Subaru is an automotive hidden gem in the UK. As a maker of durable, remarkably capable 4x4s, with a gold-plated history in rallying, it’s surprising to find that just 2,665 examples were sold in 2017.
To put that into context, Subaru shifted a record 647,956 vehicles in America last year (more than 60% globally are sold in the US), while sales were also at an all-time high in Australia (52,511). Spain, Germany, Sweden and Estonia are among the biggest markets in Europe.
Along with a clever new marketing strategy with the tagline “Better where it matters”, the all-new Subaru XV could well be the car to change the company’s fortunes in Britain.
What is it?
Classified as a compact crossover, the XV range is priced from £24,995 to £28,495 and is only available as a 4×4. Rivals include the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq.
It’s safe too, gaining a maximum five-star safety rating in Euro NCAP crash safety tests and named safest in its class of small family cars. Subaru’s EyeSight safety system is standard across the XV range, incorporating Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and active lane-keep assist.
At first sight it may not look dissimilar to the outgoing model, but the second-generation XV is new from the ground up, and frankly, is something of a revelation.
In line with the Subaru family look, it has a sporty, rugged profile, yet with a generous 220mm ground clearance. Slightly longer and wider than the Mk 1, the differences are subtle, but the new car has a sleeker front end, a more pert rear (complete with roof spoiler) and LED headlights.
Back in the day, Subaru interiors were built more for durability than comfort. The good looking, spacious cabin of the new XV is a real step up with a raised driving position, comfy seats, lots of soft-touch plastics and plenty of small storage spaces.
There’s ample space in the back for six-footers, while the boot has a useful 385-litre luggage capacity (1,275 litres with the back seats down).
The centre console is dominated by an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with full smartphone connectivity, and while it’s not as swish as some rivals’ systems, it’s clear, easy-to-read and big improvement on the previous version. There’s also a secondary info screen set further back below the windscreen, though it’s rarely needed. In short, it’s well built and has a quality feel.
The XV’s engine line-up consists of just two petrol units – a 112bhp 1.6-litre and 154bhp 2.0-litre. Along with Porsche, Subaru’s engines are flat-four “Boxer” units which, it’s claimed, run smoother with reduced vibrations and noise.
Both engines only come with one automatic gearbox – Subaru’s Lineartronic – and like most CVT transmissions, the engine revs rise significantly under heavy acceleration. The good news is that the new XV is refined so noise suppression is good.
However, it doesn’t feel terribly powerful for a 2.0-litre, and it shows – the 0-62mph time is 10.4 seconds. Top speed is 120mph, while fuel consumption is a decent 40.9mpg (though we managed 35mpg on the road) and CO2 emissions are 155g/km. That said, it cruises well so it needn’t be a deal-breaker.
Subarus come stacked with features that would be extras on many other cars so there’s only the need for two specs – SE and SE Premium.
Apart from the impressive list of safety systems already mentioned, steering responsive LED headlights, heated front seats, power-folding heated door mirrors and automatic rain-sensing wipers are also standard. Move up to SE Premium and you also get leather seats, an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat and a sunroof.
Our only gripe is that sat nav is not available on the SE. At this price range, it should be standard. Finally, the XV comes with a choice of six colours, and Cool Grey Khaki looks especially good.
How does it drive?
The 2.0-litre engine may be a bit underwhelming if you’re in a hurry, but there are no complaints about the new XV’s handling. I tried it on a mixture of roads – including some with potholes and others with significant standing water – plus a closed-off runway to test the safety systems and to see how it managed in more extreme conditions during a high-speed slalom. Not only did it feel comfortable, agile, solid and assured, there’s minimal body roll when cornering and the autonomous emergency braking worked like a dream.
We also took the XV off-road, where some might say Subarus are in their element. Press the button to engage ‘X-Mode’ – a driving setting that optimises the four-wheel drive system to work best over tricky surfaces at low speeds and includes hill descent control – and you’re away.
Despite its sporty looks and normal road tyres, it’s remarkably capable, making mincemeat of deep mud tracks and slippery hills. I also have no doubt that it will cope with fairly deep flooding too because I’ve driven the previous model through a shallow river.
Subaru XV: the verdict
Historically, Subaru has always had a bit of a problem. Its 4x4s are so dependable that owners tend to keep them for years, which means that they don’t come back every few years to buy a new model. For this reason, Subaru is also reaching out to younger, cooler customers looking for a combination of go-anywhere capability, safety, comfort, practicality and durability.
The new Subaru XV is a huge step-up from the outgoing model and deserves to be on your SUV shortlist if you want to stand out from the crowd and drive a car that takes everything in its stride – from the school run to a forest mud track.