Review

2018 Subaru XV Review: First Drive

  • 2.0i-S 
  • | $35,240 
  • | Ancap : 5/5

the verdict

Pros

  • Great rugged, stylish looks
  • Well-judged ride quality
  • Good value for money

Cc rating

7.4/10

cons

  • Underpowered two-litre engine
  • Fairly high fuel use
  • Rear AEB only on top model
Review
Photos
Specs

Editor
2 months ago

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Subaru XV. This is a car that really speaks to Subaru’s brand values of ruggedness and utility – plus, it’s heartening to see buyers choosing a toughened-up hatch instead of a rather unnecessary SUV. An all-new XV has now hit Australian shores – and Subaru already have strong orders from buyers after more capability than most small cars can offer. About a thousand sales per month are expected going forward, too. The new Impreza – which the XV is based on – is selling about that number, too. But while small cars are a shrinking market, cars classed as SUVs – including the XV – represent big growth potential. It’s not surprising that Subaru’s local boss Colin Christie told Chasing Cars he’s “even more excited about the XV”, which alongside its Outback and Forester ‘SUV’ siblings, are Subaru’s most important cars. But is the 2018 Subaru XV any good?


We drove the new XV across mixed Australian landscapes, from frosted and freezing fields in the Snowy Mountains to the coastal roads of the New South Wales south coast. It was an experience that quickly revealed a few key insights into the car. It’s a strong improvement on the outgoing XV, with the all-new Subaru platform underpinning the new model offering a comfortable, compliant and surprisingly engaging drive on-road. The XV is also pretty remarkable off-road – as tested on a tailor-made dirt course – with the standard X-Mode all-wheel-drive programme making a real difference. Inside, the XV is comfortable, and it’s generously equipped and decently priced, kicking off at $27,990.


2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Orange rear end – Chasing Cars


But it isn’t all rosy. The XV handles satisfyingly well, but it is held back by its inadequate engine. It’s an all-new 115kW two-litre but it works hard to earn its keep, building pace off the line noisily, before straining to maintain that speed on faster uphill stretches. It gets thirsty, too. Driven sedately, it’s just sufficient, but drivers wanting to extract good performance won’t love it. Given the excellent ride and good handling of the new XV, it deserves a more generous engine. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol used in Subaru’s Levorg wagon would probably be a good fit.


Of course, many of the XV’s buyers won’t be put off by the dated-feeling engine and that’s easy to understand: there is so much to like about the car, including the strong value on offer. The $27,990 base model looks cool and is well-equipped, while attractive mid-range grades add key safety features and creature comforts, before the range is capped by the $35,240 and lavishly equipped 2.0i-S flagship. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad spot throughout the range, though the $30,340 2.0i-L is the likely sweet spot.


You can expect to see the XV marketed in a number of innovative ways, too, as Subaru looks to target outdoorsy millenials. Aside from the traditional dealership experience, this is a car you can build, order and pay for online – though a modest 1% of sales will be generated this way, that number will inevitably climb over time as buyers get more comfortable with buying a car this way. It’ll be present at new Subaru-sponsored events like the Color Run, and the brand are even supplying more than 100 new XVs to DriveMyCar, a service that mainly supplies Uber drivers with brand new cars – a fascinating way to put the vehicle in front of hundreds of ‘riders’ daily.


2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Orange Front End – Chasing Cars

DRIVE

6.5/10

The XV picks up the same all-new 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol used in the new Impreza hatch and sedan. This might be a new engine, but it feels relatively out-of-date, foregoing the turbocharging many rival small SUVs, like the Toyota C-HR, have adopted. The power and torque figures of of 115kW at 6,000rpm and 192Nm at 4,000rpm don’t look too shabby on paper, but out on the road the XV feels pretty slow and sluggish, requiring a real bootful to pick up speed quickly. That’s reflected in the acceleration numbers. The XV takes 10.4 seconds to reach 100km/h, compared to 7.8 seconds in the turbocharged Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 132TSI.

It’s a bigger car with a beefed-up all-wheel-drive system, so the XV is saddled with about 63 kilograms of extra mass over the Impreza, so the two-litre works even harder for its keep here. On a country road, an incline sees the revs shoot to 4,000rpm to maintain 110km/h as the engine searches for torque. Overall, the two-litre provides a loud experience that also gets thirsty. Our 200km first drive was all-rural, where you expect good, low fuel consumption. Our actual economy of 8.5L/100km is concerning, given the XV’s official combined fuel economy rating is just 7L/100km. At least the petrol tank is a useful 63 litres.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0-litre engine – Chasing Cars

Now that this realistic assessment of the XV’s engine and fuel economy is out of the way, we can turn to the remainder of this car’s driving experience – which is all extremely positive.

A conventionally-variable transmission is now the sole gearbox on the XV. Driving enthusiasts will miss the manual option, which accounted for 13% of sales in the old car, but Subaru have worked hard on their Lineartronic CVT ‘box, and it shows. It’s unobtrustive, and it’s now much quieter. There’s no disconcerting operational whine anymore, and the CVT automatically imitates a traditional stepped auto when you accelerate hard, avoiding the hateful over-revving noise of older CVTs. All XVs have paddle shifters, too, which work well on downshifting but sadly, if you stab the throttle the Subaru will overrule your gear selection.

That said, while the XV’s CVT is solid as a CVT goes, it still trails a good torque converter or a double-clutch automatic for feel and engagement. The CVT remains an inferior type of automatic gearbox, especially given it does not deliver here on its main selling point: superior fuel economy.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S orange driving – Chasing Cars

After the Impreza, the XV is the second Subaru to sit on the brand’s new Global Platform, which makes an incredible difference to the new car’s dynamics. It’s super-rigid – overall rigidity is up more than 70% on the outgoing model – and you feel every part of this out on the road.

The new chassis is creamy, allowing both engaging handling and, with the right tuning, a very good quality of ride in the XV. We say ‘with the right tuning’, as the Impreza suffered from strange suspension damping that led to a pogo-like effect after striking big road imperfections. That has been banished from the Australian-tuned XV suspension, which is nothing short of expertly-judged. This car is supple on the road and even comfortable on pockmarked gravel, where it rebounds from big hits in a soft but short manner.

The XV’s steering is relatively neutral in weight, managing to avoid the too-light and artificial feel of the larger Outback’s rack. In fact, the XV feeds a relatively good level of engagement through the steering wheel when stringing together a series of corners. As this vehicle rides higher than the Impreza there is body roll, but the weight transfer is predictable and actually quite pleasant.

Good visibility from the driver’s seat makes the XV easy to drive around town and on the open road. Sight lines are excellent, thanks to plenty of glass, and large wing mirrors. The increased ride height is most obvious from behind the wheel, where you sit high. This is particularly helpful when negotiating off-road trails, where the XV’s enhanced all-wheel-drive system really comes into its own.

2018 Subaru XV 18-inch wheels – Chasing Cars

The Impreza brings permanent all-wheel-drive to the table but the XV increases its capability with a standard-fit system called X-Mode, which boosts computing power for the torque and transmission control. X-Mode automatically adjusts throttle applications for the amount of slip being experienced, while allowing the CVT to distribute power 50/50 to the front and rear. X-Mode also enhances the XV’s front and rear limited-slip differential locks.

We tested this on a fairly ambitious ascent and descent course built out of a quarry. X-Mode makes off-roading incredibly easy, and the XV feels like a little mountain goat. Despite the petrol engine’s relative shortcomings on tarmac, off-road it has sufficient oomph to make progress up steep ascents. When coming back down, the standard Hill Descent Control is easy and effective, while the 220mm ride height is useful and beats all of the XV’s rivals. Subaru’s claim that the XV is the ‘genuine’ small SUV rings true out here.

On the safety front, the 2.0i base model soldiers on without adaptive safety, but all the other models starting with the $30,340 2.0i-L gain Subaru’s EyeSight suite, which includes autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, and lane keep assist. Apart from relatively incessant beeping upon detecting objects, the systems work fluently, with the lane keep actually working above the official 100km/h maximum speed.

Blind spot monitoring, and a new-to-Subaru feature – rearwards autonomous emergency braking – are restricted to the $35,240 top-shelf 2.0i-S model, however, which feels a bit mean. Local managing director Christie told us it’s to allow the brand to absorb the cost of rear AEB before allowing it to trickle down the rest of the XV range. Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later.

COMFORT

7.5/10

When we drove the Impreza range we were really pleased with the improvements to its interior, which jumped from only average in the small car class to one of the best. The XV has picked up the same interior, plus a few XV-only flourishes, like orange stitching on the seats, across the dashboard, and on the boot of the gear shifter. The stitching looks great.

It’s a comfortable place to be. Subaru’s local managing director of marketing, Amanda Leaney, told Chasing Cars that there was a defined goal to lift the XV’s levels of seating comfort, and that effort has paid off. And while the heated leather pews in the top-spec 2.0i-S feel pretty nice, it’s actually the cloth seats in the remainder in the lineup that are the most comfortable, thanks to their softer surfaces and greater ‘give’ in the material. However, it’s a shame they all do without adjustable back support, which would help on longer drives.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Black Leather Interior – Chasing Cars

The driving position feels really natural in this car. Although you sit relatively high, the seat itself adjusts low enough, as does the steering wheel. After a couple of hours at the wheel, I didn’t develop any aches. It’s a relaxing car to drive.

Elsewhere, most the materials used inside the XV are soft and supple. The dashboard and door tops are all covered in a yielding plastic. Plus, apart from the base model, the XV features a softer section where the driver’s knee comes to rest against the centre console – it’s a small feature that we really value. The base model also gets a plastic steering wheel, which feels pretty cheap. The switchgear throughout the range, though, feels solid.

From a technology perspective, the XV’s interior is logically laid out and easy to learn. The large touchscreen – present on every XV bar the base model, looks very crisp and is particularly easy to interact with. Plus, all models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so plugging in a smartphone really expands what the XV can do on the go.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Black Leather Interior – Chasing Cars

There is a small colour screen ahead of the driver that offers trip, safety and navigation information, though it’s nowhere near as immersive as the fully-digital Virtual Cockpit you can get on the new VW Golf Alltrack. However, the other dials are clear and legible.

If you own the outgoing XV and have kids – or pets – you’ll appreciate the roomier back seat. The XV’s larger dimensions are most noticeable from the back seat, where it’s 34 mm wider, with an extra 26 mm of legroom. That’s a difference you can feel – three kids will be able to fit side by side, while two adults can travel pretty comfortably back there.

PRACTICALITY

7.5/10

The latest XV is a larger car than the one it replaces, and it’s also bigger than the Impreza it’s based on. More generous dimensions make it one of the most practical vehicles in the small SUV class, and there are a few key improvements in areas that really matter, like the boot.

The boot is about 7% bigger than the old car, gaining 24 litres to now sit at a total of 350 litres. While it’s not massive – the larger Outback wagon has a much larger cargo area – the XV now has a more useful space at its disposal. Notably, the opening width has increased by 100 mm: it’s now more than a metre wide, making loading sports gear and bulky items much easier.

The boot is also longer, by 41 mm, which owners of the old car will immediately notice. Plus, there are cargo hooks in the boot, meaning you can easily string up a pair of hiking boots … or alternatively the shopping bags, when the XV isn’t out exploring dirt trails. A rubber cargo tray ($165) will be worthwhile if you plan the use the car to its potential.

2018 Subaru XV Boot Space – Chasing Cars

Every XV comes with lengthwise roof bars, and Subaru have a range of genuine accessories that can be added to the bars. These include horizontal cross bars ($428), a bike holder ($306), a surfboard carrier ($263), and a bunch of Thule luggage pods starting at about $650. That’s just scratching the surface – the XV’s racks can be customised to your heart’s content.

In the cabin, the XV doesn’t disappoint. There are bottle holders in each of the doors, while there are two additional cupholders between the front seats, and then a further two in the standard flip-down armrest in the back.

Where the XV is less practical is on the towing front, and it’s because of the relatively weak petrol engine. The unbraked towing capacity is 650 kg, while the XV can tow 1,400 kg of braked trailer.

RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS

7.5/10

Subaru XV servicing costs

The XV needs to be serviced annually or every 12,500 kilometres, which is a little short of the average mileage of 15,000 kilometres between services that we like to see. However, it is an improvement – Subarus generally need to be serviced every six months, which is inconvenient. The new engine and transmission are more hardy and can go about a year between services.

Subaru has a three year capped price servicing programme, and the first three years of servicing cost a total of $1,298. That falls in about the middle of the class. The Toyota C-HR is very inexpensive to service over three years ($585), while the Mitsubishi ASX diesel would cost you $1,480, and the Golf Alltrack $1,521.

The XV has a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

2018 Subaru XV Gauge Cluster – Chasing Cars

Subaru XV fuel economy

Though the XV’s claimed fuel economy of 7L/100km on the combined cycle is fairly attractive, our results in the real world indicate it’s quite a bit thirstier. Across a rural loop we achieved 8.5L/100km. In the smaller Impreza, we averaged 9.4L/100km on our combined loop. Given the XV carries a bit more weight we expect this number to be slightly higher again. That’s because the engine lacks power and has to work quite hard, using more fuel.

The C-HR and Golf use less petrol, while the ASX is particularly economical thanks to its use of a diesel engine.

Subaru XV depreciation

If you keep a new XV 2.0i-S ($35,240) for three years and 40,000 kilometres – about average mileage – Glass’s Guide data indicates that it should retain about 57.9% of its value, returning you about $20,400 on sale. That’s pretty good for this class of car.

The XV loses value marginally faster than the Toyota C-HR (58.1% retained value) and the Golf Alltrack (61% retained value), but it keeps its value better than the Mitsubishi ASX (53.8% retained value).

VALUE FOR MONEY

8/10

The four-strong XV range opens with the attractively-priced 2.0i at $27,990 – and the base model is actually a pretty decent offer. It looks cool on the outside, with 17-inch alloy wheels – and there are actually no visual differences until you hit the top of the range car. The 2.0i also has keyless entry and push-button start, as well as smartphone integration presented on a fairly small 6.5-inch screen. However, the plastic steering wheel on the base car is a bit of a turn-off.

From there, it’s a step up to the $30,340 2.0i-L – the sweet spot of the range. The L picks up critical features like the EyeSight adaptive safety suite, which includes autonomous emergency braking, plus a much nicer 8-inch touchscreen, a leather steering wheel and gear shifter, better seat trim, and dual-zone climate control.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S orange front end – Chasing Cars

Another $1,800 buys the $32,140 2.0i Premium which adds a sunroof and integrated satellite navigation. If you’re routinely without phone service in rural locations, consider this model because if you don’t have smartphone data, you won’t have nav on the lower models.

It’s the $35,240 2.0i-S flagship that is lushly equipped, with chrome garnishing outside setting it apart visually. Inside, it gains leather seats, heated in the front and electrically adjustable for the driver. It’s god cool alloy pedals, automatic LED headlights lights and automatic wipers. Plus, the 2.0i-S has an upgraded safety pack called Vision Assist, which adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and reverse auto braking.

A couple of own goals from the specs: the lack of automatic headlights on everything but the flagship car is pretty out of the ordinary, as is the restriction of blind spot monitoring to the top model. We particularly don’t like the decision to limit rearwards autonomous emergency braking to the flagship car, as this is lifesaving technology if somebody walks behind a reversing XV. It should be standard – Mazda have made it standard on all their SUVs. Why can’t Subaru?

2018 Subaru XV 2.0-S Dashboard – Chasing Cars

What’s the value like compared to the competition? Well, the $34,490 Golf Alltrack 132TSI sits just under the top-shelf XV. It has a much better engine and more cargo space, but it makes do with cloth trim, it misses navigation and has halogen headlights. However, it has smart alloys, a leather steering wheel, a dedicated off-road mode and matches the XV’s smartphone integration.

Toyota’s C-HR starts at $28,990 for an automatic but it has active cruise control, blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist across the entire range. Built-in satellite navigation and dual-zone climate is also standard across the C-HR range, but it doesn’t have anywhere near as much as an off-road focus as the XV. That said, it’s quite a fun thing to put down a gravel stretch.

COMPETITORS

Officially, the Subaru XV sits in the 'small SUV' class here in Australia, though it's pretty different from most of its rivals in that space. Many of the small SUV class – like the Honda HR-V – aren't available with all-wheel-drive, or have very limited ground clearance.

The XV, on the other hand, has the tallest ride height in the class and it has a proper, permanent all-wheel-drive system, making it the most competent off-road. It's also a raised, pumped-up version of the Impreza rather than a unique SUV, and in that way, it's similar to the excellent Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, which you should definitely test drive.

Also, check out our current favourite small SUV, the Toyota C-HR (though it won't get you very far off-road), and the ageing but reliable Mitsubishi ASX.

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 132TSI ($34,490)

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – Chasing Cars

Where the Subaru XV is a cladded, raised hatchback, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is a small, cladded, raised station wagon. It packs VW's part-time 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system and a 175 mm ride height, so it will negotiate slightly less difficult trails. However, the Golf Alltrack's advantage is that it is so much more refined than the Subaru, packing excellent turbocharged engines and double-clutch gearboxes. Plus, it has a lovely, upmarket interior. Read more about the Golf Alltrack here.

Toyota C-HR Koba AWD ($35,290)

2017 Toyota C-HR Koba yellow rear

The extroverted new Toyota C-HR is proving to be a popular small SUV, but it attracts with more than just its memorable looks. It also packs a small but punchy turbocharged 1.2-litre engine and, like the Subaru, it benefits from an all-new platform that makes for good handling, and the ride quality is even better than that on the XV. However, it has little ground clearance and its all-wheel-drive system isn't as serious, so it won't get as far off-road as the XV. Read our Toyota C-HR review here, and our C-HR road trip report here.

Mitsubishi ASX LS Diesel 4x4 ($32,500)

2017 Mitsubishi ASX Silver Front End – Chasing Cars

Mitsubishi's small SUV, the ASX, is holding up remarkably well with decent looks and decent handling. It's available with a lockable all-wheel-drive system and it has decent ground clearance of 180 mm. In terms of engines, the diesel in particular is worth a close look, especially because ASX drive-away deals are often very sharp. The petrols are like what you get in the XV and are attached to a CVT automatic gearbox.

wrap up

DRIVE 6.5
COMFORT 7.5
PRACTICALITY 7.5
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS 7.5
VALUE FOR MONEY 8
Total cc score 7.4

Engine

Capacity 2.0 litres
Fueltype Petrol
Cylinders 4
Configuration Boxer
Induction Naturally aspirated
Power 115kW at 6,000rpm
Torque 192Nm at 4,000rpm
Power to weight ratio 79.6kW / tonne
Fuel consumption (combined) 7.0L/100km
Fuel capacity 63 litres
Average range 900 kilometres

Transmission and Drivetrain

Transmission Automatic
Configuration Continuously variable transmission
Gears 1
Drivetrain All wheel drive

Dimensions and Weights

Length 4.47 metres
Width 1.8 metres
Height 1.62 metres
Unoccupied weight 1,444 kilograms
Cargo space (seats up) 350 litres
Cargo space (seats down) 765 litres