The Subaru XV once occupied the gap between the Forester and the Impreza, but does it still? The key, finds Charlie Flindt, is in the suspension
The Subaru XV has always suffered from an identity crisis, says Charlie Flindt, who finds the latest model nicely old fashioned and even prompting a grin on Hampshire clay.
For more from Subaru, read our review of the Subaru Forester 2.0D XC.
Subaru’s XV has always seemed to suffer from an identity crisis. Is it an SUV? A ‘crossover’? For most of its life it has been a five-door hatchback with raised suspension and four-wheel drive, occupying the clear blue water between the bigger Subaru’s (Forester and Legacy/Levorg) and the blue and gold delinquents of the Impreza range.
That clear blue water has drained somewhat now that Subaru has told the Impreza to grow up and stop being a spoiler-clad hooligan. It’s now a sensible, five-door hatchback with four-wheel drive. But where does that leave the XV?
The key element is the raised suspension, which does two things: first, it makes the XV one of the easiest cars to hop in and out of; second, combined with the trademark four-wheel drive it is a brilliant off-roader – but we’ll come to that later.
Once you’ve hopped in, it’s all nicely old fashioned. There’s a perfect driving position, really comfortable seats and unfashionably slim pillars. The view out is, as a result, first rate, helped by the raised suspension. The dashboard is simple, the centre console a bit monolithic. I like a temperature gauge in an off-roader but there isn’t one here.
Subaru ditched diesel boxer engines some time ago and has thrown itself enthusiastically into the ‘hybrid’ sector; my test XV featured this new ‘dual power’ technology. It works relatively well, although it’s still unnerving to see a rev counter for the flat-four occasionally drop to ‘zero’. And it makes strange noises as it processes information and decides how it’s going to get going again.
There’s more of an issue with the ‘stepped CVT’ gearbox, which Subaru (alone) seems so fond of. It’s indecisive and often gives the impression of a slipping clutch. However, it does at least let the engine rev freely – a rarity these days. That means you can press on in the XV, and very rewarding it is, too. It’s stable and nippy – it may be high but there’s not a lot to it – and 50mph is great fun. There is a slight issue of fuel economy under these conditions, however, which makes a mockery of any ‘green’ credentials. The trip computer suggested mpg in the low thirties. If it could have coughed disapprovingly, it would have.
But press the ‘X-mode’ button and the XV engages all sorts of hi-tech wizardry, multiple TLAs kicking in to monitor and adjust engine settings and wheelspin. As much as I’m a drive-train dinosaur, I have to admit that it works fantastically. I was out in October-soaked fields and couldn’t resist a bit of hooning in the Hampshire clay, grinning and cackling as I palmed the wheel from one lock to the other. For five fantastic minutes I was Petter Solberg, the paint scheme was blue and gold, and mid Hants was transported deep into the Finnish forests. Luckily, no one saw me; it would have done little to enhance Subaru’s new ‘grown-up’ image.
SUBARU XV 20.i SE Premium e-Boxer Lineartronic
♦ Engine: 1,995cc 4-cyl ‘boxer’/Lithium ion battery
♦ Power: 150PS
♦ Max speed: 120mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 10.7 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 35.7mpg
♦ Insurance group: 16
♦ Price: £33,655