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Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 13:35
Ten Second Review
The Subaru XV is a smart-looking crossover vehicle that offers the best all-wheel drive system in its class and some charismatic engines. It's not the cheapest choice in its sector, but it might just be the most capable and secure when the weather turns really nasty.
Subaru is a company in transition. A few years ago, it found itself overly focused around one model, the Impreza, and made a decision to broaden the appeal of its wares. Unfortunately, it chased mass market sales with the Impreza, a tactic that didn't work. A tough financial climate and a failure to invest in overseas manufacturing facilities put the company at a competitive disadvantage.
Since then, it has retrenched and rebuilt its range and now things are looking up. The Impreza's image as a performance car is being rehabilitated, much-improved Forester, Legacy and Outback models have been launched and then there's the charismatic BZ coupe that has, with its Toyota GT86 sister vehicle, generated more column inches than the latest Porsche 911. Slipping in almost unnoticed is a vehicle that will be more crucial to the company's bottom line. The Subaru XV - the two letters being a shorthand for crossover - targets vehicles like the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai ix35, while offering a sharper driving experience than either. How will it fare in the UK?
Three engines are offered. The entry-level powerplant is a rather underpowered but otherwise enjoyable 1.6-litre petrol unit but most will step up to one of the two 2.0-litre engines, both of which are offered with the option of a continuously variable transmission. The petrol engine is a sweet thing, its cylinders horizontally opposed in typical Subaru 'boxer' tradition. There's the trademark off-beat thrum which is not unpleasant and makes a welcome change to more conventional but rather soulless turbo fours. The pick of the bunch is the heavily revised 2.0-litre diesel boxer engine. It packs a 170bhp punch and, like the rest of the XV range, drives all four wheels for all-weather security.
It's not the quietest car you'll ever drive, with some noticeable bump and thump around town on bad surfaces, but visibility is excellent, thanks to slim windscreen pillars and the seating position is nicely elevated. It steps off the line really smartly and the steering is excellent, as is the XV's body control. Drive it a bit faster and you'll be impressed by the sheer amount of front end grip. It's the sort of car that will have you praying for snow in the forecast.
Design and Build
The XV is a handsome thing, with cohesive, chunky styling. The details are neatly resolved too. Look at those smartly integrated tail light clusters, the dished flanks and the eagle-eye headlamps. It's certainly leagues better looking than the old Tribeca SUV. How does it compare with the likes of the Qashqai and the Skoda Yeti in terms of packaging? That's not quite so clear cut. For a start, there's no seven seat option which will rule it out for some families and the 380-litre boot means that you might need to pack a little lighter than you'd expect. Fold the rear seats down though and things improve dramatically, with an excellent 1,270 litres on offer. Rear legroom is good and there's plenty of adjustability in the driving position but the seats could use a little more support.
The dashboard is tidy and while there are some soft-touch materials on the dash roll top, look further down the fascia and the plastic reverts to Subaru traditional hard grey plastics. Still, that's the case for many of its rivals so it would be churlish to mark the XV down too harshly in that regard. The centre console, door cards and glovebox lid could all be improved. The 17-inch alloy wheels do look extremely sharp.
Market and Model
The benchmark in this crossover sector remains the Nissan Qashqai, a car that's now a constant fixture in the UK bestsellers chart, both for private and business buyers. What's particularly illuminating about Qashqai sales is the product split. To be precise, Nissan sells an awful lot of entry-level models. All of which suggests that there's a price point beyond which the popularity of these crossover cars tails off quite sharply. That may well prove a problem for the Subaru XV, as the most impressive 2.0-litre models creep towards the edge of that value envelope. Prices start at around £21,000 and the boxer diesel models are slated to sell for around £24,000. That might not sound too bad when that's the asking price for a diesel Honda Civic these days but if a cheaper diesel model were offered, Subaru's sales would undoubtedly benefit as a result.
Equipment levels include most of the usual features you'd expect in a £20,000-£25,000 car. Even entry-level S models feature ABS, traction control, Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control (SVDC), front, side, curtain and knee airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels, daytime LED running lights and automatic air conditioning as standard. SE models add cruise control, rear-view camera, Bluetooth functionality and USB/iPod connectivity. Meanwhile, top-of-the-range SE Lux Premium models also come with a sunroof, Keyless Smart Entry, push-button start, leather seats and satellite navigation. All 2.0-litre models are fitted with roof rails. Plus across the range, family buyers will be reassured by the award of a EuroNCAP five star rating.
Cost of Ownership
Any Crossover model must be emplary here and sure enough, the 2.0-litre diesel model returns decent fuel economy and emissions. With a measured right foot, you'll be able to eke 50.4 miles from a gallon of derv and emissions are rated at 146g/km. You can expect residuals, backed up by Subaru's excellent reliability and after sales care, to be reasonably strong. Fuel efficiency will be further improved through Subaru's advanced stop-start system which enables smooth restart within only 0.2 seconds of stopping.
The crossover genre is one that Subaru ought to excel at. All the ingredients are already in place. The company can draw upon a long tradition of rugged, multi purpose all-wheel drive cars. Where it needs to up its game is in packaging and presenting this clever engineering in a way that's accessible and appealing to mainstream customers. The XV is a very creditable effort. It looks good, it's a reasonable size, it drives well and it will undoubtedly be very reliable.
The fly in the ointment might well be the value proposition. Rivals like the Hyundai ix35 undercut the XV quite significantly. This Subaru is undoubtedly the better drive but is the driving experience something family buyers really prioritise? It might prove to be an exploitable niche for Subaru, but my hunch is that pricing and packaging are more compelling reasons to buy a car in this class. While the XV probably won't trouble the best sellers list anytime soon, it's nevertheless an interesting and entertaining entrant. If you're a keen driver and want a car with all-weather ability that will still discharge the family duties, it's well worth a place on your shortlist.