Rugged Subaru XV hatch impresses

SUBARU XV: That's not '15' by the way, though the car does look rugged enough to play rugby.
SUBARU XV: That's not '15' by the way, though the car does look rugged enough to play rugby.

Subaru's XV can be quite comfortable with its $38,990 starter sticker, as when compared with the Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai's ix35, Kia Sportage and Nissan's Qashqai, it out-shoots them all for equipment, price or both.

All XVs have all-wheel-drive, while you have to ask and pay for it in three of the others, and in the otherwise impressive Nissan's case, you can't get all-wheel drive. Not only that, the XV comes with useful-looking alloy wheels as standard.

The XV's also as fresh as a daisy, while the others are two years old at least, and despite being being eminently capable in each case, the market loves a newcomer. Especially when it looks as rugged as the XV does, being as it is an Impreza dipped in protective plastic, with a ride- height hike, a more powerful new flat-four donk, and a nice new continuously variable transmission set-up.

TOUGH HATCH: XV retains the chunky looks lost from new Outback models and puts them to good effect while inside it is roomy and functional with good quality materials.
TOUGH HATCH: XV retains the chunky looks lost from new Outback models and puts them to good effect while inside it is roomy and functional with good quality materials.

The CVT's worth talking about on its own. Where most CVTs use metal belts that look flimsy enough to be made by the same people who supply suspenders for gamblers' and sub-editors' sagging shirt-sleeves, Subaru's new transmission uses a belt that looks like it could be employed as an auxiliary tank-track.

There was a bit of a whine from the transmission when stamping on the throttle from lower speeds, but if you'd seen the belt you'd have understood.

I was pleased with the way the CVT was able to keep the engine in the fat part of its torque curve and on the pitted shingle roads of my test drive, the car's ability to surf along on its torque was impressive, the transmission effecting a "soft" connection between the driver's right foot and the contact patch. This gave a good rendering of traction and mechanical grip, and was reinforced by the electric power steering which was unerringly tidy in terms of its responses: even those with little experience could negotiate a back road without feeling out of their depth.

Ride quality was well-sorted, too, with the extra clearance well- used by Subaru to give the XV a good long damping stroke at all four corners. That said, the car never felt floaty or detached from proceedings. I was impressed.

As I was with the look of this ruggedised Impreza, which has the same chunky look that earlier Outback models used to have.

With the latest Outback looking very apologetic compared with earlier models, I was glad to see that the XV marks a return to form for the Subaru, making the new car look as tough as nails.

That extra height is real, too. I'm getting old now, and it was good to slide easily into the front seats and not to have to groan as I used both arms to help haul myself out of them.

It was passable in the rear, too, with , that same easy slide-out access and a pleasing view around the car and through the windows.

While the tombstone effect of the rear seat headrests got in the way of the rearward sector of the driver's all-round view, it was much better than the thicker- pillared ix35 and Sportage models in this respect.

Rear seat space is adequate for full-sized adults, rather than roomy - probably the result of the car having a 10-millimetre shorter wheelbase than the Impreza model, which comes here next year.

Why this should be so, I don't know, but the car isn't that tall for an SUV or crossover or whatever you want to all it, at 1615mm including roof rails, though its overall width is 40mm up on the Impreza and it is 35mm longer. This provides a 340-litre bootspace seats-up, which can be expanded to 1230 litres with the seats folded down.

Occupants will find the front of the XV roomy and well-organised. Both front seats are well-shaped and comfortably supportive, and the driver's position, with two- place steering adjustment, is eminently flexible.

The dash and fascia is more conventional than the old Impreza's and easy to fathom, which is more than I can say about the standard sat-nav available with the upper-echelon XV models. It's totally non- intuitive, and I'd prefer a plug-in TomTom device instead, which is a far less maddening device to use and cheaper than opting for the model with built-in sat-nav fitted.

The entry-point manual XV 2.0i is $38,990, with CVT transmission asking another $2000.

For $44,990, the CVT-only XV 2.0i-L adds a sunroof, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and a leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob.

Another $4000 for the XV 2.0i-S throws-in leather trim, a power driver's seat, and heated front chairs, along with silver roof rails, chromed door handles, high- discharge headlights and drilled alloy pedals. The top model also gets door-mirror indicator repeaters, which is one item that should really go into all versions.

The XV is an attractive new entry from Subaru. It now looks far tougher than the Outback, and judging by its performance using its 220mm ground clearance, I'd say it is more suited to off-road work than the larger car.

Neatly responsive, pleasingly refined and well-sorted in terms of its chassis, all the XV needs now is a version of Subaru's excellent diesel engine under its nose.

That will eventually come, but only for our market when it can be mated to a good CVT. In the meantime, the XV in petrol form will do very nicely, thanks.


Drivetrain: Fuel-injected, 1995cc DOHC 16v flat-four, six- speed manual or lineartronic CVT.

Performance: 110kW at 6200rpm, 196Nm at 4200rpm. Max 201kmh, 0-100kmh 10.5 to 10.7secs, 7.0 to 7.3L/100km, 162 to 168g/km CO2.

Chassis: Fully independent, by front McPherson struts, and rear double wishbones, electric power steering, 17-inch alloy wheels.

Safety: Seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain, and drivers knee), ABS, electronic stability control, front-side, curtain and drivers' knee airbags, reversing camera, isofix child seating, 5-star NCAP rating.

Dimensions: L 4450mm, W 1780mm, H 1615mm, W/base 2635mm, F/track 1525mm, R/track 1525mm, Weight 1390 to 1420kg, Fuel 60L.

Pricing: XV 2.0i $38,990 (man), $40,990 (auto), XV 2.0i-L $44,990, XV 2.0i-S $48,990.

Hot: Chunky looks; smooth flexibility; ride quality; neutral handling; value; quality of build.

Not: Awful sat-nav set-up; polarising orange option (we loved it!).

Verdict: Has New Zealand written right through it. Why can't the Outback look this tough any more?

The Press