One big part of Subaru’s DNA is its performance side: force-fed flat-four motors with a distinctive warbling exhaust note, which once upon a time had enough mumbo and handling to strike fear into many more prestigious and more expensive performance cars.
Subaru has another side, however. While the STi stuff was at the top of the pyramid, the bulk of Subaru's range and popularity over the years was with something of a precursor to the raging SUV phenomenon.
The Leone was where the AWD wagon started, giving all-paw grip to a spacious and boxy boxer-powered wagon. And the Brumby has become something of an icon in regional Australia. A permanent AWD system, coupled with decent ground clearance, makes sense.
It's a recipe that is still integral to Subaru, and shown with the current 2019 Subaru XV. We've got the range-topping 2.0i-S here, which has a retail price of $35,780. The range starts at a fairly sharp $28,490 for the 2.0i, with the 2.0i-L ($30,860) and 2.0i Premium ($32,670).
There is plenty of tech on offer, with the top-speccer getting the lion's share of benefits: blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse AEB are all exclusive to the 2.0i-S.
Every other model bar the cheapest 2.0i gets some advanced active-safety gear: adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, AEB and pre-collision warning.
This comes through the system Subaru labels as 'EyeSight'. It's based off a camera array behind the rear-view mirror. There are three separate screens inside the XV, each vying for your attention.
It’s not the latest-and-greatest EyeSight system like the driver-monitoring Forester, but it still packs a bit of a technological punch. Whether it's a high-tech feast or a case of information overload, I will leave up to individual opinions.
One thing to note: lane-departure warning felt a bit strict at times on country Tasmanian roads, with audible and visual warnings betraying small discrepancies in your lane positioning. It could get annoying.
Specification naming betrays the only driveline on offer for the XV: a 2.0-litre flat-four called 'FB20D'. It's a different engine to the FA20 in the BRZ (and Toyota 86) aiming for lower outputs and better efficiency. It makes 115kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm at 4000rpm running through a CVT.
The interior of the XV is an interesting place to be. There is a definite feeling of quality, and it has some different stitching and textures around the place. Storage is decent, and we feel compelled to make special mention of the four USB points available for use. The nook in front of the gearstick is nicely usable, as are the door storage bins.
Move into the second row and it's equally comfortable and pretty spacious. There are no vents, but the seats have a nice rake to them, with enough legroom for two adults to be comfortable. Visibility is pretty good, but the sunroof only really works for the first row.
Let's look at the boot: 310L of space is on the small side, but it's all pretty useful. The boot aperture itself isn't huge, and those wheel arches do steal a bit of space. There's no lip to negotiate, and lifting that floor will show the space-saver spare. No full-size, which would be nice for those driving plenty of rough roads.
Right, we're back into the driver's seat. Push the button and the engine hums with a slightly buzzy nature. The XV's ride errs slightly on the firm side, without much body roll, especially when compared to the softer-tuned Forester.
The XV does handle bumps nicely, however, quickly recovering from big hits and staying composed. No doubt, this is helped by the ride height and suspension travel.
Get onto some dirt roads, and the XV does display a bit of a playful side. Because it handles rough surfaces well, permanent AWD spurs you to travel a little quicker along unsealed roads.
The nice suspension control and sharp steering team up with a short wheelbase to make the tail end happy to slide out, and easily catchable with a short correction.
Lacklustre driveline aside, the XV's chassis seems to really relish unsealed roads. Road noise is less of a problem at lower speeds, and the suspension feels really well tuned to handle small oscillations and loping undulations typical of dirt tracks. Bigger hits are handled well, aided no doubt by the raised suspension and ample (220mm) ground clearance.
And if you find yourself in some tricky mud or something a bit steep, 'X-Mode' is designed to help off-road ability. It does a few things, including throttle mapping, locking the CVT into a lower gear ratio, as well as tuning the traction control and viscous centre differential for more grip. Naturally, the XV isn't a dedicated off-road vehicle. Its on-paper credentials are better than most in the segment.
Like I've hinted already, the four-cylinder engine isn’t a spectacular performer. It runs through the Subaru Lineartronic CVT, which has a very stepped nature about it. That makes it feel mostly like a traditional gearbox as it runs through ratios around town.
The truth of the matter is there are no gear sets locked into ratio. Rather, adjustable pulleys give it infinite ratio adjustment between its lowest and highest points.
It works well, running smoothly and smartly through the ‘gears’ without any real fuss. Only when you mash the throttle do you get that forever-redlining nature of a CVT as it ekes out maximum performance. It’s a strange experience, not helped by the fact that the engine feels down on power and drones charmlessly at the top end. It’s not very nice – depressing the pedal further seems to only turn the needle on the tachometer and increase the noise, but not really make you go much faster.
With that in mind, it probably sums up the XV driveline well: it’s good, as long as you’re not in a hurry. Around town and cruising up to highway speeds without any real rush, the driveline is up to the job.
Go a bit harder, however, and it’s a different story. It’s lacking the kind of acceleration you need for country overtaking, when the window of safe opportunity is often fleeting. It’s a bit slow overall, and rarely feels rewarding.
A noticeable amount of road noise invades the cabin at around 80km/h, which becomes a noisy hum at triple digits. Considering the tyres are a full-blown highway-terrain, then it's a little difficult to justify. We'd guess a bit more noise insulation around the wheel arches wouldn't go astray.
Interestingly, Tasmania and Cooma are noted as two of Subaru’s strongholds in terms of market share. Inclement weather, properly cold winters and narrow, winding roads of varying surfaces up and down mountains do give the Subaru XV a natural advantage.
Permanent AWD (instead of a reactive on-demand system), good ground clearance and some proven ability off the blacktop do stack up nicely.
You can see why the Subaru XV sells so well. It's collected a lot of what Subaru has done well over the years, and boiled it down into a small SUV. The powertrain's performance is a definite letdown, however.
A slight tickle of forced induction would no doubt go a long way to improve the XV's drivability overall, and leave it a much more complete package.