Subaru XV 2.0i-L
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $31,990 (manual), $34,490 (CVT)
Options fitted (not included in above price): Nil
Crash rating: five (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 7.0 (CVT), 7.3 (manual)
CO2 emissions: (g/km): 162 (CVT), 168 (manual)
Also consider: Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Dualis
Dare one say that the best Subarus are those that are turbocharged? Easily accessible torque from zero revs and a V8-like beat as the needle climbs rapidly to the redline - it's this that endears the Subaru's boxer engine to them that care.
And it's this readily available performance that's missing from Subaru's XV, a compact SUV based on the new Impreza. Subaru has tuned the naturally-aspirated engine under the bonnet of the XV to deliver linear torque across the rev range from 1500rpm up to its 6500rpm redline – but meagre performance is the order of the day. Most XV drivers will change up to another gear well before they reach the engine's redline; the leisurely wait is unaccompanied by a redeeming kick in the pants as the revs rise.
Offsetting all that is the car's impressive fuel economy. According to the car's trip computer, the XV manual used an average of 8.4L/100km for the week, which is commendable given it barely left suburbia and only ventured onto the freeway once for a grand total of 2km.
While it's noisy with the right foot firmly buried in the carpet and with 4500rpm or better on the dial, the engine is quiet when cruising. At open road speeds the only noise audible in the XV's cabin emanates from the tyres. Even down to speeds below 1500rpm the engine won't labour audibly - clearly one of the virtues of the horizontally-opposed four-cylinder.
Still on the subject of the engine (and the drivetrain generally), we briefly took the XV offroad and learned quickly that the lack of torque from the engine does the car no favours at all. And Subaru's dual-range transfer would have been a boon, had it been available. First gear is simply too high a ratio for even the kind of environment other compact SUVs can manage.
Indeed, the XV couldn't crest a grade that had previously defeated only one other compact SUV in our experience: Mitsubishi's ASX. In the case of the Mitsu, the problem was lack of traction, but the Subaru just couldn't dig deep enough for torque. The XV clearly had the traction and grip, since the Hill Start Assist held it in place, even though the engine couldn't muster enough torque to proceed. It was the offroad equivalent of Mohammed's coffin.
The drivetrain shortcomings are a shame because the XV has the makings of a fairly decent bush-basher. Ground clearance isn't bad and nor are approach and departure angles. Why not bolt in Subaru's diesel boxer or the Forester S-Edition's WRX-based turbo engine, combined with dual-range transfer? Too close to the Forester, presumably...
On rally roads the XV proved very well mannered. The car turned in easily and would happily drift the tail out on a trailing throttle. Credit to Subaru's chassis engineers for calibrating the stability control to correct gentle oversteer later rather than sooner. Provoke the XV with a bit of a flick, however, and the stability control is ahead of the game. In time, with familiarity, the driver could set up the XV with the electro-nanny correcting the oversteer, with the car pointing precisely in the right direction for the exit from the corner.
It's the fast, winding dirt roads, in fact, where the XV feels most at home — as one might anticipate, given Subaru's rally pedigree. With stability control disabled and at least 3000rpm in hand, the XV will launch quite capably on dirt, with a shower of rocks and gravel spat out behind. There's no flat spot and the car's traction more than compensates for its relatively low engine output.
Back on the black-top, the XV held the road well. A modicum of warning understeer has been tuned in but once committed to a corner the handling settles into a stance closer to neutral. Unlike Subarus from years gone by - and the writer speaks from personal experience - the XV doesn't roll much in corners. Ride is a little choppy at times, but the XV soaks up smaller bumps quite well.
Steering response at higher speeds is prompt, but could do with more feedback through the wheel. That said, by the standards of electrically-assisted systems the XV's steering communicates enough to leave the driver feeling confident when pushing on harder through corners.
From the driver's seat the XV offers Subaru's usual field of vision, which is to say excellent. The instruments are easy to read and the seats are very comfortable and supportive.
The manual gearshift is light and easy enough to use, albeit a bit sloppy and slow. Unlike Subarus from the past, there's no engine flare between shifts and the clutch take-up is better too. However, gear changes are still fairly ponderous.
We briefly drove the CVT-equipped version as well. While there's no significant gain in performance, the self-shifting model does seem to work better. The CVT always seems to allow the engine to hit its straps sooner.
The car's boot space is more like that of larger light-segment cars than a small car's. Put that down to the drivetrain components underneath the floor. At least the seats fold completely flat (in a 60/40 ratio split) for loading larger objects.
The tailgate is light but solid and closes easily. It simply is one of the best designs around for ease of use. Similarly the passenger doors close quietly and securely without the need for brute force.
Once a cramped and cosy place, the rear seat of the new Impreza (in XV guise), offers plenty of head and legroom for adults. Thanks to the raised H-point, the XV is easy to enter and leave. And a further improvement on the way things were done previously, the XV's centre rear seat position has a seatbelt that can be dragged across from the luggage compartment, to hook through an eye located on the shoulder of the seat. It's better than having the three-point belt clip into the headlining, but why can't Subaru just have the seatbelt anchored to the seat itself, as other car companies do?
Infotainment systems in the XV were quite rational. Bluetooth connected the car rapidly to two different smart phones and would stream audio wirelessly from the iPhone. The touchscreen selection of radio stations works better if the user has daintier fingers, but is mostly intuitive.
The high-resolution trip computer readout in the centre fascia looks very high tech and is easy enough to scroll through from the up and down-arrow buttons on the lower left quadrant of the steering wheel boss. There was a view among staff at motoring.com.au that the interior generally looked a little basic and the graphics were not state of the art.
Staying with looks, the XV has attracted more than its fair share of criticism. Normally we don't comment on styling since it's so subjective, but debatably, the XV doesn't deserve the negative feedback it has received from some quarters. Its angular looks are modern and set apart from the softer and rounder styling of rivals, but without appearing overworked and excessive.
Now about the power...
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