Credit where credit’s due. Subaru pioneered the idea of small, affordable, all-wheel-drive wagons wayyyy back when. The Subaru Leone was a progenitor of what would eventually become the Impreza and form the basis for its contemporary high-riding wagon, the Subaru XV.
It’s been a popular formula for the Japanese brand, too, the Leone in all-wheel-drive wagon guise making its local debut in 1975. Proving just how ‘fashion forward’ Subaru was, it remained the only vehicle in its class in Australia until the early 1980s.
Of course, today, the Subaru XV plays in the small-SUV segment, competing against a slew of rivals from almost every brand in Australia. It’s a minefield with a plethora of choices to tempt buyers.
Subaru has updated its popular wagon-like small SUV for the 2021 model year, with mild styling tweaks and the addition of some technology. Subaru’s designers have taken the pencil to the grille, front bumper and fog-lamp surrounds, refining what was already – subjectively – an attractive package. There are new alloy wheel designs, too, helping to distinguish your fresh-off-the-line XV from those that came before.
None of this comes free, of course, the price of progress seeing the entire MY2021 range receive a tickle-up from the Subaru accounting department, too. It’s not a huge jump, but it’s worth noting.
The range kicks off with the entry-level XV 2.0i at $29,690 plus on-road costs, a slight increase of $450 over the outgoing model. Next in line is the XV 2.0i-L at $31,990 (up $380), and then the 2021 Subaru XV 2.0i Premium at $34,590 (up by $1170). It’s the specification we have on test here.
The range-topper of the non-hybrid variants is the XV 2.0i-S for $37,290, an increase of $760 before we move into the hybrid variants: XV Hybrid L at $35,490 ($90 less than the outgoing model), and the all-new for 2021 XV Hybrid S topping out the entire range at $40,790.
Buyers in the small-SUV segment have plenty of choice when it comes to rivals. Using our mid-range XV 2.0i Premium and its circa $35K pricepoint with all-wheel-drive underpinnings as a guide, buyers could cross-shop with Hyundai’s Kona Elite ($34,140), Kia Seltos Sport+ ($36,290), Mazda CX-30 G25 Touring ($38,490), Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross LS ($35,090), Suzuki Vitara Turbo Allgrip ($34,490) and the Toyota C-HR GXL at $32,915.
|2021 Subaru XV 2.0i Premium|
|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||9.1L/100km|
|ANCAP rating||Five stars|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-30, Suzuki Vitara|
That’s some stiff competition for Subaru’s high-riding wagon, but what sets it apart from most of its rivals is that its all-wheel-drive system is permanent. Others favour front-wheel drive as a default, sending power and torque to the rear wheels only as driving conditions warrant. The Subaru XV’s AWD system is constantly on and providing traction to all four wheels at all times.
Based on Subaru’s Impreza platform, the XV has been a popular addition to the small-SUV segment. While it still trails the volume-selling Mitsubishi ASX and rising star MG ZS in the segment, Subaru’s XV continues to find new homes at a prodigious rate, accounting for around 25 per cent of the Japanese brand’s sales. Only the brand’s medium SUV, the Forester, is racking up more sales. An important vehicle, then, in the Japanese brand’s range.
There’s plenty to like about the XV when you slide inside the well-appointed cabin. The first thing that strikes is the quality of materials and how nicely screwed together everything is. It feels solid.
Soft-touch materials abound while contrast stitching adds a nice dimension. So, too, some of the trim garnishes, such as the faux carbon-fibre weave on the door handle surrounds that look better than most.
The seats, a mix of what Subaru calls ‘Premium Cloth’ and leather-look trims, contrasted by orange stitching, not only look good, but are comfortable and supportive. Manually adjustable at this level, though.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen integrated into the dash runs the usual array of services – Bluetooth connectivity, in-built satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, and DAB+ digital radio. That’s augmented by a second screen integrated into the dash top that displays a myriad of the XV’s functions including climate control, while also offering more technical information such as roll and pitch angles as well as torque distribution.
A third screen, nestled between the analogue instrument dials, offers a wealth of driver information including a digital speedo, fuel consumption, and various minor alerts such as when the car in front has moved off and you haven’t.
The dual-zone climate controls and dials are lovely and chunky with a tactility that just feels right. Other carmakers should take note, as some increasingly gravitate towards touchscreen functionality for everything.
Storage options run to standard with a pair of cupholders, a central bin with padded top (ideal for resting an elbow), a convenient cubby forward of the gear lever, and a handy slot behind the cupholders ideal for keys. There are a couple of USB points in the front console.
The second row is spacious enough, certainly behind my 173cm driving position. Again, the seats err on the side of comfort making for a nice travelling experience when seated out back. There’s plenty of room in all key areas, and the presence of a standard-fit sunroof ensures the cabin remains light and airy. There are no air vents back there, although there’s a flip-down armrest with two cupholders.
The back seats fold down in 60:40 fashion to free up boot space, one of the XV’s main weaknesses. With the back row being used by people, there’s a scant 310L available. Most hatchbacks have more space, while folding the second row down (and not quite flat) liberates a total of 765L. A space-saver spare hides under the boot floor.
Like the wider XV range, the Premium is powered by Subaru’s 2.0-litre flat-four 'boxer' petrol engine. It’s good for 115kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm at 4000rpm. Sending those outputs to all four wheels is Subaru’s ‘Lineartronic’ continuously variable transmission (CVT) programmed with seven ‘steps’ or ‘ratios’.
It’s a decent if not entirely thrilling combination. Certainly around town, there’s enough poke from the engine and transmission to satisfy most needs and wants. Take-off from standstill is brisk enough, the CVT giving a decent impression of a regular torque converter auto. There’s a hint of CVT drone when under the pump, but it’s better than past applications of the technology.
There are paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel, but frankly they’re a bit redundant on CVTs and take a seeming age to effect a ‘shift’. Let the transmission do the heavy lifting for you is our tip.
On the move, the XV gets up to freeway speeds pretty easily, although with peak torque not on song until 4000rpm, there’s a tendency for the drivetrain combo to feel strained under heavy load. Same goes for climbing hills, where a heavy right foot is needed, the engine and CVT working hard to maintain momentum. Loud? Yes. Unpleasant? A little.
Where the XV does conduct itself with purpose under wheel, the ride is nice and composed. Minor road rash is dealt with subtly, while the XV settles back on its haunches readily and eagerly after traversing larger obstacles. Road noise inside the cabin is also nicely isolated, with Subaru’s engineers doing a decent job of suppressing noise.
Subaru’s ‘full-time’ AWD system underpins the XV, like it does the broader range, and while not exactly suitable for hardcore off-roading, the system in this application can handle rougher train and slippery dirt trails with ease.
After a week of typical-case motoring in the XV, it’s apparent those high-revving maximum power and torque outputs come at a cost, the XV returning an indicted 9.1L/100km of 91RON regular unleaded. That’s against Subaru’s claim of 7.0L/100km. The fuel tank measures in at 63L.
One function the Subaru has, rarely seen on rivals, is the digital readout displaying how much fuel is saved via the idle stop/start system. For the record, after a week of driving and not driving, we spent 1h 25m with the idle stop/start system activated. It saved 800ml of fuel in that time.
ANCAP awarded the Subaru XV a five-star safety rating back when this generation first launched in 2017 with an overall score of 35.80 out of 37. It scored well in all key areas, with a perfect 16 out of 16 for side impact, 14.80 out of 16 for frontal offset and 2/2 for the pole test.
A suite of seven airbags covers both rows and is complemented by Subaru’s EyeSight assist system that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lead-vehicle alert, and autonomous emergency braking. Other safety tech includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear autonomous braking.
There’s a propensity for some of these assistance systems to be a bit trigger-happy and intervening when not entirely necessary. The rear autonomous braking activated once when parallel parking, while the lane-keeping assistance can be overly zealous in trying to keep you between the white lines. Not deal-breakers by any stretch, but worth noting.
Subaru asks for the XV to visit the workshop every 12 months or 12,500km, and while the annual interval is standard, the distance limit is on the skinny side. That’ll mean more frequent trips to the Subaru service centre if you drive the rough average of 15,000km per year.
The prices for scheduled servicing run high, too, asking for $350, $588, $350, $763 and $354 (a total of around $2400) for the first five years, 60,000km of motoring. Stretch that out to 75,000km, and the sixth service will set you back a whopping $840.
Subaru warrants the XV with its now standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is par for the course in today’s new-car landscape.
As a package, the Subaru XV represents a sensible option. Its wagon-like styling should appeal to some buyers who don’t necessarily like, nor want, a more SUV-like shape. And with its AWD surety, the XV is already a step ahead of a lot of FWD rivals in the segment.
Its drivetrain combination won’t elicit much in the way of excitement, but it’s suited to the majority of situations the XV is likely to encounter. It’s let down by its small boot and high servicing costs, but as a smart and stylish urban-focussed SUV with AWD surety, the Subaru XV deserves consideration.