As one tester remarked, the XV has “a good fifty-yard handshake”. With weighty, well-paced steering and a low-speed ride that quickly shows off a modicum of tautness and dynamic sophistication, the crossover makes a confident and promising initial impression on its driver.
The XV handles smaller lumps and bumps on the road in composed, progressive, predictable fashion, and because it holds so few surprises for you, generally going where you point it and responding as you expect it will, it is pleasingly easy to drive. It has a chassis that isn’t over-endowed with lateral grip or handling agility but instead goes big on bump composure and damping authority; that feels, in other words, like it’s keeping plenty of rough-stuff capability in reserve for just when you need it. That’s an unusual dynamic for a crossover hatchback, but it makes the XV as unique in 2018 as it did in 2012; and if only the car had a powertrain better suited to making the driving experience rich and engaging, the car’s chassis would doubtless come to the fore much more readily.
The XV did not take well to the Alpine hill route at Millbrook. Its powertrain made hard work of long gradients and building or maintaining speed wasn’t easy. Leave the CVT in ‘D’ and the engine spends almost all its time spinning away up near 6000rpm, and builds up so much inertia doing it that you seem to need to lift early for corners just to allow the car to settle before turning in. In manual, things are a bit better, but even here, the ratios chosen and paucity of torque means the car needs second gear to accelerate up the steepest slopes.
Subaru’s claims to have made a large improvement to the XV’s body stiffness, to have lowered its centre of gravity and generally to have relocated it within the crossover hatchback market to within touching distance of the class’s dynamic standard-bearers. This is all to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although it is much more composed-riding and precise-handling than it used to be, it’s not a match for an Ateca or T-Roc. At least, not playing those rivals at their own tarmac-borne game.
The car’s handling deserves better. The XV doesn’t grip or rotate with the tenacity of some small crossovers but, considering its genuine dual-purpose brief, it’s remarkably poised and secure. Body control allows plenty of roll but ultimately keeps it in check well enough to preserve steering authority under high lateral load, and the car’s stability controls work with subtlety.