The rugged little Subaru XV treads a familiar path, but in many ways it's the best small crossover you can buy, despite a maudlin engine and shallow boot.
The Subaru XV crossover does better than most small SUV rivals at tapping into people’s innate wish to stray a little from the beaten path. Even just a little.
Every variant in the range, from the $27,990 XV 2.0i variant through to the flagship $35,240 2.0i-S driven here, has all-wheel drive as standard, against a competitor set where front-wheel drive is the most common layout (with AWD an option, more often than not).
As with its predecessor, this iteration has comparatively little stylistic differentiation from the Impreza hatchback with which it shares most components, with a slightly raised stance and big plastic wheel arch inserts the give-away.
All small SUV rivals are based on small car platforms, but the others have a bespoke design that Subaru shuns. Either because it’s too expensive, or because it just doesn’t see the merit.
And fair enough. This generation of the XV has been a smash hit since it arrived in the middle of last year, regularly outdoing Subaru Australia’s target of 1000 sales a month and becoming one of the segment’s most popular offerings, despite not being the cheapest.
When we speak of rivals, we refer to the top-selling Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX, plus the new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, super-practical Honda HR-V, UK-made Nissan Qashqai, chunky Suzuki Vitara, and youthful Toyota C-HR/Hyundai Kona. It’s a cluttered segment out there…
The XV is based on Subaru’s new modular architecture, but retains the brand’s staples of flat engines and symmetric AWD, plus in our version comes with the full spread of EyeSight camera-based active safety tech.
At the $35K (before on-road costs) price point of our test car, you could also get a less well specified but larger Subaru Forester, but plenty of people neither want or need anything bigger than the 4.5m-long XV.
While this iteration may look familiar to the old car, the interior is a huge step up, with really nice presentation and a big 8.0-inch touchscreen mounted high. Everything feels well made and tactile, and there are no fewer than four USB points.
There are also typical Subaru features such as the nerdy screen atop the dash that shows roll/pitch angles and torque distribution diagrams, while the digital speedo on the instruments very helpfully shows you the speed limit so you can compare/contrast.
The heated leather seats are particularly comfortable and the steering wheel is very premium. The driving position is quite car-like, but you still sit up higher than in a regular hatch. The A-pillars are super-slim, helping outward visibility.
The list of equipment is highly competitive against key rivals, and includes a rear camera, proximity key, heated leather seats, sunroof, satellite-navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, digital radio and LED headlights.
Safety equipment includes a full suite of airbags for both seat rows, a 2017 ANCAP five-star rating adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, brake light recognition, lane departure warning, and a lead-vehicle start alert that prompts you to get going in traffic if you're distracted. Which, of course, you shouldn't be.
The XV 2.0i-S also gets extra active safety tech such as blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist (flaky, frankly), rear cross-traffic alert and AEB in reverse, and automatic high-beam assist. The features in this paragraph are bundled into something called the Vision Assist pack.
There’s also more rear leg room than the class average, more even than the uber-roomy Honda HR-V, with plentiful space for four big adults in the car, though the crappy halogen cabin lights take the edge off. The sunroof is pretty small, too.
The boot is also shallow despite the space-saver spare wheel, and handles a meagre 310L, well below the class leaders and short of a VW Golf. The 60:40 folding back seats (smaller section is kerb-side) don’t go completely flat like Honda’s. This is a sore point.
The other area of complaint relates to the engine. This newly developed 2.0-litre flat four makes 115kW and 196Nm, lugging the 1444kg kerb weight, and is matched to an inoffensive CVT auto with artificially programmed ratios. No manual this time.
The engine frankly feels breathless and emits excessive straining noises under heavy throttle, up hills, and with a load of passengers. Sure, it’ll sit at freeway speeds easily enough and get you from A to B, but it’s about as inspiring to pedal hard as plain muesli.
If you’re a target buyer there’s a fair chance you care not one bit about such things. But if you do, may we suggest the Hyundai Kona 1.6 Turbo with AWD as a good option.
At least it’ll happily run on 91 RON petrol, and the fuel economy claim of 7L/100km is pretty good. We averaged 8.2–8.4L/100km on our daily drives.
As we mentioned earlier on, the XV is only available with AWD, and unlike the class-normal on-demand system, is a permanent symmetrical set-up that’s ‘always on’. It can actually handle basic trails.
It also has genuinely excellent overall ride quality, dispatching even particularly nasty ruts and corrugations, while settling quickly after speed bumps and staying flat through corners. The steering is also quick from centre. Potentially the class leader here.
If the engine weren't so gutless, it'd be properly good fun to throw about, yet it doesn't sacrifice comfort. The NVH suppression is also better than the Impreza hatchback's, addressing a key weak point. Different bushings maybe?
On the downside, the camera-based active cruise control beeps and chimes annoyingly at odd intervals.
From an ownership perspective, Subaru made a point of improving its servicing costs with the new XV, because its cars have always been very expensive to maintain (offset in part by excellent resale values, to be fair).
The new XV's service intervals are 12 months/12,500km and the first three visits will cost $1298.19, plus a free one-month 'health check'. Subaru also has a three-year/100,000km warranty as standard, with five-year cover an option for a few extra bucks.
The new Subaru XV, then, is a highly impressive offering, an aspirational small crossover that’s cheaper to run, should still be bulletproof, rides and handles well and offers heaps of space and tech. The engine is dreary and the boot space sucks, however.
The other main question is whether you’d bother with the VX 2.0i-S tested here or opt for something a little further down the range.
For instance, if you can go without the Vision Assist pack (you still get active cruise and AEB without), can downsize to 17-inch wheels from 18s, and lose the dusk sensors, rain-sensing wipers and leather seats, the $3100 cheaper XV 2.0i Premium awaits…
Whichever one you choose, all the way down to that $27,000 entry model with automatic and AWD, you’re getting a great little crossover, unless straight-line speed (Kona) or huge boot space (HR-V) are absolute priorities. Which for most shoppers here seems unlikely.