12-month test: Subaru XV 2,0I-ES Lineartronic CVT

A year spent with Subaru’s stylish mid­size cross­over pays tes­ta­ment to the firm’s abil­ity to turn out pleas­ingly bal­anced prod­ucts

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

FROM my stand­point as a motoring writer of more than a decade, I’ve ob­served trends in the au­to­mo­tive mar­ket are re­mark­ably fickle things. Where once the sta­tion wagon was the mul­ti­pur­pose car of choice, our de­sire to avoid a fam­ily la­bel so beige that it’s prac­ti­cally vanilla has now meant that chil­dren and chat­tels are be­ing threaded through our streets in frankly un­fit-for-pur­pose SUVS.

It’s this strug­gle to avoid be­ing pi­geon­holed with the hum­drum that’s sim­i­larly fu­elled the me­te­oric rise of the cross­over, al­beit in a slightly less con­trived man­ner. Although they’re gen­er­ally more townie than trail-break­ing, most crossovers have the req­ui­site butch body­work and jacked-up ride height ap­plied to a hatch­back donor car that’s more prac­ti­cally pre­sented and less likely to teeter in cor­ners or drink you out of house and home than an SUV. And it was with this in mind that I took de­liv­ery of Subaru’s small­est cross­over, the XV. From the sta­ple plas­tic lower-body cladding, to the raised ride height, roof rails and wedge-shaped pro­file, the lat­est XV closely echoes much of its pre­de­ces­sor’s chunky, fun aes­thetic. But, whereas the lat­est car is in­cred­i­bly sim­i­lar to its fore­bear, it is in fact a com­pletely new prod­uct with a sur­pris­ing me­chan­i­cal twist. In the in­ter­ests of fam­ily ties and economy of scales, it would have made sense for Subaru to un­der­pin much of its model range with Toy­ota’s New Global Ar­chi­tec­ture plat­form (Toy­ota owns 16,5% of Subaru), which did ster­ling ser­vice in my pre­vi­ous long-ter­mer, the Prius. In­stead, Subaru in­vested a cool US$1 bil­lion in de­vel­op­ing its own mo­du­lar plat­form; think of it as the Ja­panese equiv­a­lent of Volk­swa­gen’s MQB chas­sis. Although much of the new plat­form’s fo­cus is on crash sur­viv­abil­ity, there’s also the mat­ter of a con­sid­er­able (more than 70%) im­prove­ment in tor­sional rigid­ity. And a lengthy stint be­hind the XV’S wheel has shown this to be money well spent.

The driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is pure Subaru: meaty, di­rect steer­ing cou­pled with a sup­ple ride and a

mod­icum of body lean off­set by plen­ti­ful grip from the AWD setup. I took the lib­erty of driv­ing the long-ter­mer back to back with a friend’s first-gen­er­a­tion XV and the dif­fer­ence in body flex and ride re­vealed a pal­pa­ble im­prove­ment in the new car’s road man­ners.

Changes in the en­gine bay were a lit­tle less marked. The 2,0-litre flat-four en­gine re­ceived a 5 kw shot in the arm, rais­ing the to­tal out­put to a still fairly mod­est 115 kw, while torque re­mained at 196 N.m. While it favours me­chan­i­cal re­fine­ment over flat­cylin­der bur­ble, it’s nonethe­less a tractable unit that’s pretty much per­fect for the XV … but for the trans­mis­sion to which it’s hitched. Motoring jour­nal­ists’ widely held dis­dain for these band-driven CVTS no doubt elicit a cho­rus of sighs and eyes rolling sky­wards but, in a car as ac­com­plished as the XV, the Lineartronic ‘box does the en­gine few favours.

To Subaru’s credit, its CVT is one of the bet­ter ones out there. The “shifts” are smooth and re­spon­sive­ness to in­put from the pad­dle-shifters is rea­son­ably quick, but there’s still that (vir­tual) gear-slip­ping lag be­tween throt­tle in­put and ac­cel­er­a­tion, leav­ing the en­gine some­what strained. This lethargy was par­tic­u­larly ap­par­ent dur­ing my daily mo­tor­way com­mute of 80 km, where the act of over­tak­ing slower traf­fic had to be care­fully mea­sured against the speed of fol­low­ing cars. Once the speeds level out and the trans­mis­sion’s band set­tles on a pre­ferred ra­tio, how­ever, the XV be­comes a plea­sure to pi­lot.

Early in its ten­ure, I de­cided to pit the XV against both tar­mac and sec­tions of the coun­try’s near-27 000 km dirt roads on a 3 000 km round trip to the Eastern Cape. I’ve never been much for plant­ing the fast pedal on gravel but the well-mea­sured in­ter­ven­tion of the XV’S AWD and sta­bil­ity-con­trol sys­tem gen­tly lulled me into car­ry­ing speeds on the loose road sur­faces which would’ve seen most FWD crossovers ner­vously crab­bing. The XV’S sup­ple ride also man­aged to iron out much of the teethchat­ter­ing pain those wash­board cor­ru­ga­tions on well-used dirt roads of­ten present.

The free-flow­ing run on the N2 be­tween Port El­iz­a­beth and Plet­ten­berg Bay re­ally saw the XV’S abil­ity to munch mo­tor­way miles come to the fore. With pos­te­rior planted in seats with just the right amount of sup­port, the im­pres­sively crisp au­dio sys­tem drowned out the tyre roar that af­flicts all cars on the sand­pa­per­sur­face roads in this re­gion and, with the cruise con­trol set at a not-too-hur­ried 115 km/h, the XV man­aged to shrug off its 8,0-odd L/100 km thirst to regis­ter a far more pleas­ing 6,92 L/100 km.

Fur­ther­ing its open-road cre­den­tials is the XV’S party piece, the Eye­sight sys­tem. As the name in­fers, the setup works much like hu­man eye­sight. In­stead of radar or laser sen­sors, the sys­tem

utilises a pair of colour cam­eras pro­vid­ing the car’s ar­ray of ac­tive safety sys­tems (in­clud­ing lane-de­par­ture warn­ing, col­li­sion de­tec­tion and adap­tive brak­ing) with a stereo­scopic view of the road up to 110 me­tres ahead.

The adap­tive cruise con­trol to which this sys­tem is har­nessed gar­nered mixed praise from the CAR team. While its ac­tions are fluid, the sys­tem’s throt­tle ap­pli­ca­tion is some­what leisurely. When it comes to brak­ing, the sys­tem is more alert, firmly ap­ply­ing the an­chors when en­coun­ter­ing slowed traf­fic or smart­pho­neoc­cu­pied pedes­tri­ans; it saved my ba­con on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions. It must be noted, like our own eye­sight, it has cer­tain lim­i­ta­tions ren­der­ing it in­op­er­a­tive in fog and heavy rain.

Con­trast­ing with the XV’S fuss­free na­ture, the 15 000 km ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence at Thorp Subaru Table­view was a bit of a let­down. With a tele­phon­i­cally or­gan­ised ap­point­ment re­ceived by a some­what la­conic re­cep­tion, my ar­rival at the deal­er­ship was met with news that my ap­point­ment wasn’t on the sys­tem and it took more than 1,5 hours to sort out. Speak­ing with the dealer prin­ci­pal, the fran­chise was still in a tran­si­tional pe­riod with staff pre­vi­ously ser­vic­ing GM clien­tele still find- ing their feet with Subaru.

In this flag­ship ES model, Eye­sight is part of an im­pres­sive suite of fea­tures in­clud­ing leather trim, auto wipers and head­lamps with high-beam as­sist, cli­mate con­trol, touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with smart­phone in­te­gra­tion, sun­roof and key­less ig­ni­tion. These items stud a cabin that’s solidly con­structed and, although some­thing of a patina mish­mash, sporty look­ing and log­i­cally ar­ranged.

Given that the XV’S tar­get de­mo­graphic is the out­doorsy life­style set, or just as likely young fam­i­lies and empty nesters, the in­te­rior’s pack­ag­ing is some­what askew. Climb into the back and you’re greeted with acres of legroom. Open the boot and it be­comes ap­par­ent where that ex­tra rear space was mined; the load space is small and likely a con­se­quence of the AWD bits on the rear axle.

And it’s this sys­tem that el­e­vates this car above most of its ri­vals. While it plays the part of comfy com­muter very well, the XV’S 220 mm ground clear­ance and an AWD sys­tem with torqueap­por­tion­ing and hill-de­scent con­trol ren­der it a ca­pa­ble off-roader.

Test sum­mary

Put­ting the com­pro­mised boot pack­ag­ing and di­vi­sive trans­mis­sion aside, its abil­ity to com­bine solid con­struc­tion with stylish ex­e­cu­tion and plen­ti­ful stan­dard spec has won the XV plenty of fans. While strik­ing a neat bal­ance be­tween com­mut­ing and a re­spectable de­gree of off-road abil­ity, it is easy to see how the model has be­come Subaru’s banker in the lo­cal mar­ket and kept sec­ond-hand price re­ten­tion de­cently com­pet­i­tive; it’s cer­tainly made me look at the cross­over genre as less of a con­trivance and more of a vi­able bridge be­tween hatch­back and SUV.

The AWD sys­tem el­e­vates the XV above its ri­vals

Strik­ing Cool Blue Khaki paint com­ple­ments the XV’S rugged frame.

clock­wise from top Crisp touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem forms the fo­cal point of a sporty­look­ing cabin; plen­ti­ful legroom and 60:40-split fold­ing seat­backs; Eye­sight is the nerve cen­tre of the com­pre­hen­sive safety sys­tem; AWD and 220 mm of ground clear­ance con­trib­ute gen­uine dirt-track ca­pa­bil­ity; boot is sur­pris­ingly small; dual-zone cli­mate con­trol part of gen­er­ous stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

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