If the formula works, why change it? Clearly that was the discussion at headquarters regarding the 2017 Subaru XV.
The all-new model stays true to the formula of the first-generation Subaru XV, and with good reason: in Australia alone about 50,000 examples of the model have been sold, and it has been big business for the Japanese brand elsewhere in the world, too.
So when the time came to refresh the model with an all-new take on it, the brand made the conscious decision to do exactly what it did first time around – and it even looks fairly similar, too: that is to say, it’s an Impreza hatch with body cladding that sits higher.
Well that’s not entirely true. The new model has gained a bunch of off-road focused extras previously reserved for the larger, more rugged Forester, and the exterior is rough-and-tumble. Oh, did we forget to mention it’s on an entirely new platform and has a brand-new drivetrain?
The new-generation model is built on the Subaru Global Platform, bringing the centre of gravity of the new model lower, despite the height of the new XV being identical to its predecessor (1550mm). It has a longer wheelbase (2670mm, up 30mm) and is slightly longer overall (4465mm, up 15mm) and it’s a touch wider between the mirrors, too (1800mm, up 20mm).
The outdoorsy styling includes 12.5mm of body cladding on the wheel arches on either side of the car, as well as new 18-inch wheels that are styled to look “like a ninja star”. The front and rear bumpers are styled differently to an Impreza hatch, and the grille gets a more aggressive look.
Being the all-new version, there are huge changes inside compared to the previous model, including new, more comfortable seats, and a far more pleasing and ergonomically thoughtful cabin design.
The centre console (for Aussie models) will feature a 7.0-inch touchscreen in the low-grade model and an 8.0-inch unit in higher-spec variants, all of which will have the latest in-car connectivity in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Expect a couple of USB points, and navigation from the second model up. The range will likely mirror the four-variant range of the Impreza, with the base being the 2.0i, then the 2.0i-L, 2.0-i Premium and 2.0i-S.
As with the Impreza, the new XV has improved rear seat space for adults, particularly knee and toe room, though taller back-seat occupants may find things a little tight for head-room. There are dual ISOFIX child-seat attachments, three top-tether points, but no air vents.
Storage is good throughout the cabin, with bottle holders in the doors, good-sized cupholders and reasonably large centre console bin and glovebox stowage sections, but the boot remains one of the smaller examples in the class: Subaru claims 350 litres of room, which isn’t huge, but the brand reckons you can fit three golf bags in without impairing your vision. Aussie cars will have a "full-size temporary spare" - or space-saver - under the floor in the boot.
Under the bonnet is the same engine as we’ve seen in the Impreza – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ with 115kW of power (up 5kW on the old model) and 196Nm of torque (identical to the existing car). It features stop-start, and fuel use is expected to be better than the first-gen model, which was claimed at 7.0 litres per 100km for the auto. There’s no manual model; instead, all XV variants now come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto as standard.
As we’ve found with that drivetrain in the Impreza, it’s probably the biggest issue with the car. The thing can be sluggish at times, like when you brake into a corner and then apply throttle for a quick exit.
The CVT is partly to blame. It’ll kill the revs to save fuel as you brake, then take a split-second to figure out that you need access to torque in a snappy fashion. You mightn’t care; you may not be interested in getting anywhere in a hurry. But if you do, then you need to bear that in mind.
The engine’s adequate output is to its detriment because the vehicle is quite capable dynamically. This new-generation architecture has made Subarus steer with better accuracy and directness, and it has decent weighting to it, too.
You get the benefit of the all-wheel-drive system, which you can feel pulling the tail end around corners when you’re pushing a little harder – though we had little chance to do so on our test drive north of Tokyo, on a speed-limited track with corners few and far between.
One thing we found to be noticeably different to the Impreza was the firmness of the ride. Admittedly we weren’t testing in our usual haunts, but to Subaru’s credit, the surface we drove on was far from perfect, with some sharp-edged ruts, potholes, cracks and divots that tested the suspension. And it performed pretty well.
There are thicker stabiliser bars front and rear to help with body roll, and while the Japanese test vehicles didn’t have the Australian ride height of 220mm (J-spec: 200mm) the spring rate is said to be the same, and it was comfortable and composed on the road. Compared with the Impreza, which can take a while to settle after a bump, the XV felt a little more controlled, potentially in part due to its softer rear spring rate.
The new off-road bits are borrowed directly from the Forester, with the brand’s X-Mode system and hill descent control offered on the XV for the first time. X-Mode modulates drivetrain behaviour, traction control, braking and the symmetrical all-wheel-drive system to maintain forward motion.
We tested the system on a snowy, muddy track with sill-staining slush underfoot, and it appeared to do quite a good job of ensuring good progress. The hill descent control wasn’t quite as convincing, and we had issues translating our concerns to the brand’s engineers. The chief issue was that you couldn't adjust the speed of descent – rather, the car judged it based on the angle and the velocity at which you entered the slope. If you were a newbie at off-roading, it could cause you to feel uncertain about the behaviour of the car.
Still, it managed to haul itself up the same slippery surface in forwards and reverse gears, and the chances of most buyers needing to engage the system are, we’d suggest, quite slim.
On first impressions, the 2017 Subaru XV takes a similarly large leap in terms of comfort, refinement and space as the Impreza did over its predecessor. Depending on how it’s priced, it should prove quite a good thing.
We look forward to sampling the new Subaru XV in Australia, both on-road and off, in the coming months. It launches Down Under in June this year – stay tuned for more details.