The small-SUV market remains big business in Australia with more than 115,000 small SUVs sold in 2020, which makes it the fourth-highest-selling segment in the country.
But with big business comes big competition, and in the under-$40K bracket, there are more than 20 challengers vying for our attention. Throw in a growing appetite for hybrid cars, a global pandemic limiting stock, plus needing to holiday at home in the foreseeable future, and an already competitive market intensifies.
So, increasing prices and offering only one petrol-powered engine option seem curious choices, or has Subaru cracked the small-SUV code with its updated Subaru XV? Let’s find out.
It’s fair to say the Subaru XV resonates strongly with buyers, sitting in the top five best-selling small SUVs from 2016 to 2019, and the Japanese carmaker's second-most-popular model after the Subaru Forester for the past three years.
Part of the appeal – in addition to the more modern styling with proven off-road capabilities – is the option of petrol or hybrid power.
While the first Subaru XV hybrids sold out shortly after reaching Australian shores in early 2020 – leading to a few months' wait time – the regular petrol version is still a worthwhile proposition. And with the Subaru XV’s recent update, we thought it would be a good time to get reacquainted.
What we have here is the 2021 Subaru XV 2.0i-S, the most expensive ticket in the petrol-powered XV range.
The midlife update has seen Subaru roll out price rises across its XV line-up, adding between $380 and $1170 to the asking price depending on the model you choose.
All variants still offer all-wheel drive as standard, with the top-spec Subaru XV 2.0i-S AWD we have on test now asking $37,290 before on-road costs – up $790 on its previous model.
Interestingly, that’s now $1800 more than the most affordable XV Hybrid L AWD at $35,490 before on-road costs. However, the range-starting hybrid misses out on the brand’s Vision Assist system, which consists of blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear-cross alert, as well as satellite navigation.
There’s also no electric sunroof, dual-zone climate control, and you will have to settle for premium cloth seats over the 2.0i-S leather trim.
To get the same level of equipment in the hybrid as you do in the top-spec 2.0i-S, you will need to spend $40,790 before on-road costs for the XV Hybrid S AWD.
|2021 Subaru XV 2.0i-S|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer|
|Power and torque||115kW at 6000rpm, 196Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.0L/100km|
|ANCAP rating||Five star (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3|
Sticking with the facelifted petrol-powered XV, it still packs the same 2.0-litre non-turbo boxer petrol four-cylinder again offering 115kW/196Nm via a CVT automatic transmission, with a seven-speed manual mode.
So, what is new for the Subaru XV? I’m glad you asked.
On the outside, the adventurous wagon has gained a new front bumper, front grille and fog light surrounds, and sits on updated 18-inch alloy wheels in the top-spec version.
The range-topping 2.0i-S adds silver roof rails, auto-dipping passenger-side door mirror, and auto power-folding mirrors with position memory.
On the inside, the 2.0i-S now has a dual-memory power driver's seat, Subaru’s Vision Assist system with additional side-view monitor, and Subaru’s X-Mode offering a choice of different driving modes for either snow and dirt, or deep snow and mud.
Sitting in the front row, the XV is a nice place to be. It’s youthful and sporty with a definite feeling of quality, with heated driver and front passenger leather-trimmed seats, orange stitching, and the dash features a mixture of textures and piano-black surrounds for some extra class.
The 8.0-inch infotainment system dominates the centre of the cabin in a good way, and makes it clear and usable for both you and your first-row companion. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Siri voice-command compatibility worked seamlessly while on test, with added points for durable radio control buttons all within easy reach, should you choose to use them over the steering wheel controls.
Nestled in the top of the dash is the secondary 6.3-inch LCD screen, where the new side-view monitor is displayed, which shows a camera feed of the passenger side of the car as soon as you select reverse.
There’s more on offer here including climate control, fuel economy and trip information displayed, as well as audio info, and Subaru’s EyeSight functions courtesy of three cameras placed behind the rear-view mirror.
Just in case you want to really nerd out on some extra XV data, a 4.2-inch screen between the instrument cluster provides digital speedo, eco gauge, EyeSight functions, tyre pressures, and a handy reminder to check the rear seats upon opening the driver's door.
There's enough storage up front with two USB ports in front of the gearstick and a 12V power outlet. The space to plonk your phone isn't wide enough for an iPhone 11 Max to lie horizontally while plugged in, but we are yet to meet a car manufacturer who can keep up with the ever-growing dimensions of the latest handheld technology.
The second row is equally comfortable and pretty spacious, with plenty of toe, knee, leg and head room for a couple of six-foot adults or kids alike – with the family essentials of two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats and three top-tether points on offer.
Although it lacks creature comforts like air vents and USB charging points, it does have cupholders in the fold-down armrest, and the door pockets, both front and rear, feature integrated bottle holders.
One thing that hasn't improved with the midlife update is the boot space, still offering 310L with the second row in play or up to 765L with the seats folded. We aren't the first to point out the XV is left behind by its competitors here, but it does have 60:40 rear splitting seats and a wide rear opening to make it easier to load irregular items.
Where the Subaru does shine is the amount of safety tech on offer, with the top-speccer getting the brand’s full Vision Assist suite incorporating blind-spot monitoring, side- and front-view monitors, high-beam assist, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse AEB.
That’s on top of the EyeSight Driver Assist system featuring 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.
According to Subaru, the midlife update sees a refinement of the new XV’s ride and handling, with new front suspension said to improve comfort and steering response. And we would say, we somewhat agree. The XV handles nicely, remaining planted and solid, while ironing out varying road conditions easily as well off the paved stuff, no doubt helped by the 220mm ground clearance.
With minimum body roll thanks to its lower centre of gravity compared to a bigger SUV, the 2.0i-S urges you to take it off the beaten track. Not way off, but it will handle a dirt track and some bumper terrain for a fun weekend expedition.
However, upon speaking with CarAdvice testers who drove the previous models, the ride and sharp steering were never a concern for the XV. The lacklustre drivetrain and road noise, however, were.
The new XV now features Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive), which offers drivers a choice between economical and sportier driving modes via steering wheel controls, and adapts engine responsiveness to suit.
Around town, the Subaru XV remains lovely to drive, but you won’t be surprised by the powertrain and the CVT transmission still lacking performance. But now with sport mode engaged, it provides a somewhat improved response from the throttle upon request.
It's still a bit sluggish when pinning the accelerator upon entry to the highway, but if you're not in a hurry, the XV delivers a pleasurable general cruising mode.
The cabin ambience wasn’t as improved as our testers would have liked. Although quiet in the suburbs, this quickly changes above 80km/h, where a lot of tyre noise starts to intrude and the stereo becomes less capable of drowning out noise.
For the daily commute, the XV maintained a fuel consumption of around 8.0 litres per 100km, which is above Subaru’s official 7.0L/100km combined-cycle claim, but still within its urban fuel-consumption estimate of 8.8L/100km. My time spent in the 2.0i-S consisted of both suburban and highway driving.
Subaru covers the XV range with its standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years/62,500km of capped-price servicing, which will cost a total of $2430.85 over that period. Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 12,500km, whichever comes first.
Experiencing the XV up close, it's easy to see why it is popular. It's a stylish, compact, all-wheel-drive SUV with an impressive cabin that you won’t mind getting a bit dirty while seeking an off-road adventure.
If we could have it our way, we would pop the Subaru Forester's 2.5-litre boxer engine in the XV – only the lucky Americans currently get that option – for some improved performance, and a full-size spare for added practicality on holiday road trips.
But for the extra money compared to its predecessor, the new XV offers a lot of tech, cabin comfort and safety in the small-SUV space to justify its price tag.