THE XV is Subaru’s smallest SUV.
THE XV is Subaru’s smallest SUV. They’re good at this sort of thing – building capable, solid and dependable off-roaders, and the XV is probably one of the lesser-known models in its fleet, but it’s pitching itself in a very important market.
This, the latest version, has seen quite a few tweaks and it’s one of the motoring world’s more successful “nip and tucks”. From the exterior, despite only a mild makeover, it looks much more rugged and purposeful.
It’s a little bit longer and wider than the predecessor, which is down to a new platform that will underpin all new Subarus from now on, and will make way for some possible hybrid or even electric versions somewhere down the line.
But for now the XV comes with Subaru’s trademark flat four boxer engine. This is coupled to a meaty permanent four-wheel drive system that’s one of the most capable setups in its sector.
There’s a lot to like about the XV. As I’ve already said, it looks good. The interior is nice and a huge improvement over earlier Subaru cockpits, with plenty of gadgets bundled in, including some well-designed safety tech.
True to the marque’s off-road heritage, there’s some electronic trickery designed to get you out of trouble if the going gets tough. It’s built around an “X-Drive” system which includes things like a differential lock and hill-descent control.
To be truthful, it’s nothing we don’t now see on other cars, but you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll work on this car – and it’ll work well.
I was once guided round an off-road circuit in the previous XV and it’s remarkable to see what’s achievable in a car that otherwise feels very conventional. That’s always been a Subaru trait and it’s not been lost on this newcomer.
And there’s another plus point for the XV. The ride and handling are surprisingly good. Often jacked-up cars with ground clearance built for skipping over rocks and branches fall to pieces on the road but the XV is sure-footed. The steering is improved over the last version and it soaks up long, mundane journeys very well.
The engine choice is limited and, to be honest, the powertrain is this car’s Achilles heel. My test car came with the top-spec two-litre boxer petrol engine and it’s not short on classic Subaru character, but 154bhp simply isn’t enough these days, not when it goes through a 4×4 system. In a world where turbocharging is very much the norm, this engine feels past its best.
What makes matters worse is the CVT automatic gearbox you have to go with. These continuously variable systems bring economy benefits, but they offer nothing for the spirited driver. Press on and it sounds like a clutch is slipping. The revs flail about and the noise increases, but progress is steady. With a bit more power it might be less tedious, but unless you pootle around everywhere at no more than 40mph you might tire of it. I did.
Thankfully there’s plenty of other aspects of the car to like. I like the entry price of just over £24,000 and I like its individuality. I like the fact it feels robust and it’s bound to be reliable.
For some people, these are the sort of things that matter. The new XV is a big improvement over the old one, considering it doesn’t look all that different.
It might have some tough competition these days and I suspect its overall appeal will be a bit “niche”, but Subaru fans will be pleased with the XV’s evolution. It’s well worth a look.