The 2017 Subaru XV promises to be a genuine freedom machine when it arrives in Australia, born from a long line of all-wheel drive vehicles that have forged a reputation for reliability and off-road capability.
After all, just look at it. With bright shades of orange, red, or a subdued but serious steely blue (oddly called khaki by Subaru) fill the colour palette contrasted by chunky black wheel arch protection, butched-up bumpers, and raised stance all make the XV look like one tough customer.
Of course beneath the tough-guy looks the new XV has a more sensitive side: Based off the newest Impreza hatch, the XV also carries over Subaru’s smart new interior design and the built-in refinement and handling improvements of the company’s Subaru Global Platform chassis structure.
As an introduction, Subaru invited TMR to the town of Karuizawa, in the mountains near Nagano, Japan, to put the new XV through its paces before it arrives in Australia around the middle of this year.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $30,000-$38,000 (estimated)
Engine/trans: 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | CVT automatic
Unlike the outgoing model the new generation ditches a manual transmission in the wake of falling sales, and long-time Subaru fans might be dismayed to hear that a low-range transfer case won’t be making a return either.
That’s fine for the XV’s target audience though, which Subaru describes as fashionable and urban, but with a streak of adventure that sees them head out of town to discover new horizons regularly enough to warrant the extra capability, but not so often they they need to be driving anything too cumbersome.
Subaru also identifies a niche between small SUVs like the Honda HR-V and Holden Trax which are based off light hatches like the Jazz and Barina (and therefore offer similar interior space and are limited to front wheel drive only) and medium SUVs like the the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan which might be considered a little too large for urban dwellers.
Subaru’s latest interior design moves the brand on a long way from the outgoing XV. As with other elements of the XV the basic interior architecture is closely related to that of the Impreza with some unique touches and trims to set the two apart.
For XV that means a liberal application of orange contrast stitching on the dash, doors, and seats as well as available orange trim inserts on some models in Japan - Australia is still to make the call on which models will score the same.
Importantly the fresh dash looks modern and premium, with a well integrated design that sets major functions out logically and combines an upper display screen, large (up to 8.0-inch) touchscreen, and multi-function colour instrument display with bright, clear graphics.
Interior space has also been massaged to allow a more comfortable rear seat with added foot room, while up front there’s wide, comfy seats and available power adjustment for the driver.
Final specifications for Australia are still to be confirmed, but expect the XV to adopt a similar model spread to the Impreza range which suggests a smaller touchscreen,17-inch alloy wheels and cloth trim for the base model, growing to include an upsized infotainment system, leather trim, a sunroof, and 18-inch wheels as likely features.
ON THE ROAD
As with the closely related Impreza, the XV is built atop the new Subaru Global Platform - the brand’s first truly new chassis architecture in over 20 years. Similarly the XV’s engine and transmission are also carbon copies of its hatch sibling.
In Australia that means a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine in Subaru’s traditional horizontally-opposed layout, which helps keep the centre of gravity low, and paired with Subaru’s well-sorted Lineartronic CVT automatic.
Power is rated at 115kW, a slight 5kW boost compared to the previous XV and with torque holding steady at196Nm, the same as before. Buyers holding out for the 1.6-litre turbo motor from the Japanese Levorg (good for 125kW and 250Nm) needn’t bother, Subaru’s product team in Japan insist it won’t appear in the XV - nor will the 2.0-litre turbo motor from the Forester XT or WRX.
On the short road loop around Karuizawa that Subaru had mapped out for the XV’s launch initial signs are promising. The engine, for the most part, seems smooth and quiet, and the Lineartronic CVT still leads competitors for this type of transmission, though it can’t quite match the driving feel of a regular automatic and exhibited lazy kickdown response at cruising speeds.
The biggest difference between the old XV and the new is the way the high-riding hatch handles. Subaru went to great lengths to increase torsional rigidity of the SGP chassis, meaning less flex over changing surfaces, with particular attention given to the strength of suspension mounting points.
That translates to greater handling accuracy as the suspension does the job it’s supposed to, rather than converting bumps into body movement and reducing handling accuracy.
Final ride and handling impressions will have to wait until the car arrives in Australia, with the Japanese specifications vehicles tested here riding on a 20mm lower suspension than Australian-delivered cars will receive - the upside is that local cars will retain the same 220mm of ground clearance as before making them more useful in rough conditions.
Local roads will also be the place to see how well suppressed road noise is, though initial signs are promising, even on the new, larger 18-inch wheel package available on high-end variants.
Away from the beaten path, Subaru has also added X-mode from the Forester to the XV for the first time, which adjusts the stability control and all wheel drive system responses to suit low grip conditions better.
To demonstrate the system a muddy loop both up and down hill showed off the all-paw traction and hill descent control, as well as giving an indication of the kind of terrain the the high-riding XV will be able to tackle. Though it may not be a ‘serious’ off roader, the XV certainly has enough adventure-ability to get down and dirty.
The new XV is a thoroughly decent car, with bold chunky styling in the image of an SUV, but enough city-centric style and a more compact feel to appeal to a broad cross section of buyers.
If the final handling tune comes close to that of the Japanese-market cars tested here buyers should find little to complain about either, though arguably some might find the naturally aspirated engine a little underpowered and others (though in declining numbers) are sure to pine for a manual or diesel option - neither of which are destined for the XV.
But a strong focus on safety, with Subaru’s EyeSight safety systems, and a much more premium interior layout should see the XV continue its successful streak as one of Subaru's best sellers with the potential to grow sales even further in the booming local SUV market.
MORE: Subaru News and Reviews