FIRST DRIVE Subaru aims to make new small SUV more of a mainstream contender
Can all-new model shake up the 4x4 class?
SUBARU isn’t planning to launch its new XV small SUV until early next year in Britain, but already we’ve been behind the wheel of a pre-production model.
The previous XV was rugged and good to drive, but couldn’t compete on price or refinement with its main rivals. The new generation aims to change that.
The car’s styling gets an update, with a new grille and lights, plus some plastic cladding around the wheelarches and tough-looking alloy wheels.
Subaru has also upgraded the interior, although not to the same extent. It’s been redesigned to be a bit simpler and more upmarket, with a few more soft-touch materials and shiny plastics. But you could hardly call it a complete revolution.
The twin-screen set-up is still there, and the dials and steering wheel are very similar to before as well. It’s not nearly as modern as the exterior, and feels cheap compared with most of the car’s rivals.
At least the new eight-inch infotainment screen is more responsive than before. It will get Android Auto and Apple Carplay, and is likely to be standard in the UK as well. However, it’s still a long way behind the slick system offered in the Skoda Kodiaq and those of other European rivals.
The seats are bigger, more comfortable and more supportive, which is useful both on the road and off it. To that end, there’s also a new X-mode button on the centre console that sets the car up for low-grip surfaces and turns on hill-descent control.
We tried the car on a dusty off-road track, where its ability to climb loose gravel on a sharp incline impressed us.
Subaru is rightly proud of its permanent four-wheel-drive system, and the XV is probably among the best off-roaders in its class. However, most buyers of cars such as this choose front-wheel drive, and only ever use their cars on the road.
The new XV is likely to be a little more expensive than its rivals as a result. Subaru UK has yet to decide on pricing, but we’re told it will be relatively close to what the current car costs.
We didn’t get the chance to try our pre-production test car on the road, and instead were limited to a super-smooth test track in Austria. The previous model had a fairly hard ride in the UK, but the new generation is better to drive; there’s less body roll in corners and the steering is a bit sharper. Torque vectoring means it can brake the inside wheels on a corner, tightening your line. It makes the XV feel more agile, and while it’s not as fun as a Mazda CX-5 it’s still pretty engaging.
The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre boxer petrol engine is smooth, although you won’t notice the extra 5bhp because maximum torque is unchanged (at 196Nm). However, those used to the turbocharged engines in the current crop of crossovers will notice the shortage of low-end torque.
The Lineartronic CVT gearbox is one of the best of its type, and actually feels slightly
“The XV is one of the best off-roaders in its class. However, most buyers only ever drive on road”
more natural in this new model than it did in the previous car. However, it still sends the revs soaring if you put your foot down because it’s the only way to make swift progress. That means the powertrain is still noisy, and it all feels a bit old-fashioned.
It’s likely to be reasonably efficient in normal driving, but buyers who want their car to offer maximum fuel economy will need to look elsewhere, because there won’t be a diesel XV – the engine range will comprise 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrols only.
It’s spacious inside, and although the boot is on the small side, there’s loads of legroom and headroom in the back, even for adults. Subaru’s hi-tech Eyesight cameras are standard, and these allow a number of safety features that the brand says are more accurate than those on radar-based systems on rival cars.
There’s no way for us to confirm that claim, but the car does have pre-collision braking, active cruise control, lane-keep assist, cross-traffic braking, high-beam assist and blindspot monitoring. Euro NCAP will test the car soon, but for now we know that Japan’s version of the crash-test lab gave the XV its highest score ever.
One big drawback to XV ownership is that there is no diesel option offered
OFF-ROAD If you need your small SUV to tackle challenging conditions the XV is one of the best options