Niche is the word for the 2017 Subaru XV 2.0i-L Premium.
In its second generation the XV remains a lifted-up and plastic-clad version of the Japanese brand’s Impreza small hatchback, so it technically isn’t a small SUV.
Yet with a permanent all-wheel drive system, excellent ground clearance of 220mm, and even a hill-descent control system, it promises to me more off-road capable than small SUV models such as a Mazda CX-3 or Toyota C-HR.
This middle-specification 2.0i-L Premium costs just over $30K, too, so depending on the perspective it really is either one expensive lifted-hatch, or an affordable SUV…
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $32,140 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 115kW/196Nm 2.0 four-cylinder petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.0 l/100km | Tested: 8.5 l/100km
The XV 2.0i-L Premium is well-equipped for $32,140 plus on-road costs, or $36,724 driveaway (in Sydney) according to Subaru’s online pricing calculator. For the $1800 premium over the standard 2.0i-L, the Premium adds integrated satellite navigation and a sunroof plus several other cabin features listed in the section below.
Its closest rival is the similarly raised Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 132TSI, which is based on the wagon version of that small car, not the hatch as the XV is to Impreza. It costs $35,990 driveaway, and while it lacks this Subaru’s sunroof and adaptive cruise control, it gains automatic headlights/wipers and rear-view mirror dimming.
The Volkswagen also gets a larger boot and stronger engine, but without quite the ground clearance. The question now is whether that’s enough to more highly recommend the newer Subaru.
In the ‘proper’ SUV segment, meanwhile, an equivalent petrol all-wheel drive Mazda CX-3 sTouring is $1150 cheaper than this 2.0i-L Premium, while scoring 18-inch alloy wheels (versus 17s here), digital radio, head-up display and auto headlights; although it lacks this model’s adaptive cruise control and sunroof, and gets less ground clearance, less rear legroom and a smaller boot to, err, boot.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, cloth trim, adaptive cruise control, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearshifter, electric-folding door mirrors and electric sunroof.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, twin USB inputs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, satellite navigation with voice control, and voice control.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 310 litres.
Subaru has taken the Impreza’s nicely finished and well-built interior, then added some real funk and flair, plus a slightly higher driving position.
Simple additions such as textured cloth trim, made from then a durable material that could be found on a Kathmandu backpack, lift the ambience considerably.
The soft-touch plastic and faux-leather dashboard remain, though the orange stitching likewise raises the game and better complements the trio of colour screens.
The 6.1-inch top widescreen displays the usual EyeSight driver assistance features, leaving the 8.0-inch high-resolution centre touchscreen to display its square audio, phone, nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto tiles, which couldn’t be easier to use; while the colour trip screen ahead of the driver also includes a digital speedometer.
Raised seating even seems to have fixed the Impreza’s driving position issue that tilts the seat base too far forward. It usually takes an electrically adjustable option (standard on top-spec Impreza 2.0i-S and XV 2.0i-S ) to solve the problem, but the XV’s front pews are both supportive to thighs as well as being cushy.
Further back and this Subaru isn’t quite so impressive. Rear legroom is generous, but headroom is only reasonable – this 178cm-tall tester’s head just misses the roof.
There are also no rear air-vents, which are standard in the Golf Alltrack, and there’s only basic 60:40 split-fold flexibility to improve on the very tight boot space.
With a rated capacity of 310 litres, the XV is more capacious than only some of the small SUV set, beating a Mazda CX-3 (264L) but not a Toyota C-HR (377L). For something priced like the Golf Alltrack 132TSI it also gives up near-half of the Volkswagen’s 605L boot. Indeed, even a Golf hatch is more capacious, at 395L.
What it means is the Subaru’s cabin is really only good for two front passengers plus camping luggage; or four people with a restrained weekend-getaway packing ethos.
ON AND OFF ROAD
- Engine: 115kW/196Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
It takes less distance than an around-the-block test drive to realise the Subaru XV’s suspension tune bests the Impreza’s. This isn’t a new phenomenon, though, given the brand’s medium-sized Outback also trumps the Liberty on which it’s also based.
At low speed the 2.0i-L Premium’s ride quality does suffer the same slightly abrupt jolting sensation that afflicts its lower hatchback sibling; and, at the other end of the scale, at higher speeds it suffers from a bit of body float.
Everywhere else, however, the raised XV also raises the comfort stakes, leveraging the benefits of its broader tyres with nicely soothing and supple responses whether travelling over chopped-up urban arterial roads or successive dirt-road corrugations.
The steering of this Subaru is also among the finest the brand has delivered, with nicely mid-weighted and consistent response from just off the slightly vacant centre position. Its direct and linear nature also means a driver need never second-guess or adjust the amount of turn required – just pick a line, and the XV will track true.
Add in rather impressive refinement – both in terms of wind, road and engine noise – and a surprisingly energetic chassis, and the 2.0i-L Premium doesn’t even need to default to impressing off road to shine.
Before it gets off the beaten track, however, a flaw emerges: the engine.
There is nothing especially wrong with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer petrol unit itself, which delivers 115kW of power at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4400rpm. However, that latter figure simply struggles to deal the portly 1474kg kerb weight, which is 50kg heavier than the Impreza with the same engine.
It makes for a miserly torque-to-weight ratio of 132Nm per tonne, which is beaten by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder Swift at 133Nm per tonne. The Suzuki costs half the price of this XV, and also teams with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
For greater perspective, a 1.8-litre turbo Golf Alltrack delivers 189Nm per tonne.
The Subaru engine must pay its CVT dues, though, because the calibration of both the auto and throttle in this XV enhances its driveability.
Step-off acceleration – from traffic lights – is immediate, but sink the throttle more firmly and there’s little to be found. When overtaking, the slow-revving 2.0-litre feels as though it’s gasping for air.
This is the slowest vehicle in the class, and around town consumption of 12.0 litres per 100 kilometres only lowered to 8.8L/100km after a countryside/off-road testing.
Speaking of which, the permanent four-wheel drive setup proved more than adept in crawling over obstacles on an off-road course. The XV has an X-Mode button that lets the electronics portion torque from between a fixed 50:50 and 95:5 front-to-rear; though with never more than 50 per cent of drive going to the rear.
And with ground clearance of 225mm, only a larger, similarly priced but entry-level Toyota RAV4 GX comes close with 215mm of space between its body and the dirt. Despite sitting 20mm higher than a Golf, the Alltrack version pales at 175mm, while a CX-3 is even lower at 160mm. Rock-hopping really is the XV’s greatest advantage.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Subaru XV scored 35.80 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, rear-view camera, lane-departure warning and forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Annual or 12,500km intervals with expensive capped-price pricing of $348.30 (first), $601.59 (second) and $348.30 (third) to three years or 37,500km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A CX-3 is faster and more fun, but is even more cramped and it can’t go far off-road.
The CH-R can’t venture far either, but it bests the XV for space and on-road finesse while matching it for quality and refinement.
With a 50:50 differential lock, the RAV4 would rival the Subaru off the beaten track, and it trades (a lot of) equipment for (a lot of) extra space.
Perhaps the best balance of all things, however, really is the Golf Alltrack, with a superb engine, classy cabin, impressive space and competitive pricing.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
How much does 225mm of ground clearance mean to buyers? It’s the best reason to pick the Subaru XV 2.0-L Premium over some jacked-up wagon or small SUV rivals.
It also means a buyer can have more equipment for the money than a bigger, base model RAV4 that would best challenge it for light off-roading.
Conversely, however, this Subaru lacks rear room, and it is slow for the price. The rest of the package is so compelling that the addition of the brand’s 1.6-litre turbo – as available in the Levorg wagon – could add another star to the XV’s score.
With a nicely furnished cabin, excellent infotainment and active safety technologies, mostly impressive ride comfort, surprisingly fun handling, and decent off-road capability, the 2.0i-L Premium certainly deserves that finishing touch.
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