I’ve always had a soft spot for the Subaru XV. This is a car that really speaks to Subaru’s brand values of ruggedness and utility – plus, it’s heartening to see buyers choosing a toughened-up hatch instead of a rather unnecessary SUV. An all-new XV has now hit Australian shores – and Subaru already have strong orders from buyers after more capability than most small cars can offer. About a thousand sales per month are expected going forward, too. The new Impreza – which the XV is based on – is selling about that number, too. But while small cars are a shrinking market, cars classed as SUVs – including the XV – represent big growth potential. It’s not surprising that Subaru’s local boss Colin Christie told Chasing Cars he’s “even more excited about the XV”, which alongside its Outback and Forester ‘SUV’ siblings, are Subaru’s most important cars. But is the 2018 Subaru XV any good?
We drove the new XV across mixed Australian landscapes, from frosted and freezing fields in the Snowy Mountains to the coastal roads of the New South Wales south coast. It was an experience that quickly revealed a few key insights into the car. It’s a strong improvement on the outgoing XV, with the all-new Subaru platform underpinning the new model offering a comfortable, compliant and surprisingly engaging drive on-road. The XV is also pretty remarkable off-road – as tested on a tailor-made dirt course – with the standard X-Mode all-wheel-drive programme making a real difference. Inside, the XV is comfortable, and it’s generously equipped and decently priced, kicking off at $27,990.
But it isn’t all rosy. The XV handles satisfyingly well, but it is held back by its inadequate engine. It’s an all-new 115kW two-litre but it works hard to earn its keep, building pace off the line noisily, before straining to maintain that speed on faster uphill stretches. It gets thirsty, too. Driven sedately, it’s just sufficient, but drivers wanting to extract good performance won’t love it. Given the excellent ride and good handling of the new XV, it deserves a more generous engine. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol used in Subaru’s Levorg wagon would probably be a good fit.
Of course, many of the XV’s buyers won’t be put off by the dated-feeling engine and that’s easy to understand: there is so much to like about the car, including the strong value on offer. The $27,990 base model looks cool and is well-equipped, while attractive mid-range grades add key safety features and creature comforts, before the range is capped by the $35,240 and lavishly equipped 2.0i-S flagship. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad spot throughout the range, though the $30,340 2.0i-L is the likely sweet spot.
You can expect to see the XV marketed in a number of innovative ways, too, as Subaru looks to target outdoorsy millenials. Aside from the traditional dealership experience, this is a car you can build, order and pay for online – though a modest 1% of sales will be generated this way, that number will inevitably climb over time as buyers get more comfortable with buying a car this way. It’ll be present at new Subaru-sponsored events like the Color Run, and the brand are even supplying more than 100 new XVs to DriveMyCar, a service that mainly supplies Uber drivers with brand new cars – a fascinating way to put the vehicle in front of hundreds of ‘riders’ daily.
Key specs (as tested)
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