The updated 2016 Subaru XV is now available, and the arrival of the mildly-facelifted and notably enhanced model couldn't have come soon enough.
Since going on sale in 2012 the current-generation Subaru XV has soared to sales stardom, peaking in 2014 when the Japanese brand registered a staggering 11,539 examples of the high-riding, ruggedly-styled Impreza hatch. That was enough to see it rank second in the small SUV segment behind only the Hyundai ix35.
In 2015, though, sales of the XV slumped by a not inconsiderable 37.9 per cent, with only 7168 units sold. In the process the Subaru went from second to sixth spot, with the now-defunct Hyundai still the highest seller with 15,227 sales and the evergreen – and constantly discounted –Mitsubishi ASX running second with 13,557 sales. Newcomers the Mazda CX-3 (12,656) and Honda HR-V (10,899) also bettered the XV, and the much-improved fortunes of the Nissan Qashqai can’t be ignored either (10,566 sales).
So what does the updated XV bring to tempt buyers back into their local dealer? Well, most of the important interior changes came on line back in May 2015 (but Subaru couldn’t get us a car to review at that time), and now there has been a further upgrade with exterior enhancements.
Cosmetic changes include new chrome highlights on the front bumper, and revised clear-look tail-lights with LED inlays. They come in addition to the cockpit revisions, which are detailed below.
The CVT-equipped 2.0i-S model tested – priced at $35,290 (plus on-road costs), which is $1700 less than the last version of this car we had in the CarAdvice garage – is finished in the brand’s new Hyper Blue exterior hue and features new orange interior stitching (rather than the silver trim that was previously standard on the mid- and high-spec XV models).
The cabin is a more upmarket feeling space than it used to be, and the new seven-inch touchscreen media system (in 2.0i-L and 2.0i-L models; 2.0i base model gets a 6.2-inch screen) is a big improvement on the clunky, hard-to-read screen in the old model.
Connecting your phone is simple, the navigation is easy to use and clear to read, and the screen itself reacts quickly to inputs. Admittedly, it isn’t as good as the best examples of this sort of tech in the class – the Mazda CX-3 with its excellent MZD Connect system sets the standard – but it is a welcome change.
There are other changes in the cabin too, including a new gear selector for automatic models, a revised instrument cluster with dials that are easier to read, and a new central information screen with digital speed readout, gear indicator and some basic trip info. The existing centre screen atop the main dashboard has more detailed info, but now looks a bit of an afterthought.
More subtle updates include new steering wheel-mounted audio controls, silver accents around the air vents and on the climate control dials and metallic finishes on the front arm rests.
The front USB input – which was previously mounted alongside the media screen, causing unsightly and fiddly cord tangles – has been relocated to under the centre stack, allowing for cables to be better organised.
Rear-seat occupants also get USB point access, with two ports located at the rear of the centre console. However, the XV still lacks rear-seat air vents, and it isn’t the most spacious back seat you’ll find in this class (the Honda HR-V nails that criterion). It is, however, roomy enough for a couple of kids or teens.
The boot, too, can’t match some of the better small SUVs around, with a high load lip and shallow 310-litre capacity. Parents with prams should size up the cargo hold before signing on the dotted line.
Further, the safety story for the XV ticks the boxes of seven airbags (note: an earlier version of this story stated six airbags), stability control and a standard reverse-view camera across the range, but the XV isn’t offered with the brand’s EyeSight camera-based cruise control and forward collision mitigation system. There are no parking sensors to speak of, either.
On the road, the XV could best be described as ‘fine’. It doesn’t do too much wrong, but it doesn’t really excel in any particular area, either.
Under the bonnet remains the 2.0-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engine, which produces 110kW of power and 196Nm of torque. Gearbox wise, all 2016 model-year XV variants are available with either a six-speed manual or our test car's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic.
The 2.0-litre and the CVT make for a good pairing, offering reasonable response at most speeds. The XV isn’t fast, though, with light throttle pressure at times making the naturally aspirated model feel a smidge sluggish. With a bit more right-pedal pressure the drivetrain is certainly adequate, and the CVT does a good job of keeping things moving at higher speeds.
In traffic the XV’s engine stop-start system works smoothly and quickly, too. Average fuel use for the XV with the CVT is claimed at 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, and over our time in the car we saw 9.2L/100km.
The surefootedness of all-wheel drive is something that could win buyers over. Many SUVs in this segment are front-drive only, meaning they lack the potential for mild off-roading and may misbehave in wet weather, and during our time with the car the rain was torrential.
The tyres – 17-inch Yokohama Geolandar G95s – don’t offer the greatest grip imaginable, but the traction of the all-wheel-drive system works to offer assured progress.
The steering of the XV can be a little slow, and as is endemic with all-wheel-drive cars there is some slight understeer when you go fast through corners, but part of that comes down to tyres, too. Around town, though, it is easy to pilot around parking lots, with little effort required but still a nice amount of feel to the driver’s hands.
The XV’s raised suspension (it rides 75mm taller than the Impreza hatch upon which it is based, with 220mm of ground clearance) is generally well sorted, dealing with small bumps confidently but struggling a little more with larger lumps or sharper edges, particularly at the rear.
The biggest bugbear of the XV, though, is the amount of noise that enters the cabin. Over coarse-chip surfaces the road noise intrusion is terrible, and there’s some noticeable wind noise, too.
Ownership for the Subaru XV isn’t cheap. The brand recommends servicing every six months or 12,500km, whichever occurs first, and if you don’t do a lot of distance driving, it will be a little costly on a yearly basis. The average annual service fee (or for 25,000km of travel) is $740. The XV, as with all Subarus, comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
The 2016 Subaru XV is definitely a car that could continue to battle for sales in a segment of the new car market that is growing – and growing up – fast. The latest update has brought some much-needed changes, but while it is mostly inoffensive to drive, the XV remains a car that could still be better in more ways than one.
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