Subaru XV review

Subaru-XV Once it soared higher than the sun, its Pleiades badge affirmed rally championships, promise and, as it turned out, the hubris of Icarus. The portents were there. From a reliable farmers’ vehicle to a design ethos that lost its way, with each new model more lividly repulsive than the last.

These days, not many people want a Subaru. Last year’s sales were half those of 2010 and Porsche sells twice as many cars in Britain. These days a Subaru seems to be driven by young men whose necks have felt both a policeman’s and tattooist’s hands. A Subaru has become, like the old Jaguar Mark 2, an uncouth getaway car.

Perhaps the fightback for this 57-year-old car maker owned by Fuji Heavy Industries starts with the BRZ, an old-school, great-handling sports coupé built by Subaru in co-operation with Toyota (which calls it the GT-86), or with the XV, a crossover SUV claimed as the company’s first foray in this sector – as if we’d forgotten the Tribeca, the Forester or the Outback.

The marketing random-word generator left us knee deep with “City Style” and “Urban Adventures!” Look beyond this folderol, however, and the Subaru XV is the sort of compact sports utility aimed mainly at young suburban mums. With a body style that eschews capacity and ground clearance for style, and with no transfer box in the transmission, the XV is unlikely to trouble the Darién Gap or Rubicon Trail, but it should have the gumption to tackle light snow flurries in supermarket car parks.

You might not like these vehicles, but lots of people seem to. Against a European market down 1.2 per cent from January to October, the compact SUV market is up 34 per cent. One estimate suggests that SUV sales are growing so fast that the world will buy 20 million of them a year by 2020.

Not that there aren’t some very good machines out there already: Audi’s Q3, Nissan’s Qashqai, Honda’s CR-V, BMW’s X1, Citroën’s DS4, Volvo’s XC60, Volkswagen’s Tiguan, Suzuki’s SX4 and Skoda’s Yeti are just a few. Even if the XV can’t muster the wherewithal to go rock-hopping, it still has a metaphorical mountain to climb.

Start it up and you get that flat thrumming “boxer” beat, although the horizontally opposed Subaru engine doesn’t “box” in the strictest sense, as each bank of pistons moves outwards from a common central crankshaft. Power delivery feels slightly flat and it only really starts to pull from 2,500rpm so you need to rev it, which of course damages the fuel economy. There’s a pleasing simplicity to this turbodiesel, however, and workmanlike performance, with a top speed of 123mph, 0-62mph in 9.3sec, a Combined fuel economy of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 146g/km.

The diesel is also hugely better than the newly revamped, 148bhp, 2.0-litre petrol unit with which it shares its configuration. The petrol motor is gutless, noisy and quite nasty to drive, especially when combined with the lethargic Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. There’s also a 113bhp, 1.6-litre petrol engine, which is nicer than it sounds but is damnably slow. If you want to save fuel, you are better off with the diesel, which only comes with a serviceable six-speed manual transmission that requires a firm hand on its baulky shift. The 4x4 system is rudimentary but effective, especially on noisy but grippy Yokohama winter tyres.

The ride feels quite stiff at first and the Subaru XV batters away at road seams and potholes, which report through the bodyshell like distant gunfire. There’s stiff roll resistance built into the MacPherson-strut front and wishbone rear suspension and that, together with the low centre of gravity and ride height, means the XV turns into corners well, with none of the lurching weight transfer of some of its contemporaries.

The madly overgeared steering takes away a lot of the fun, however, and its electric assistance puffs and pants at the job like a rugby scrum on a winter’s morning, so there’s no feedback to help you judge what’s going on at the front wheels. Go fast and body roll takes over eventually, resulting in a safe but slightly alarming understeer as the 1.4-ton car shimmies on the brink, but a well calibrated electronic stability system keeps it on track and safe.

What with the engine room racket, the bodywork humming along and the winter tyres crashing through the ruts, unfortunately there are times when the XV feels like a fairground organ reaching take-off speed.

The cabin is large and airy and there’s plenty of room in the front and rear seats for the claimed five-adult carrying capacity, although at 380 litres without a spare wheel the boot is rather small (even the standard Qashqai’s is 410 litres) and the false floor is fiddly to use, although it does provide a useful hidden suitcase-size cubby hole.

Careful attention to the design of the B and C pillars and the low ride height means the XV is an easy car to get into and out of, especially the rear seats, which can be something of a mantrap on rivals. The trim might be a big advance for Subaru, but the opposition has moved on again. On a vehicle that will see lots of family abuse, durable plastics are perfectly acceptable on the bottom of the doors but not on the dashboard. The satnav is serviceable, but its graphics are dated and the software slow to keep up. And while Subaru hasn’t stinted on safety, the options list is extensive and includes such items as headlamp washers and power folding door mirrors, but no cargo net.

For all its deficiencies, there’s something quite likeable about the Subaru XV. Where almost all the rivals place you in some sort of suburban pecking order, the XV keeps you out of that nonsense. Plus it’s actually quite fun to drive and has an aura of toughness and longevity.

The trouble is, it’s built in Yen and that’s really not good news for Subaru. While the range will start at about £21,000, the diesel will be about £24,000 and that’s too much.


Tested: Sport-utility crossover with four-cylinder, 1,998cc, turbodiesel, six-speed transmission, four-wheel drive

Price/on sale: From £21,000 (as tested £24,000)/March

Power/torque: 145bhp @ 3,600rpm 258lb ft @ 1,600rpm

Top speed: 123mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 9.3sec

Fuel economy: 41.5mpg (EU Urban)/50.4mpg (Combined)

CO2 emissions: 146g/km

VED band: F (£130)

Verdict: No-nonsense compact SUV that feels genuinely rugged and tough, but it’s expensive

Telegraph rating: Three out of five stars

By Andrew English, The Telegraph