Same, but different.
Subaru is a company that’s committed to two things: All-wheel drive, and its Boxer horizontally-opposed engines. The former is especially important, because their expertise with all-wheel drive powertrains meant that they were poised to ride the wave of SUV popularity as and when it arrived (not that it’s a dealbreaking feature nowadays, but it’s important to know what you’re doing nonetheless).
However, being Subaru, they opted to take on the SUV/crossover trend in a unique way. To that end, rather than going for a tall, boxy-ish family wagon, they opted instead to take their estates and jack them up, and calling them SUVs (though they’d more accurately be called crossovers, but we’ll gloss over that).
The Subaru XV is the product of that logic, and is intended to take on cars like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, as well as competitors with a more traditional edge, like the Volkswagen Tiguan. With a relatively low-slung and sleek profile, it’s certainly distinctive among the competition, if not in isolation. With car-like dynamics and an unbelievably grippy all-wheel drive system, there’s little wonder why the XV is one of Subaru’s best selling models globally.
The new model promises to retain the strengths of the outgoing car, like its dynamics and a-typical design, while addressing bugbears like the lacklustre cabin and disappointing refinement levels. Available in 2.0i, 2.0i-L, 2.0i-P, and 2.0i-S variants, has the new-generation car managed to do so, though?
“The recipe here hasn’t changed much over the previous XV…” — Car Magazine UK
Built off of Subaru’s new Global Platform (dubbed SGP), the new XV is the very first car for the brand to accrue a development cost north of US$1-billion, an important point of distinction for the uniquely-individual company. As such, the new platform (which it, again, shares with the Impreza saloon and hatch) promises to offer greater refinement, interior space, and improved dynamics.
While the platform is all-new, you’d be forgiven if you caught a new XV on the road and you didn’t bat an eye. While there’s a very contemporary flavour to the XV, moving to the new generation, only the most attentive observer would notice all the little changes that have been made to keep the XV fighting fresh for the next few years. The headlights are now wider and slimmer, and feature LEDs for both the main beam and daytime running lights on some variants. The prominent plastic body cladding all round is still retained, while the profile of the XV reveals that the sloping, hatch-like roofline has been retained for the latest generation.
Move to the rear and perhaps the changes are a little more obvious. The pert bottom of the outgoing car has given way to one that accommodates more horizontal elements, like the widened LED taillights, to highlight the width of the new XV.
While there’s no denying that the new XV takes a more evolutionary approach to design with the new model renewal, some would argue that what isn’t broken doesn’t need to be fixed and, by and large, the outgoing car had nothing really broken with it.
Engine & Drivetrain
“While the engine in this XV shares its layout and 2.0-litre capacity with the car it supersedes, it has been redesigned extensively.” — WhichCar
Further evidence of this evolution-vs-revolution argument comes in the engine bay, where you’ll find a 2.0-litre Boxer petrol motor. The mill produces a decent (but unremarkable) 115kW and 196Nm, mated to a CVT automatic gearbox. The engine has seen significant revision in its design and its tolerances, hence the jaw-dropping 5kW increase in power.
If you’re wondering about what’s happened to the manual transmission that was offered in the old car, you make up a minority: So small were the sales of the manual-transmission models that the do-it-yourself shifter has been dropped for the new generation. The CVT automatic is standard now, though that has also been given a thorough going over before it was put to service here. As such, the gearbox now offers a significantly more immediate response, effectively dealing with the ‘rubber band effect’ that plagued the outgoing car.
Power goes to all-four wheels as standard via Subaru’s proprietary Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, though it now comes with an X-Mode option. X-Mode was previously reserved for Subaru’s ‘more serious’ models, but features now on the XV for the first time. Engaging X-Mode sees the car tailor its responses better for off-road work, and maximises traction at speeds of up to 40km/h.
“Nothing offensive, everything fits, with nothing that will really offend… or excite.” — TopGear UK
When Subaru unveiled the facelift previous-generation model in late 2015, company bosses admitted that cabin quality and design were aspects that would be given greater attention in the coming generation. Their promises have come good it seems, as the new XV is markedly better than the outgoing model. No, it hasn’t made quite the same quantum leap inside the way Mercedes-Benz did with its cars; The cabin of the XV is more evolutionary in that sense. The materials have been improved immensely, and the presentation has been refined considerably, though it still puts practicality above desirability.
There’s a vastly improved infotainment system though, that comes as standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto too. Of course there’s Bluetooth, AUX- and USB-input, as well as a CD player, for those who might still use that.
On 2.0i-L variants and above, the infotainment screen increases in size, from 6.5-inches to 8.0-inches across. What’s standard though are four rather comfortable and supportive seats, with plenty of room for all passengers (a fifth passenger in the middle of the back seats won’t be quite as comfy), though there’s a little less headroom in the back compared to some of the XV’s rivals due to the more hatchback-like design of the thing.
It’s the same story in the boot: Compare this to something like a Honda CR-V or a Kia Sportage, and you’ll notice a slight lack of outright space. If that’s the sort of banal detail that you’ll love to talk about, then perhaps the Subaru XV won’t be your bag. But really, you’re highly unlikely to miss those lacking litres, because if you seriously want to haul stuff, you’ll just drop the rear seats anyway.
Behind The Wheel
“Most drivers wouldn’t even know the XV doesn’t have a regular automatic.” — Drive
Setting off in the XV, if you’re familiar with the older car, you’ll note a couple of things off the bat. The engine and gearbox, both revised in their application here, feel far more refined and more responsive this time round. There’s less of a ‘rubber band effect,’ and the response is far more linear and natural.
The next thing you notice is the refinement. The XV is much quieter than the outgoing car, which feeds back to the comments that Subaru’s executives made a long while ago about improving the perceived quality behind the wheel. The suspension has also been retuned for the new generation, giving it a ride that is more in line with what you’d get from some European cars rather than more floaty Asian alternatives.
As a result, the XV is a tidy car to drive about both in town and out on the open road. The steering is direct and inspires confidence on the motorway especially, while the suspension keeps body-roll in check while still taking the sting out of the harshest lumps and bumps. What you’re going to notice, particularly when touring, is the lack of grunt from the motor. The 2.0-litre petrol mill up front is entirely atmospheric, meaning that it lacks the sort of grunty, up-up-and-away sort of experience that you’d get in a turbocharged mill. Further, it also lacks the low-end torque (and with it, the long-legged cruising ability) of a turbodiesel mill, so maintaining highway speeds can see the petrol mill struggle a little bit.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru XV a five-star rating, it’s maximum.” — WhichCar
The Subaru XV stays true to its promise to be a smart family vehicle, offering plenty in the way of safety and convenience tech. Beginning with the former, all cars get things like seven airbags, a reversing camera, the usual standard stability controls, cruise control, active torque vectoring (which brakes individual wheels to help you maintain your intended drive line), hill-start assist, and Subaru’s proprietary Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, replete with an X-Mode should you want to venture off the beaten path.
All but the entry level model get Subaru’s EyeSight safety system as standard too, which throws in a whole load more kit. With EyeSight, you gain things like autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assistance. Top-spec models build on this a little more by adding Vision Assist, which uses radar sensors on the back of the car to then give you lane-change warning, rear cross-traffic detection, and autonomous emergency rearwards braking (if you’re about to reverse into a wall, for example).
All cars get a colour touchscreen with a myriad of connectivity options, though opting for a variant above the base model nets things like a bigger touchscreen, intelligent cruise control, dual-zone climate control, and power-folding mirrors. 2.0i-P models gain a sunroof and satellite navigation, while top-flight 2.0i-S models gain a plusher cabin, LED headlights, and automatic wipers.
The Subaru XV might not be a class leader, but what it is is a unique left-of-field offering in an increasingly monotonous, unadventurous segment. Even if you don’t go for the retina-searing orange, the XV’s unique profile and more adventurous character means that it wants you to consider it to be more of a fun-loving companion for adventurous types, rather than be just a dependable and rather characterless accessory.
Everything from the way it drives to the way it looks screams individuality far louder than its competitors, with the XV possessing a verve to it that does genuinely make you want to take the road less travelled. Perhaps that’s why it now gets X-Mode as standard, in case that road is unpaved. Nevertheless, it’s ability to work well in town, on the motorway, and off sealed surfaces means that character doesn’t come with a noticeable drawback.
Okay, so there is one very noticeable drawback with the XV, and it’s its rather outpaced drivetrain. In the opening paragraph we mentioned how Subaru is committed to all-wheel drive and its Boxer engines, and the exclusive use of the latter limits the breadth of ability somewhat. It lacks the same sort of punch you get from a turbocharged mill, and the lack of a diesel means that you either love the way the Boxer unit does its job, or buy something else.
That one big thing aside, the XV is conservative in its packaging, but is otherwise faultless. Sure, it’s not quite as adventurous to look at as say a Peugeot 3008, or quite as no-nonsense as a Volkswagen Tiguan, but this is a family car after all.
WhichCar — 4.5/5.0 — “The new-generation Subaru XV is a taller version of the very impressive new Impreza, offering a more comfortable ride, longer touring range, and the ability to get you a bit further off the beaten track than most small SUVs.”
Autocar UK — 4.5/5.0 — “The new Subaru XV is as practical and roomy as ever, and is now more inviting to sit in. Shame it isn’t more athletic.”
Car Magazine UK — 4.0/5.0 — “We’ve lost count of the times we’ve had to label a Subaru as a niche offering, and this new XV is no different. It feels polished, solid, and confident; Add to that genuine off-road capability, and impressive kit list, and industry-leading driver assistance tech, and it looks rather compelling. But if you buy one, not only will you have bought a good car, but one that’ll probably keep on going for a decade or more.”
Drive — 4.0/5.0 — “The latest second-generation high-riding XV – 95 per cent refreshed – is more of the same but with a more pointed emphasis on driver safety features, potentially adventurous alternatives and value-for-money. Plus more infotainment and style features to engage with the target market.”
CarsGuide — 7.5/10 — “Yes, Subaru’s XV is weird, but it’s good weird. The new generation has improved the ride and handling, the cabin is refined and quiet, while the off-road capability is impressive for a city SUV. If only the transmission wasn’t a CVT, and if only there was a bit more oomph from the engine. Still, these are really the only drawbacks of an excellent package.”
CarAdvice — 8.0/10 — “Although not overflowing with power, the new Subaru XV is a well put-together and well-equipped offering in a very competitive market.”
Motoring — 78/100 — “It’s not hard to see why Subaru is bullish about its all-new XV. The small SUV stands out from the crowd, not only due to its crossover looks but also its flexibility and practicality. It packs a lot of competence under the bodyshell, matched by its mature cabin and solid, premium feel.”
TopGear UK — 4.0/10 — “It’s a very competitive market in the soft-roader segment right now, and although the Subaru XV can manage more than many of its competitors off-road, it’s let down by the engine/gearbox combination. Available only with petrol and CVT, it’s one for committed Subaru enthusiasts. They’re sure to lap it up, but everyone else would do well to look elsewhere.”