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First drive: Oz will be first to get Subaru XV

Front of the line: Australia will be the first market to get its hands on the Subaru XV crossover when it arrives here in January.

All-new Impreza-based XV compact SUV to land in Australia ahead of global roll-out

Subaru logo24 Oct 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

AUSTRALIA will become the first market to launch the all-new Subaru XV compact SUV when the Impreza-based crossover lands in local showrooms earlier than expected in January.

Other markets such as Japan and the United States will not get the small all-wheel-drive wagon until later next year, and the XV will even beat the new Impreza sedan and hatch range onto the Australian market by a month or two.

Aimed squarely at stealing market share from small crossover vehicles such as the Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai ix35 and Nissan Dualis, the new XV loses the Impreza nameplate in an effort by Subaru to create a standalone product to sit below the bigger Forester in its SUV range.

Among XV’s bragging rights is fuel-saving idle-stop across the range – a first in the compact SUV class and a first for Subaru.

The system is credited with about a quarter of the 20 per cent gain in fuel efficiency of the new XV over the previous model, with other gains coming from the new 110kW/196Nm four-cylinder 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ engine with its lightweight parts and variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust valves, all-new transmissions, electric power-assisted steering and aerodynamic advances.

The XV will be charged with driving up Subaru’s Australian sales by a substantial margin, from the current XV’s 80 sales a month to about 500 a month for the new model once full production can be brought to bear – a 600 per cent improvement.

No pricing or final specifications have been issued yet by Subaru Australia, but the XV will be powered by the same new 2.0-litre FB boxer engine as the new Impreza, mated with a new six-speed manual transmission – replacing the current five-speeder – or optional new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission CVT that replaces the ageing four-speed auto.

2 center imageUnlike its rivals, the XV will not get a two-wheel drive version as a price leader, instead employing Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system on all variants.

The XV gets more exterior differentiation this time around to set it apart from the Impreza. The only common sheetmetal – apart from the platform under the vehicle – is in the roof, bonnet and doors, with nose and tail treatments completely fresh, including the grille, bumpers and headlights.

While the current XV is based on the Impreza five-door hatch, the new model gets it own wagon shape with a lift-up rear hatch.

The XV is about 35mm longer than the five-door hatchback Impreza, at 4450mm, but 30mm shorter than the sedan that has the same exterior dimensions as the previous-generation Impreza.

Black plastic protective wheel-arch and rocker panel mouldings – now with a patterned surface – combine with roof rails and sturdy-looking 17-inch black alloy wheels to add a separate character.

Although the XV is a high rider, sitting 220mm above Mother Earth, the overall height has been kept to 1615mm – including the roof rails. This is lower than most of its rivals, enhancing the XV’s claim to the lowest centre of gravity in the class.

The XV drives more like a conventional hatchback than an SUV and, while it can’t claim to be as sharp as the Impreza hatch and sedan, most drivers will be well satisfied by its flat cornering and compliant ride on its MacPherson strut front end and double-wishbone rear set-up – both of which have been modified to give the XV a car-like driving character.

A drive around Subaru’s ride and handling circuit at its Japanese proving ground at the weekend – when Australian journalists became the first to sample the XV– revealed that the new-found strengths of the latest fourth-generation Impreza translate well to the crossover wagon.

The ability to deal with big bumps without fuss is pronounced, and the stronger body and greater suspension isolation appears to insulate the passengers from the worst noise, vibration and harshness.

The new electric power-assisted steering does not deliver a feed-back feast, but Subaru would not be Robinson Crusoe in that regard, especially at the affordable end of the market.

Because the new XV shares the new Impreza platform, it gets a 25mm longer wheelbase that affords greater interior space, especially in the rear seat where passengers get more legroom and shoulder room.

Luggage space, however, has been severely compromised by a Subaru Australia decision to bow to customer entreaties for a bigger spare wheel instead of a skinny space-saver offered in the XV elsewhere.

The almost full-size temporary spare wheel with its 185 tyre raises the rear floor by several centimetres, with wasteful polystyrene foam padding around the wheel to support the raised floor, all soaking up valuable litres of cargo space.

In fact, the space of the wagon – 310 litres – is less than that of the new Impreza hatch (340 litres) and sedan (460 litres).

Subaru engineers nevertheless loaded a large pram into the back of the XV to prove it could still take a substantial load, but we can still see a space-saving spare wheel accessory as having major potential for customers who rarely leave the beaten track or tow anything.

The XV also loses out slightly to the Impreza on fuel economy, even though they share the same FB boxer engine that made its debut in 2.5-litre form in the Forester in early 2010.

Now armed with fuel-saving idle-stop on both manual and CVT models, the six-speed manual XV achieves 7.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle – compared with the five-door hatchback Impreza’s 7.1L/100km – while the CVT auto cuts that to 7.0L/100km, compared with the Impreza hatchback’s 6.8L/100km.

The XV wins on towing capacity at 1400kg – 200kg more than Impreza.

Like the Impreza, the XV will come in three variants – the base 2.0i, mid-range 2.0i-L and flagship 2.0i-S – all with a fresh new interior design high on soft-touch finishes and classier instruments that address a major shortcoming of the cheap-feel previous model.

However, the base XV gets more gear than the equivalent Impreza from the get-go, with a reversing camera and premium multi-function display standard, along with cruise control, seven airbags – including knee bag for the driver – and automatic air-conditioning.

The 2.0-L adds electric sunroof, dual-zone air-conditioning, satellite-navigation with SMS voice text and voice control, and rear privacy glass.

At the top, the 2.0i-S has leather trim, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, alloy pedals, silver roof rails (in place of black on other models), and HID Xenon headlights with washers.

Subaru is giving no hints on pricing until closer to launch, but with a current price of $27,490 it is still likely to crunch AWD rivals from Mitsubishi and Nissan that start around the $32,000 mark.

Although no plans for a diesel have been confirmed, Subaru insiders assured GoAuto that an oil-burning variant was in the pipeline, perhaps for late 2012 or 2013.

The diesel will be new, not the turbo-diesel currently on offer in the Forester, giving the XV (and possibly Impreza) a unique diesel character.

It is likely to include idle-stop, matching that feature in the new petrol XV and its Impreza counterpart.

Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior said the strength of the XV was its driving dynamics, thanks to its low centre of gravity.

“We’re calling it the fun machine because, on looks, driving and functionality, that’s exactly what it is,” he said.

Mr Senior has spent the past week in Tokyo meeting with Subaru executives over price and other issues.

Like the new Impreza, the XV’s arrival on global markets was severely delayed by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March, but the fact that Subaru has managed to get the XV into production before the end of 2011 is a remarkable turn-around.

When Subaru Australia showed the XV and Impreza at the Australian International Motor Show in July, the company feared neither car would arrive until well into 2012.

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