The Subaru XV has been a runaway success for the Japanese brand, with the small crossover hatch’s rugged styling drawing in plenty of buyers.
Based on the standard Subaru Impreza hatchback but with a raised ride height and off-road styling bits, the XV has averaged about 850 sales per month since its introduction in January 2012. By contrast, the standard Impreza limps along at about 500 units per month in the hugely competitive small car class - it just goes to show what some styling tweaks can do.
The XV plays in a busy segment of the market, fighting against rivals such as the immensely popular Hyundai ix35, all-new Nissan Qashqai, and strong sellers such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mitsubishi ASX and Holden Trax.
Unlike some of those models, however, the Subaru starts high up in the $20,000s – the entry-level 2.0i kicks off at $28,490 plus on-road costs for the manual and $30,990 for the automatic. All XVs come decently equipped, with a reverse-view camera, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary device connectivity, climate control air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog-lights and roof-rails.
The mid-grade 2.0i-L adds a sunroof and satellite navigation touchscreen media unit, and is priced at $31,990 for the manual and $34,490 for the auto.
The flagship 2.0i-S comes kitted out with xenon low-beam headlights with auto-off function, tinted glass, silver roof rails, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, heated seats for the driver and front passenger, leather seat trim in black or ivory finish, and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat. It costs $34,490 for the manual and $36,990 with the auto 'box. The model tested here is the top-end 2.oi-S auto.
Starting inside, the 6.1-inch media system is familiar from some Toyota products. The touchscreen unit includes satellite navigation and doubles as a display for the reverse-view camera, which is standard across the range. It’s teamed to a six-speaker sound system and includes USB and auxiliary inputs hidden in the centre console.
The system offers quick-connecting Bluetooth but its menu system is fiddly to operate, and the icons and touchpoints are small, meaning those of us with larger fingers may hit the wrong button.
We also found the menus and navigation can be difficult to read with the headlights on, particularly in daylight hours when the sun hit it at a certain angle. That there’s no auto-on headlight system (the headlights will only turn themselves off when you stop the car, rather than illuminating in dark areas such as tunnels) is behind the times and off the pace for a car of this price.
Also disappointing is the XV’s lack of high-tech safety gear.
Admittedly, the range-wide reverse-view camera is worthy of accolade and many rivals can’t match the Subaru in that regard, but there’s no parking sensors, no blind-spot warning, no lane departure warning, nor is the exceptional EyeSight forward collision warning system available on the XV. Its rival, the Nissan Qashqai, has a reverse-view camera on the base car, while a surround-view camera is standard on top models, as is blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection. It is worth noting, though, that XV has the maximum five-star crash rating, and seven airbags including driver’s knee protection.
However, similarly priced small SUVs start to make their presence felt even more when you delve further into the equipment shortfalls of the XV. Keyless entry and push-button start isn’t available on any XV model, nor are the aforementioned auto headlights, nor automatic wipers, nor any form of automated parking system as is optional on the cheaper Skoda Yeti.
The interior is a function-over-form affair, with everything placed in logical positions and with decent quality finishes across the dash. It’s not as stylish or strikingly pretty as some, but it makes up for that with excellent levels of storage in the front and the rear, and decent space for adults all-around.
The boot is not so great, with a high lip and boot floor, and limited volume of just 310 litres – less than some light hatchbacks. However, it does offer 60:40 split-fold rear seats to improve the capacity, and the three top-tether child seat restraints that are mounted on the seatbacks limit the intrusion into the boot area.
The XV retains the same hardware as the Impreza, with a 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder boxer engine the only one available. Power is sent to all four wheels, with the choice of a six-speed manual or optional automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) across the range.
The engine produces 110kW of power at 6200rpm and 196Nm at 4200rpm, and with such peaky power delivery the XV does feel sluggish from a standstill under hard throttle. Modulating the throttle rather than tramping it does allow it to respond more willingly, though it is still one of the more leisurely powertrains going.
The CVT automatic of our test car does no favours for the low-rev response, with some slurring and lurching under sudden right foot application. But across a range of disciplines around town – including parking – and on the highway, the auto proves quite amenable. The paddleshifters are a bit of a gimmick, though.
Fuel use for the XV is decent at a claimed 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the auto and 7.3L/100km for the manual. During our road loop across several hundred kilometres, we saw 7.8L/100km. Not bad at all, and no doubt aided by the engine’s stop-start system which works effectively in traffic snarls and even offers a readout of how much fuel, in millilitres, has been saved by the engine being shut down.
The XV is equally inoffensive in its road manners. The ride comfort afforded by its additional stiffening and raised suspension (which allows it 220 millimetres of ground clearance) is impressive, particularly over chopped up road surfaces and urban obstacles like speed-humps and potholes, and the highway comfort offered by the XV is exceptional. However, smaller inconsistencies such as rippled arterial roads can make the body wobble.
Many SUVs in this class offer front-drive models that help keep prices lower, whereas the XV is only available with all-wheel drive. That doesn’t help in terms of pricing, but it does offer buyers the peace of mind of being able to tackle some off-road sections, while also aiding in the car’s ability to deal with damp road surfaces, particularly at higher speeds.
Indeed, the XV handles corners quite well considering its ride height, and its steering allows for a bit of fun to be had, with quick turn-in response. For urbanites, the steering is light and precise enough to make parking a cinch, though there’s a low-speed graunch from the car's differentials that can be unnerving when applying lock to the wheel.
Since the car was introduced, Subaru has joined the majority of retailers by offering a capped-price service program. It applies to the life of the car, according to the brand, and applies to all XVs already sold. Indicative pricing for the first three years of servicing averages out at $743 per year for manual models and $727 per year for those with auto. That’s not cheap, particularly considering Hyundai charges just $289 per year for the ix35 petrol AWD. The XV, like all Subarus, comes with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The XV is still a decent thing to drive that is frugal and comfortable - and there’s good reason that it sells in big numbers every month.
Even so, there are newer small SUVs on the market that are sure to give it a nudge, particularly in terms of its pricing and equipment, particularly in the higher price brackets. Therefore, the range receives a 7/10, while the base model's individual score sits even higher. But this top-spec 2.0i-S can only manage 6.5/10. If you like getting as much for your money as possible, be sure to weigh up whether you’ll actually need the AWD system or not, as there are front-wheel-drive bargains out there to be had.