First DriveThe Subaru XV is a clear step up from the previous model, with impressive off-road ability, but no diesel option could stunt sales success
First DriveSubaru has updated its Qashqai rival, but do the tweaks make it any more credible as a competitor to Nissan's class-leading success?
What is it?
The Subaru XV is a five-seat, lofty driving-position family hatch with a raised ride height and all-wheel drive as standard.
Pitched at the Nissan Qashqai/Hyundai iX35 genre, the Subaru XV hopes to add a dash of sportiness to a class where practicality, comfort and a quality cabin combine as the winning formula.
Suspension is struts at the front and a double-wishbone arrangement at the rear with Subaru’s 50:50-split all-wheel drive system, including a central viscous limited-slip, as standard.
There are three Boxer engine choices — a 144bhp 2.0-litre diesel, 147bhp 2.0-litre petrol and 112bhp 1.6-litre petrol. The 2.0-litre units are mated to a six-speed manual as standard; the 1.6 gets a five-speeder. Remarkably, manual transmissions also come with a mud-plugging low-ratio transfer box as standard. A CVT auto is optional on both petrols.
Subaru will launch next April with the 2.0-litre units; the 1.6 arrives in the late 2012.
You also have to look at the XV — shorthand for Cross Over — as a thinly-disguised replacement for the Impreza hatch. In fact, strip off the cladding and drop the ride height and the XV is next year’s Impreza.
What's it like?
The driving bias is towards grip and cornering power, rather than comfort and everyday usability, which will satisfy some drivers. But the bulk of buyers will find the lumpy low-speed ride, noisy bump-thump over broken road surfaces and fidgety motorway progress unsettling.
Pleasingly, the XV steers faithfully and can be placed accurately on the road, although there’s not much feedback through the wheel rim. Particularly impressive is the manner in which the AWD resists understeer in all models. The conclusion is that the chassis could take more power, although Subaru says that more powerful engines, particularly a circa-170bhp diesel, still aren’t on the horizon, nearly three years after its revolutionary Boxer oil-burner was launched.
The pick of the engines is the delightfully revvy 2.0-litre Boxer diesel, although the thrumming 2.0-litre petrol runs it a close second. Unfortunately, the 1.6-litre Boxer is woefully underpowered and has to be worked at high revs to extract performance. At least it makes a pleasing noise when extended.
The Boxer diesel we drove also had a disconcerting background drone and radiated a surprising amount of noise outside the car. Subaru says it is considering beefed-up noise insulation, both inside the cabin and under the bonnet, to counter this.
Visibility is excellent, courtesy of remarkably thin A-pillars.
Rear legroom is also good. Inside, the plastics and interior design are a huge step forward over the hard fittings in the old Impreza. But the competition has moved on, too, leaving the feeling that the XV lacks flair and quality. Another area that needs attention is the front seating, which lacks support from both the side bolsters and under-thigh.
The 380 litre capacity boot is a shallow shape and the target market of families, probably encumbered with young kids, will surely struggle to accommodate the masses of gear that inevitably go with that territory.
Should I buy one?
If a five-seat family car that prioritises a grippy chassis over comfort and interior quality appeals, or if you live in an area where AWD is essential, the Subaru XV might fit the bill. But there are other more rounded, and more keenly-priced competitors that will prove much easier to live with day-to-day.
Subaru XV 2.0D
Price: £26k (est); Top speed: 123mph; 0-62mph: 9.3sec; Economy: 50.4mpg (combined); CO2: 146g/km; Engine type: 1998cc, 16v 4cyl horizontally-opposed Boxer turbo-diesel; Power: 144bhp at 3600rpm; Torque: 258lbft at 1600-2400rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed manual