguably one of the most off-road capable small SUVs under $50,000 (and in many cases over it), and it doesn’t compromise its on-road ability and comfort to achieve it.

The way the engine and transmission work together will annoy some but not all, while the steering feel and noisy cabin at highway speeds is also worth a mention.

In all, though, the second-generation XV is destined to fly a lot higher than its predecessor.

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