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Tony O'Kane | Jan, 25 2012 | 128 Comments


Bigger, bolder and brimming with equipment, the new 2012 Subaru XV is now in Australia - and it’s gunning for a significant slice of the compact SUV market.

Previous iterations of the XV existed only as variants within the Impreza hatchback range, but for the 2012 model year, Subaru has launched the XV badge as a separate, standalone offering.

The 2012 XV’s sheetmetal, engine and many suspension components may be shared with the Impreza hatchback (due to launch here next month), but there are now six XV variants to choose from, rather than just two.

Starting the range is the $28,490 XV 2.0i manual, which costs $1000 more than the outgoing 2011 Impreza XV manual, but packs more standard equipment like engine start-stop, a reversing camera and driver’s knee airbag.

The flagship is the XV 2.0-S with the optional CVT automatic. It costs a substantial $36,990, but comes standard with dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, HID headlamps, leather upholstery, a sunroof and heated front seats.

All models get a drastically-improved interior, which is intelligently laid out and features a soft-touch dash, window sills and padded door armrests.

A stretched wheelbase has also done wonders for the XV. The back seat now features loads of legroom for adults, and there’s ample headroom even on sunroof-equipped models.

The centre seatbelt spool has been relocated to improve rearward vision, however the boot capacity of 310 litres is well under that of many other small hatches. The latter can be blamed on the space-saver tyre, which is larger than typical space-savers and pushes the boot floor up.


Sales strategy

Compared to some in the segment, the XV is expensive, however every XV variant has AWD as standard (and most competitor's entry-level offerings are 2WD).

According to Subaru’s marketing chief, Andrew Caie, when the XV's pricing is adjusted for spec, it represents better value than key rivals Nissan's Dualis, the Mitsubishi ASX and Hyundai ix35. That's something for you to judge against your budget.

Also a plus, it’s more fuel efficient than those competitors, despite being AWD.

The CVT-equipped XV consumes just 7.0 l/100km on the comined cycle, and the manual uses 7.3 l/100km. For comparison, the 2WD Dualis ST CVT drinks 8.2 l/100km.

The XV is lighter than most of its rivals, in some cases by up to 240kg. It rides higher too, and can go further off the beaten track thanks to its 220mm of ground clearance

With this combination of fuel efficiency and versatility, Subaru believes the XV will sell in healthy volumes in Australia - especially the highly-specced SV 2.0i-S.

Around 500 sales per month are expected, and with sales in the sub-compact SUV segment nearly doubling in the past two years Subaru expects there’s plenty of opportunity for the XV to capture a significant slice of that market.

The XV is also expected to attract a different buyer to the Subaru brand. The age of the typical Subaru buyer tends to range between the mid-40s and mid-50s, however the XV is targeted at a younger crowd.

Although there’s some significant price overlap with the Forester (which starts at $30,990), Subaru doesn’t expect the arrival of the XV to cannibalise Forester sales. The difference in size sets the two apart, with the Forester pitched squarely at families rather than young couples.


The Drive

The XV’s powertrains and transmissions are all-new, although you’d be forgiven for thinking the XV’s 2.0 litre flat-four is a carryover unit.

Power and torque figures for the new FB20 engine are exactly the same as the preceding EJ20 (110kW, 196Nm), however internal measurements have changed to give the FB20 a longer stroke and the camshafts are now chain-driven instead of belt-driven.

There are friction-reducing measures designed to improve the mechanical efficiency of the engine, and lighter components to boost engine response. The FB20 wasn’t designed to chase bigger power numbers, but rather to improve fuel economy.

On the road, there’s a clearly discernable difference between the FB20 and the old-tech EJ20. The new engine revs more freely right up to its 6500rpm redline, and the low-rpm torque hole of the outgoing EJ20 is nowhere to be found in the FB20.

It does, however, feel a bit sluggish - particularly up hills. The gearing in the six-speed manual transmission is quite tall, and there’s a big gap between second and third gear.

Coupled with the engine’s lowish torque output, the result is slow acceleration and a significant loss of momentum up moderate inclines when in higher gears at highway speed.

The engine is much perkier above 4000rpm though, so dropping back a gear or two and feeding in more revs helps get around the XV’s torque deficiency.

While the engine might not excite much, the chassis is more than entertaining.

The use of STI-sourced ball-joints in the rear lower suspension-arms improves handling precision, and the XV feels a lot more alert and agile than its competitors.

In other words, while it might look like a jacked-up crossover, it definitely doesn’t handle like one. It was particularly competent on the gravel roads we sampled at the XV’s Tasmanian launch.

Stability and braking performance is good on both sealed and unsealed roads, and the VDC cuts in as soon as any slip is detected.

The manual feels more neutral thanks to its 50:50 torque split, while the front-biased 60:40 split of the CVT tended to induce more understeer - particularly on gravel.

We also noticed that deep corrugations induced a fair amount of rack rattle in the CVT-equipped XV we drove; it was absent however in the manual cars.

That aside, the CVT dealt with inclines better and had a spread of ratios more suited to the XV’s output, however it emitted a constant whine whenever the engine was under any load.

The engine start-stop feature works a charm in the city, with a quick start-up time regardless of transmission (CVT or manual).

A screen in the XV’s multi-function display also displays how long the start-stop system has been active, and on a typical workday commute the system could save a substantial amount of fuel.



Subaru might be onto a winner with the XV - on this first look, we’d rate it one of the best of the sub-compact SUVs.

It’s not the cheapest, but every model in the range soundly beats its competitors for value-for-money. There’s plenty of equipment in the XV that simply isn’t available in other small SUVs at the same price point.

It could definitely do with more torque or shorter gearing (we think a turbocharged or diesel variant would make sense), but it handles, brakes and steers well, and the interior is a significant step up compared to the old Impreza XV.

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