On the face of it, Subaru’s baby XV is yet another compact SUV playing in a space of burgeoning competition, perhaps the most contested segment in motoring at the moment. As you get to know it, however, you quickly realise that it also straddles a space reserved for higher segment cars, specifically with regard to its all-round ability. It doesn’t really have any real compact competition when it comes to tackling more testing terrain.
This ES spec Subaru XV comes fully equipped. You name it, the XV has it, and so it comes as no surprise that this is really part of the daily bread-and-butter volume seller for the brand next to the Subaru Forester. This measure is of course by Subaru numbers. It certainly doesn’t sell in the volumes enjoyed by most other manufacturers and is a far cry from its Volkswagen and Toyota competitors.
It really should though. The XV cuts a good profile. It’s handsome at worst, sporting signature Subaru hawk-eye daytime running lights, a nicely raised stance and fitted with the black alloy 18-inch wheels, it’s a good looking design that should appeal to a wider target market. With its interesting mix of colours including a strong Sunshine Orange or a unique Cool Grey Khaki, the XV is undoubtedly the most youthful and funky model in the Subaru line-up.
Step aboard and you’ll immediately notice a strong theme of orange throughout the cabin. All of the stitching work in the car is orange and it contrasts well against the dark grey cabin interior. The seats and a lot of the dash and door trim are all leather, and the cabin is devoid of any low grade plastics or worrying materials. It feels like a quality cabin in here, a leap in improvement from the previous generation. One critique is the hardness of the headrests which could use a bit more cushioning for long journeys.
There are 3 main areas of focus within the cabin. The driver’s display, the multi-function display, and the large 8-inch touchscreen infotainment unit. Each of these screens communicate all of the vital info about the car. Connectivity can be done through Bluetooth or through Apple CarPlay/Android Auto cabled connections. A lot of the functionality thereafter can be operated via the multi-function steering wheel, a smart plan to help you keep your eyes on the road. This is very important to Subaru as you’ll note a bit later.
As with all touchscreens, fingerprints and grime can easily coat the surface of the screen but the software is fast and the UX is uncomplicated. That is in fact, the whole experience of the car.
My biggest criticism of the Subaru XV is something that was said about its forbear too. Boot space is critically small. At 310-litres it puts the XV on the back foot. We found the boot to be shallow and short, a decision that we know has to do with maintaining the ride height and suspension capability for the car, but it’s a sore point and something that will disappoint a few customers I am sure. XV would be a perfect family car, were it more generous in boot space.
The Subaru XV is fitted with a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated, Boxer engine mated to a CVT transmission. The powertrain is good for 115kW at 6 000rpm and 196Nm at 4 200rpm. Not much is it? Considering that some competitors offer a variety of engine choices, some much less powerful than this one, the XV has only one engine option.
It’s an engine that leaves me quite at pains because it does some things so incredibly well and then disappoints in equal measure. For the daily pot around town or the casual highway cruise at national limits, it’s absolutely ample. It doesn’t sport a turbo charger so I love the immediate accessibility of power when pulling off from an intersection. It’s quite frugal too in these sorts of applications, our long drive to KZN and back to JHB returned a very respectable 6,8l/100km.
Where things fall short is when you need a strong, protracted need of power. There’s a lack of grunt throughout the rev range and then coupled to the CVT transmission, the whole process of acceleration can be a little laborious and agonisingly noisy. The CVT needs rethinking. I found the best way to get the most out of the car was to flick the shifter to ‘manual’ mode and use the shift paddles behind the steering wheel to keep the car in the sweet spot of the rev range. This way, you can control the transmission noise and the power yourself.
Where the XV excels is in its confident handling. This is in part thanks to the engine, not its power of course but rather that it is a Boxer engine that sits flatter in the engine bay. This gives the car a lower centre of gravity. Couple this to a symmetrical all-wheel drive system and you have a recipe for a surefooted driving experience. I don’t know what else in the segment handles so well. Emergency lane changes, hard cornering, you name it, the XV seems to soak it up and handle it in a calm and confident way. Make no mistake, I am not talking about performance dynamics here but rather confident, undramatic roadholding. Even on corrugated gravel terrain where a number of cars can quickly feel wayward and light on the axles, the XV is excellent and solid.
The XV is a class-leader in the segment as far as ground clearance and off road ability goes. With 220mm of ground clearance, the car sits quite high but to manage its all-wheel drive system on more testing terrain, it’s equipped with something Subaru calls X-Mode. Think of it as a computer software that detects the terrain you’re on and ensures maximum traction. It’s a system that you will find on much more expensive and larger SUVs, and includes Hill Descent Control within the system. It makes the whole driving experience much easier and its really, really good at going where you just don’t think a small crossover would tread.
If that’s not enough, let’s talk about the best selling point of this car which is its EyeSight tech. In essence, EyeSight is a camera-based system that offers a whole bunch of features. Adaptive Cruise Control is one and it’s an excellent system, able to dawdle in traffic or at highway speeds. It’s intuitive and easy to use and amongst the best there is. Other EyeSight features? An emergency warning or braking system for forward collisions; Lane Departure Warning and Throttle Management for when you’re applying the juice when you shouldn’t be. You won’t find this level of safety features on any other car in the segment and I have to say, it’s a fantastic bit of kit.
Subaru remains a smaller player in the SA motoring landscape but you can’t argue the historical and worldwide popularity of the brand and its products.
The XV retails for just over R500 000 and perhaps, compared to some rivals, it looks on the expensive side. This is quite far from the truth. The XV is a fully equipped product with a lengthy list of specifications that are not just surface level tech add-ons.
It is sold with a 3yr/75 000km full maintenance plan which is extendable to 5yrs/150 000km. A non-EyeSight enabled version of the XV cuts the price by R64 000 and whilst it is equally capable, the EyeSight feature is well worth the extra capital outlay. In Japan at least, it has reduced the amount of accidents by Subaru drivers significantly.
The Subaru XV is a technically superior product in most respects. It is built from the ground up with a focus on safe and confident handling and then heaped on with technology to add to the safety credentials. It’s a handsome and well designed car too, built solidly and to a reliability spec for which the brand has become known.
It is only let down by its drivetrain, which is frustrating at times. A little more power would go a long way. And yes, if you’re big on boot space, then this will also let you down.
That said though, Subaru really should be selling at least 3 times more of these cars than they do. South Africans seem to choose inferior products over this car perhaps due to its small size, its small dealer footprint or its small share of voice compared to the big players. Pity though, because it’s a whole lot of little car.