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The 2017 Subaru XV range has arrived on sale in a segment that looks a helluva lot different to how it did when the first version launched.
Let's wind back the clock. The year was 2012, and Subaru rolled the dice on a pumped up version of the Impreza hatch with some body cladding, funky colours and chunky wheels. Subaru dubbed it the XV, and it took the market by storm.
But there weren’t many other cars on the market at the time in the so-called ‘small SUV’ segment – only 10 or so, to be precise, and this time around the XV is fighting against more than 20 competitors. The small SUV segment, you may have heard, is booming.
So has Subaru done enough with the new-generation XV to stand out from the pack? We thought we’d get the top-spec XV 2.0i-S model to find out, because if this is the best the brand can offer consumers, it should stack up pretty well.
And it does. Mostly.
First up, the price: the 2.0i-S is listed at $35,240 plus on-road costs, which is at the upper end of the spectrum for this size of SUV – some of its competitors top out at a lower level, like the Honda HR-V, but that car is front-drive only. And it’s not like the XV is Robinson Crusoe at this price point – all-wheel-drive (AWD) competitors like the top-spec Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota C-HR all play close.
And this, being a Subaru, has AWD as standard, so that’s kinda handy, and we’ll get to the improvements made in that regard soon.
Further, the XV has extra safety over a high-spec HR-V, among others, with Subaru’s EyeSight camera system offering the high-spec XV forward collision monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. It'll even tell you when the car in front has moved away, if you're distracted.
The interior of this top-spec model feels the money. The leather-lined steering wheel and seats, the plentiful orange stitching throughout the cockpit, and the bright and colourful media system instantly make it feel a bit special inside.
As with the 2.0i Premium, the high-spec model has a sunroof and 8.0-inch media screen with satellite navigation, while it adds auto lights and wipers, alloy pedals, chrome exterior door handles and 18-inch wheels (the rest of the XV range runs on 17s).
Further goodies exclusive to the top-spec XV include that aforementioned leather trim, a power-operated driver’s seat (without lumbar adjust or memory settings, and with a manual seat for the front passenger), heated side mirrors, and LED headlights with adaptive beams and integrated daytime running lights.
That media system is a corker, with big icons that are easy to see at a glance. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to ensure simple smartphone integration, while the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming was faultless on test, and rapid-fire quick to connect and reconnect. The screen is a huge step forward, particularly considering just how poo the system in the previous generation XV was.
There is another display on top of the dashboard with running information, and if you activate the new X Mode off-road setting, it’ll even show you a diagram of what your wheels are doing, and the degree of incline or decline you’re on.
There are some elements that aren’t as great. The fact the plastic finishes surrounding the door handles in the front and back rows is different is just weird, and because of the EyeSight camera system, the sun-visors are really narrow, meaning they’re a bit useless if you’re driving with the sun at your side.
The silly side-mounted middle seatbelt at the back is unnecessarily fiddly, too. Why can’t Subaru be like other brands and figure out a way to integrate a middle belt as part of the seat?
Those gripes aside, the space on offer is great for adults or children. There’s easily enough room for four six-foot-tall adults, or a couple of adults and some smaller occupants, and there are three top-tether anchor points and a pair of ISOFIX attachments.
The seats fold down in a 60:40 manner to expand on the measly 310 litres of boot space. The load space has quite a high floor, which is part of the reason the boot isn’t any bigger than its predecessor in terms of volume, but the boot opening is larger, which makes loading things in a little easier.
Under the bonnet lies the same engine as you’ll find in the Impreza, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated ‘boxer’ engine with 115kW of power and 194Nm of torque. It’s teamed to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic.
Subaru claims fuel use of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our drive, which included stop-start traffic (and use of the engine idle-stop system that worked pretty well – we still like the display that shows you how many millilitres of fuel you’re saving!), as well as urban, off-road and highway testing, we returned 9.2L/100km.
This is arguably the biggest issue with the XV. Not the fuel use – the performance of the drivetrain.
The engine feels underdone, and the way the drivetrain behaves exacerbates that. It can chug from a standstill, and then it might momentarily offer you a taste of the performance on offer before again lulling into a valley of low revs as it aims to save fuel by keeping the engine under low stress.
This is at its most frustrating below 50km/h – indeed, at higher speeds the drivetrain is more settled and responds with more honesty to sudden throttle inputs.
The problem is it quickly becomes tiring in day-to-day urban running, particularly if you’re the type of person who tends to be constantly in a hurry getting from A to B. It’s not a pleasant or muted sound when the drivetrain is called upon to up the pace, either.
It’s a shame, because Subaru has done some really great work in other aspects of the drive experience. The car is built upon the brand’s new generation architecture, which is stiffer and features reworked suspension and steering.
The result is a more sophisticated drive experience than the previous XV, not to mention most of its competitors. It is solid on the road, but not lumpy, with good suspension compliance on back roads and city streets alike.
The steering, too, is improved, with better accuracy and feel to the driver’s hands. Its quick steering rack makes it easy to park, though the steering action can be a little heavy at low speeds.
On dirt roads the XV can be a little terse, particularly at lower speeds over corrugated gravel. At higher speeds it is better settled, and recovers from big bumps with confidence. The X Mode system borrowed from the Forester is a worthy addition, modulating the car’s electronics to ensure better control on slippery or loose surfaces, and the hill-descent control system is decent, too – and it operates in reverse, as well.
We'd like to test it out against another AWD small SUV to see just how capable it is... better get onto that!
Another improvement for the new-generation XV is its ownership credentials. Servicing is now due every 12 months or 12,500km (previously every six months or 12,500km), and the servicing costs are down, too. The average annual fee is $433 over the first three years. The brand also offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and 12 months of free roadside assist.
In summary, the 2017 Subaru XV 2.0i-S is a small SUV that hits some highs, but also shows up a few lows. We’d suggest you take it for a lengthy and thorough test drive, particularly in traffic, to see if the drivetrain is as much of a potential pitfall.
Click the Gallery tab above for more images by Sam Venn.