2017 Subaru XV review

Although not overflowing with power, the new 2017 Subaru XV is a well put-together and well-equipped offering in a very competitive market. Mike Stevens takes this small SUV out for its first Australian drive.

The all-new 2017 Subaru XV is now in Australia, landing in showrooms this month officially as a model-year 2018 offering.

CarAdvice's Matt Campbell drove the new small crossover in Japan not long ago and came away impressed. This week, it was my turn to join the car maker for a cruise through the frosty countryside between Cooma and Merimbula, in New South Wales.

First impressions are that Mr Campbell is right: there's a lot to like about the latest XV, even when you look beyond the occasionally irritating continuously variable transmission (CVT) and only barely adequate power on offer. No small point, those aspects, but - to my surprise - not at all a dealbreaker.

The new range consists of four model names, none of them rolling off the tongue. The range opener is the 2.0i, priced from $27,990 before on-road costs. That's a handy $1250 more affordable than the entry model in the previous range, and there's a good assortment of standard kit packed in.

Features include 17-inch alloy wheels with a temporary steel spare wheel, front fog-lights with integrated LED daytime running lights, roof-rails, rear roof spoiler, roof-mounted 'shark fin' antenna, rear privacy glass, and colour-coded door handles.

Inside, there's Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports (front only), six speakers and a 6.5-inch touch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (meaning that while there's no integrated satellite navigation in the bottom half of the range, those two platforms bring their own), along with a rear-view camera.

Also standard with the entry model is cruise control, immobiliser security, and tyre pressure monitoring.

Impressively, even the entry model gets the X-Mode all-wheel-drive control system inherited from the larger Forester, endowing the XV with some amount of off-road talent. The 220mm of ground clearance helps there, and while that matches the outgoing model, it comfortably betters the Nissan Qashqai (188mm), Honda HR-V (170), Mazda CX-3 (160) and Toyota C-HR (154).

On the safety front, the ANCAP 5-star-rated XV gets active torque vectoring, six airbags, and child seat tether/ISOFIX points in the two outboard rear seats. Want more safety? You'll have to hand over another few grand.

Do that, and you're into the $30,340 2.0i-L, which adds Subaru's almost ubiquitous EyeSight system in its third-generation form. Not familiar with the technology?

EyeSight: The quick rundown

Equipped as standard with 2.0i-L, 2.0i-Premium and 2.0i-S, EyeSight adds a pair of high-resolution stereo cameras at the top of the front windscreen, one either side of the mirror.

The system can recognise brake lights, offering early recognition of a stopping or stopped vehicle, up to 112 metres ahead and within a 35-degree envelope.

Features include Pre-Collision Braking (autonomous emergency braking) with brake steering bias assist, Pre-Collision Brake Assist (BA), Pre-Collision Throttle Management (avoidance of unintended acceleration), Adaptive Cruise Control (145 km/h to 0 km/h), Lead Vehicle Start Alert (attention prompt), Lane Departure Warning (fatigue/inattention management, 60-100km/h), and Lane Sway Warning (fatigue management).

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Other kit in the 2.0i-L includes dual-zone climate control, electric folding mirrors with integrated indicators, leather-accented steering wheel and gear shifter, 'premium' cloth trim and a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen.

The $32,140 2.0i-Premium is essentially an L, adding an electric sunroof and factory-fitted satellite navigation.

Move up to the top-shelf $35,240 2.0i-S and you get 18-inch alloy wheels, alloy pedals, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, chrome exterior door handles, heated mirrors, leather trim, powered driver’s seat, and steering responsive LED headlights with integrated DRLs.

The 2.0i-S model's features are rounded out with Vision Assist, which adds blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic rear braking, using four sonar sensors and on-screen guides. (That braking system can be turned off as needed, and it will also detect when a trailer is attached.)

And if you're thinking you might like to just hop into a lower-grade model and add all of the up-spec safety kit, think again. Each level gets what it gets, in terms of safety, so you'll have to walk up the range if you want it all.

The cabin of this new-generation XV, like the related Impreza, represents a marked step forward for quality, space, and, depending on your tastes, design. Deep soft-touch surfaces abound - although some are merely a thin layer of faux leather wrapped over hard plastic - and the fit is solid and respectable.

The XV's infotainment system, identical to that in the Impreza, offers a straightforward and simple interface with large icons and clear purpose. But, although easy to use and fast in overall operation, there is at least one relatively minor annoyance: contact with the screen's functions must be deliberate and even a little lingering before a response will come, rather than the quick tap that most systems will accept.

All-in-all, though, the interface is modern and the graphics crisp. Not all brand-new cars can make the same boast.

Space in the cabin is generous, thanks greatly to the longer wheelbase - up from 2635 to 2670mm - with excellent head and legroom in the rear for my bulky 5'10" frame. A wider design means shoulder and waist room across the rear is also good for adults, so all of this could make the XV a comfortable option for young families.

Storage options at hand are good, including generous cup holders, bottle holders in the doors, a decent centre console bin and a reasonably large glovebox. There's a map (or tablet) holder on the back of the front passenger seat, but not one behind the driver.

In terms of cargo area volume, the outgoing XV offered a relatively shallow 310 litres (up to the cargo blind), and the new model offers the same - which is to say, not a great deal of space. Still, it's more than the 264 litres offered with the CX-3, but well down on the 437 litres of the HR-V and 430 litres of the Qashqai. Even the very style-focused C-HR offers more, at 377 litres (albeit in an awkwardly shaped space, thanks to its sharp roofline).

Lay the back seats down, and you'll get 1240 litres, up to the roof. Again, the HR-V and Qashqai are better at 1462 and 1400 litres respectively, while the CX-3 falls short at 1174 litres.

Power in the XV is provided by the same direct-injected 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer petrol engine that drives the regular Impreza models, and it gets to the all-wheel drive system through the same continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic.

This combination is not the XV's finest feature, and indeed, it would be markedly better buy with more power and a more inspiring auto.

With 115kW of power at its disposal, the relatively heavy ~1470kg XV might not be a slug if it had the benefit of forced induction and a sharper shifter. But, with the atmo engine offering just 196Nm at a lofty 4000rpm - where the CVT will stick the revs - there's no getting anywhere in a great hurry, and not quietly either.

Still, become familiar with the CVT and you'll soon enough know what to expect. It's not an unreasonable system. This auto and engine combo won't get you powering onto the freeway or up a hill without a bit of drama, but - in day-to-day driving around town, when it's not under pressure - it is a perfectly liveable match, if not a perfect one. (What I'd give for a manual…)

More impressive is the off-roading X-Mode all-wheel drive and hill descent control, which we were able to test at a quarry on our way to Merimbula. (Watch our short video right here.)

At speeds below 20km/h, the hill descent control system can take over braking on steep hills, without pedal input from the driver. Crawling down a prepared but nonetheless relatively rugged hill, the XV delivered a surprisingly confident descent. Speed can be adjusted inside that 20km/h range by tapping on the brake and accelerator as required, without deactivating the system.

Handily, the system works in reverse, allowing the car to help you back out of an ascent you've decided - or the car has shown - won't be feasible after all.

The 2017 XV, like the new Impreza, is built on the versatile new Subaru Global Platform, or SGP - think Volkswagen MQB and Toyota TNGA, among others. The new architecture was developed not only to reduce cost and complexity of development and production, but also, Subaru says, to deliver a better product for the driver.

It does show. Our reviews of the new Impreza range have all revealed as much. Stiffer and stronger, SGP is matched with all-round independent suspension - struts at the front and double-wishbone at the rear - with stabiliser bars at each end and electric-assisted steering.

The combination makes for a dynamically capable package (relative to its class), and delivers a more balanced and composed ride in corners. This is helped also by the Vehicle Dynamics Control system that brakes the inside front wheel for improved turn-in.

The package is nonetheless comfortable on less-than-ideal surfaces. Taking in a number of unsealed roads and coarse-chip highways on our tour of countryside New South Wales, the XV soaked up bumps and ruts neatly. At the same time, the new XV turns in a good job on the suppression of vibration and noise from the road, wind and the outside world.

It's not as sharp a package as might be hoped for by the younger buyers Subaru is aiming at, and certainly not as soft and cruisy as downsizing older buyers might prefer, but there's a good middle ground here.

So, power and transmission irrits aside, this new XV is a good thing. Maybe even a great thing, for some buyers, but certainly good for most shopping in this segment.

It is a more refined, more mature, more properly SUV-like offering than its predecessor, and the latter is also true when compared to its segment rivals.

Even in base trim, Subaru's new-generation crossover is fairly packed with goodies. There's no Eyesight autonomous emergency braking or lane-keep assist if you do go for the base model, but as sales numbers show - most don't, and Subaru knows it. (Perhaps it'd be looking at an overall 8.5 score if it did go for range-wide Eyesight, though...)

And yes, even with merely adequate power and a transmission that would move enthusiast drivers - or at least those who can't abide patient and calm driving at any point in their day - to anything else on the market, there's a lot to like here.

The new XV offers a composed and responsive ride that belies its identity as a jacked-up hatch, but, then, with the genuinely capable X-Mode system standard across the range, it's more than 'just another compact SUV' in more ways than one.

Worthy of a test drive, this one. But, like Toyota's 86, have a good long think about your needs and expectations before you go in.

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