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First drive: Subaru improves second-gen XV

Final Fantasy XV: Sampling Subaru’s second-generation XV on Japanese roads gave us a taste of what to expect from the new crossover when it lands in Australia in June.

X-Mode off-road setting, updated looks and more tech to push sales of Subaru XV


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14 Apr 2017


SUBARU is banking on its second-generation XV crossover helping push its 2017 worldwide sales total up eight per cent to 1,090,000 units, with the Japanese brand’s Australian division also projected to mirror its global percentage growth and contribute around 51,000 units this year.

The incoming redesigned XV – the second model to be built on the new Subaru Global Platform following the latest Impreza – is expected to land in Australian showrooms around June, making an immediate positive impact on sales for the brand which are already up 8.4 per cent this year – thanks almost entirely to the new Impreza launched last December.

“Based on Impreza performance to date in the first three months, we can certainly achieve incremental growth given the level of interest in the car (XV),” Subaru Australia national corporate affairs manager David Rowley told GoAuto last week at an international drive event for the new XV in Japan.

To the end of March, Subaru has recorded 1876 sales for its XV – a 9.4 per cent drop compared to the same period last year – which puts it behind the leading models in the small SUV segment including the Mazda CX-3 (4555), Mitsubishi ASX (3599), Nissan Qashqai (3146), Honda HR-V (2917) and Holden Trax (2137).

Last year, Subaru sold 8290 XVs – a 15.7 per cent increase over the previous year – and since the vehicle’s launch in 2012, the Australian distributor has racked up approximately 48,000 sales, with its best year in 2014 when it sold 11,539 units.

Mr Rowley would not be drawn on Subaru Australia’s specific sales targets for the new model, which now competes in an increasingly crowded segment against rivals that did not exist when the XV first arrived on the scene five years ago – including the recently launched Toyota C-HR.

“We’re not going to put a finite figure on it as yet, but I think we can be quietly confident that we can achieve a level of growth,” he said.

“The performance of Impreza really bodes well for the future, and bear in mind that last time we launched them the other way around. It was actually XV first then Impreza which was dictated by the production difficulties around the earthquake, so we’ve done them in the correct order this way around, so there is a logical growth that I think we can achieve.”

Although local specification for the new XV is still to be revealed, Mr Rowley said Subaru’s new crossover will mirror its Impreza sibling, with which it shares many components including engine, transmission and interior parts.

“Yes, that (XV) will pretty much mirror the current Impreza range,” he said. “Certainly, I think without going into the fine details, you’ll have the i, the L, the Premium and the S, and obviously in terms of features there will be some variation.

“As we all know, the market is very competitive, the pricing structure that we put in place with Impreza has a very broad appeal and we’re gratified that the biggest-selling variant in the Impreza range is actually the S, the range-topping model, so if you were to think similar ratios with new XV in terms of increment and volume, we’re quietly confident.”

Subaru currently offers its XV in three flavours, kicking off from $26,740 plus on-road costs for the 2.0i, rising to $30,240 for the 2.0i-L and topping out at $33,040 for the flagship 2.0i-S. Automatic transmission adds $2500 across the range.

When Subaru launched its new-generation Impreza, a price increase of between $1590 and $3090 was placed on mid- and top-spec variants, which is a possible scenario for the incoming XV – although exact pricing will be revealed closer to the launch.

The new platform for XV has allowed Subaru to make improvements to body and chassis rigidity, as well as achieve a claimed 50 per cent reduction in body vibrations.

The X-Mode off-road system – borrowed from the Forester – is also added to the all-wheel-drive-only new generation, along with hill-descent control.

From the outside, the new XV has the same basic design theme as its predecessor, sporting rugged off-road plastic cladding along the front, sides, rear and wheelarches, as well as the same high-riding wagon shape.

However, the new XV wears Subaru’s new front grille design, with a larger weave pattern and blacked-out border, along with redesigned headlights, a new lower front chin, wider tailgate opening and wraparound tail-lights.

Engine performance increases slightly compared to the outgoing model, with the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder producing 115kW of power at 6000rpm (up 5kW). Maximum torque of 196Nm at 4000rpm remains unchanged.

All versions of the XV will be mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with auto-stepped speed control and a seven-speed manual mode, with Subaru ditching the manual gearbox in all markets due to slow sales.

The company has also installed a faster-acting automatic engine idle-stop system for improved fuel economy, and has tweaked the suspension with firmer installation points to further reduce body flex around corners and uneven road surfaces.

Other changes include improved aerodynamic efficiency thanks to a more streamlined shape, a wider cabin, use of higher-grade cabin materials and more extensive sound-deadening measures throughout.

XV also gains Subaru’s third-generation infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity with three screens peppered throughout to display information.

Similar to its Impreza sibling, XV variants will also adopt EyeSight driver-assist technology likely on mid-tier grades and higher, with features including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring.

Our first drive of the new model on roads west of Tokyo last week showed that Subaru has clearly delivered a competent, capable and comfortable package, with the off-road X-Mode as its crowning feature which should push the XV higher up the list for shoppers looking to get off the beaten track.

Our drive route, while short, incorporated hills, potholes and unsealed sections and road imperfections, all of which the XV absorbed with confidence, never feeling unsettled thanks in part to a larger tyre diameter than before and tweaks to the suspension.

Tyre and road noise was noticeable at higher speeds, but never loud enough to really intrude. Our test car was fitted with 18-inch wheels shod with 255/55 tyres, although we think a 17-inch wheel and tyre package would be better suited to the vehicle.

While Subaru has upped power from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine to 115kW, the XV still feels a little asthmatic with about 60kg more weight to lug around than its Impreza stablemate and peak torque coming on fairly late at 4000rpm.

The CVT does not do the XV any favours, either, whining away at speeds over 80km/h and often struggling to find its footing with the accelerator pushed flat to the floor. However, the transmission does work admirably at slower speeds – where the XV will spend most of its time – with smooth operation and minimal transmission noise.

Steering feels direct and precise, and while being too light for our tastes initially, it does start to feel weightier as the XV picks up pace.

The XV’s new party trick – X-Mode – may well be its defining feature. In situations where traction can be compromised, a dedicated button near the shifter will optimise the engine, transmission and the all-wheel-drive system to maximise grip.

While most small SUVs often struggle to fulfil the definition, Subaru’s XV can genuinely cut it through muddy hills and slippery situations – we know because we tried. Parked halfway up a snowy and muddy incline, the push of the X-Mode button allowed the vehicle to move on upwards smoothly and with minimal fuss.

XV was never designed to tackle the demanding trails of Kakadu or Cape York, but certainly meets the brief in terms of accommodating the desire for adventure that typically urban-bound owners will sometimes require of it.

Inside, the cabin is closely aligned to the Impreza with soft touchpoints and high-grade materials, but Subaru has used orange stitching throughout to break up the swathe of dark plastics and rubber along the dashboard.

From the driver’s seat, the XV feels like a jacked-up Impreza, with great road visibility all-round and a comfortable seating position.

Rear seats are also serviceable, with plenty of headroom to easily accommodate adults up to 185cm in height and enough legroom even with front seats pushed well back.

The XV’s boot opening has also been widened to make loading easier, but the high boot floor does eat into storage capacity.

Although external styling is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the small touches including front grille and tail-lights combine to modernise and update the classic high-riding hatchback shape.

Our experience with the new XV has left us, like all good taste tests, wanting more.

Having played a major role in boosting the small SUV genre, Subaru has delivered a redesigned model that clearly has enough to put XV back on the shortlist of prospective buyers – even in a landscape that is now so much more competitive.

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