In a case of late to the party, Subaru has finally entered the electrified era, releasing its first hybrid vehicles in Australia this year, including the 2020 Subaru XV Hybrid. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Japanese carmaker, with hybrid motivation increasingly popular among consumers – witness the ongoing shortage of RAV4 Hybrid stock. So, how has Subaru approached this new era of electrification? Let’s find out.
The 2020 Subaru XV Hybrid on test here is priced at $35,580 plus on-road costs, making it the second most expensive XV in the range, sitting just below the XV 2.0i-S from $36,530. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting similar levels of equipment as found in the range-topper, though, the XV Hybrid more aligned to the $29,240 entry-level 2.0i in terms of standard kit. Battery tech doesn’t come cheap, it seems.
Standard inclusions shared with the base-spec XV include 17-inch alloys (although the 2.0i scores a space-saver spare, while the Hybrid makes do with a repair kit), halogen headlights, single-zone climate control, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ radio, CD player and a single USB point (models further up the range score two).
The XV Hybrid misses out on niceties like satellite navigation, heated seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen found in other variants in the range.
One area where Subaru hasn’t scrimped, though, is safety, with the XV Hybrid scoring the brand’s EyeSight Driver Assist system that incorporates adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, lead vehicle start alert (which lets you know if the vehicle in front has moved off), and brake light recognition. It’s a comprehensive suite backed by a full complement of airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating.
If the XV Hybrid looks a little meaner than its pure petrol-powered counterparts, then that’s because while it shares a wheelbase, length, track and width with its stablemates, it’s actually 20mm shorter in height, 1595mm against 1615mm. That’s down purely to the XV Hybrid sporting some slimline roof rails as opposed to the chunkier iterations on other XVs in the range. The Lagoon Blue paint is exclusive to the Hybrid, one of 10 colours available, all no-cost options. There are no other options to be had. What you see is what you get.
Inside, the XV Hybrid presents well. There’s a certain sportiness to the interior that really underlines the XV’s youthful and urban vibe. Despite missing out on leather trim, the ‘Premium’ cloth seats, finished in charcoal with a smattering of orange contrast stitching, look good and offer plenty of support.
There are plenty of yielding surfaces, while the faux carbon-weave accents aren’t overdone. They look good and enhance the sporty vibe inside. There’s a solidity to the cabin that’s hard not to be impressed by.
And while the 6.5-inch central touchscreen is on the low-rent side, there’s a secondary 6.3-inch LCD screen nestled into the dash top that displays a wealth of information including climate control, fuel economy and trip information, audio info, and EyeSight functions. And just to be sure you’re getting all the info you need from your XV, a 4.2-inch screen between the analogue dials provides more data: digital speedo, eco gauge, EyeSight functions, and tyre pressures. You’ll never be left wanting for information.
The second row is spacious, too, with plenty of room in all key areas – toe, knee, leg and head – although lacks any meaningful creature comforts like air vents and any kind of charging point. There’s privacy glass back there, though, as well as a couple of cupholders in the fold-down armrest. The door pockets, both front and rear, feature integrated bottle holders.
Thanks to the battery pack living under the boot floor instead of a spare wheel, the XV Hybrid’s boot space measures in at 345L (or 919L with the second row folded away in 60:40 fashion). That’s generously more than the rest of the XV range, which measures in at 310L/765L. Neither measurements are class-leading, by any stretch.
And, sadly, neither is the XV’s hybrid powertrain. Under the bonnet lies Subaru’s trusty 2.0-litre (1995cc) boxer four-cylinder petrol engine with 110kW (at 6000rpm) and 196Nm (at 4000rpm). That’s boosted by a 12.3kW, 66Nm electric motor housed within the XV’s seven-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Feeding the electric motor is a lithium-ion 4.8 amp-hour, 118.4-volt battery pack mounted over the rear axle under the boot floor (hence no spare wheel). The battery array weighs 24.5kg. Subaru doesn’t quote combined power outputs. What Subaru does quote are potential fuel efficiencies.
According to Subaru, the XV Hybrid enjoys improved fuel consumption over equivalent petrol variants by 14 per cent in an urban environment and seven per cent on the combined cycle, with the caveat that “Fuel consumption figures based on testing in accordance with ADR81/02. ADR-based fuel consumption figures are for comparative purposes only and may not reflect real-world results due to variables such as driving conditions and driving style”. Standard.
First, let’s be clear. The Subaru XV Hybrid is a lovely thing to drive. There’s some pep from the powertrain and the CVT is one of the better iterations of that drudgingly boring – and often droning – technology we’ve sampled.
There’s a sprightliness to the way the XV Hybrid moves away from standstill, the extra provided by the electric motor tangible. The CVT, for its part, is quiet and unobtrusive inside the cabin – not something that can be said about every CVT on the market.
Its compact dimensions mean it’s easy to navigate around town, and a cinch to park. A tight turning circle of 10.8m helps, too.
On the highway, there’s enough pep from the powertrain to make for effortless and stress-free motoring. Although, the CVT can show signs of the dreaded drone, especially since peak torque doesn’t come on song until 4000rpm, meaning the engine and transmission are working away hard to provide meaningful acceleration.
The XV Hybrid and larger Forester Hybrid share their engine and motor combo, and whereas the bigger Forester can often feel under-engined, the XV seems a more comfortable fit.
The XV rides nicely, too, remaining planted and solid on the road, while ironing out most road rashes and scars adeptly. Hustle some corners and the permanent all-wheel drive provides surety under wheel on the road, and also some stability off-road. Can you take your XV Hybrid hardcore off-roading? Probably not, but it’s perfectly adaptable for dirt roads and perhaps some lighter trails.
Where the XV Hybrid begins to show some cracks is as the one thing it is designed – and marketed – to be, a hybrid. We’ve tested plenty of hybrids over the years from various manufacturers, and the general feeling is that low-speed situations like urban commuting, traffic and general slow running can be undertaken using pure electric motivation, the internal combustion engine only kicking on when a burst of acceleration is required, or one gets too heavy with the right foot.
Not so with the XV. Subaru claims the XV can drive in full electric mode at low speeds up to 40km/h, depending on driving environment, vehicle and battery condition. We could not even get close to that claim.
Sure, when moving away from standstill, the XV Hybrid will do so using only the electric motor. But, even at the lightest throttle application, once road speed hits around 7km/h, the 2.0-litre boxer kicks in and fossil fuels begin to burn.
The hybrid system’s best application seems to be in providing that little bit of extra zing in tandem with the petrol engine, and in allowing for fossil-fuel-free coasting under certain conditions above 40km/h. Touch the accelerator while coasting, and the engine springs back into life, but not as smoothly as some hybrid powertrains we’ve experienced.
So what does all this mean at the bowser? Well, Subaru claims the XV Hybrid should use 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle and 7.5L/100km in the urban jungle. That’s compared to 7.0L/100km and 8.8L/100km for the regular non-hybrid XVs in the range.
After our week with the XV Hybrid, we saw an indicated 7.2L/100km over a mix of urban, rural and highway running. Not terrible against Subaru’s claim, but not great when compared with more established hybrids available on the market.
Interestingly, a comparison test we conducted last year saw a regular petrol XV return 7.8L/100km, but obviously on different roads and under different conditions, so any meaningful comparisons are pointless and presented here purely for context.
In terms of ownership, Subaru covers the XV Hybrid with its standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while the battery array is covered for eight years or 160,000km. Subaru also offers five years/62,500km of capped-price servicing for the XV Hybrid, which will set you back a total of $2422.02 over that period. Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 12,500km, whichever comes first.
So where does that leave the XV Hybrid? In short, as it always has been, the XV presents as a decent crossover. Its compact dimensions belie its interior spaciousness (small boot notwithstanding), while the cabin is well presented and a pleasant place to spend time in.
In this spec, however, it misses out on key tech like sat-nav, despite being only $950 cheaper than the top-of-the-range with all the bells and whistles XV 2.0i-S.
It’s a pleasure to drive with well-resolved road manners and that extra bit of zing provided by the hybrid system that underpins it. And yet, its biggest shortcoming is that as a hybrid, Subaru’s system provides only miniscule gains in fuel consumption.
Hybridisation has come a long way in the 23 or so years since Toyota pioneered the technology with the first mass-market hybrid, the Prius. Not only is Subaru late to the hybrid party, but in this instance it’s missed the mark.