2020 Subaru XV review

By David Bonnici and WhichCar Staff

2020 Subaru XV review

Priced From $29,690Information

Overall Rating


4.5 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
Expand Section

Safety, value & features

5 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

5 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

3 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars


5 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProSafety; driveability; versatility.

  2. ConEngine and gearbox short on sparkle.

  3. The Pick: 2021 Subaru XV S 5D SUV

What stands out?

The Subaru XV is a taller version of the very impressive Impreza hatchback, with a more comfortable ride, a longer touring range, and the ability to get you a bit further off the beaten track than most small SUVs.

The all-wheel drive XV also offers Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver aids, which includes smart cruise control and broadly effective autonomous emergency braking. It also features Subaru’s X-Mode downhill assist feature that will help slowly negotiate steep and slippery terrain without having to manually apply the brakes.

What might bug me?

Having to fool with the centre seatbelt when you fold the rear seat backs: it is built into the side of the boot, and stowing it is complicated.

Not saving as much money on fuel as you hoped by opting for the XV Hybrid.

Getting a flat tyre in the XV Hybrid and not being able to replace it with a spare wheel. The Hybrid's batteries tale up the space where the spare is stored meaning you'll have to make do with a puncture repair kit, which is only really useful enough to get you to a tyre repairer.

What body styles are there?

Five-door hatchback only.

The Subaru XV drives all four wheels, at all times, and is classed as a small SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Subaru XVs have?

Cruise control, and air-conditioning that maintains a set temperature. Controls on the steering wheel for operating the cruise control, the audio system and your phone.

A colour touchscreen for controlling cabin functions. An MP3-compatible sound system with a radio, CD player, Bluetooth connectivity for voice and audio streaming, and Aux and USB inputs.

Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which lets you display some apps from compatible smartphones on the touchscreen and control them from there.

Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

Roof rails, which make it easier to fit rooftop luggage systems.

Aluminium alloy wheels. All versions except the Hybrid have a full-size steel spare wheel. The Hybrid has a tyre repair kit.

A tyre pressure monitor, which warns you if a tyre is going flat.

All-wheel-drive, which improves traction and stability on slippery surfaces. Automatic transmission.

Active torque vectoring, which helps the car turn more keenly (by braking individual wheels selectively).

Hill-start assistance, which controls the brakes to help you take off on uphill slopes.

X-Mode, a system borrowed from the Subaru Forester, which helps the XV climb slippery slopes. It directs drive to the wheels that have the most grip.

Seven airbags, and a reversing camera. Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car. (For the placement of airbags, and more on XV safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

Every Subaru XV carries a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain, called e-Boxer, joined the XV range in March 2020 and uses the same 2.0-litre engine used in regular XVs with a 12.3kW battery providing some additional boost.

It has a claimed 6.4-litre/100km combined city and country fuel consumption on the official test, which represents a modest improvement over the regular XV.

Subaru calls the e-Boxer a mild hybrid, but it does more than usual mild hybrid systems which simply offer a power boost on take-off but don’t drive the vehicles on batteries alone.

However, it is a lot more subtle than full hybrid powertrains, with the single electric motor giving way to engine power at lower speeds and preferring to take up the slack when you’re coasting. The e-Boxer's single electric motor contributes just 12.3kW of extra boost; by comparison, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has 131kW and 88kW electric motors for the front and rear axles respectively.

The main reason you wouldn't choose the XV Hybrid is it costs more than most of the versions without rewarding you with more power of efficiency.

A second reason is if you want to use your XV for towing. The Hybrid can tow up to1270kg, which is 130kg less than the standard 2.0-litre versions.

The 2.0-litre petrol XVs use about 7.0 litres/100km.

The 'boxer' engine differs from other makers’ small-car four-cylinder units in that it lies flat across the engine bay rather than standing up vertically. This places the weight of the engine lower in the car, which – in theory anyway – helps it steer more responsively. And its arrangement of the cylinders in opposed pairs – colloquially a boxer configuration – helps it run very smoothly.

While the engine in this XV shares its layout and 2.0-litre capacity with the car it superseded, it was redesigned extensively. The most prominent change is a move to direct petrol injection – which supplies fuel directly to each cylinder at high pressure, allowing the engine to use less of it while making a bit more power.

The XV can shut down its engine when you are stopped, restarting automatically when you take your foot off the brake pedal to drive away. That saves fuel in the city.

Every XV comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It uses artificial ratio steps to mimic the feel of a seven-speed conventional automatic – avoiding the irritating engine droning that some CVT cars exhibit when you accelerate hard.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly XV, the 2.0i, comes with a 6.5-inch central screen, cloth seat trim, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Paying more for an XV 2.0i-L brings you a lot of extra kit, perhaps most importantly Subaru’s EyeSight active safety suite. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, which can accelerate and brake to match the speed of a car in front. A lead-vehicle start alert lets you know when a vehicle ahead of you in a queue has moved on. There is autonomous emergency braking, which works at city and highway speeds, and lane keeping assistance. (For more on these systems, please open the Safety section below.)

The 2.0i-L also has an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and two displays on the instrument panel, controllable from the steering wheel, that can show your EyeSight settings and other helpful stuff. There is nicer cloth seat trim, and leather on the steering wheel and gear lever. Dual-zone climate-control air conditioning allows individual temperature adjustment for the driver and front passenger. And the exterior mirrors can be power-folded, to keep them out of harm’s way when you’re parked.

Spending more for an Impreza 2.0-i Premium gets you a powered sunroof and satellite navigation – the latter including the ability to have turn-by-turn instructions shown on the instrument panel display rather than just on the central screen.

The XV Hybrid costs more than the Premium because of its electrified powertrain but misses out on some the Premium's extras. It's mostly based on the 2.0-L, but has the smaller 6.5-inch touchscreen. However, it does gain features that were only available in the 2.0i-S included auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional active safety, including: rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse auto-braking to help avoid parking and driveway mishaps.

The most expensive XV, the 2.0i-S, adds luxury including part-leather seat trim, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, and heated front seats. The wheel diameter grows to 18 inches, and the tyres are the same width but slightly lower in profile.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The bigger, 18-inch, tyres on the 2.0i-S will cost more to replace, and will feel a bit bumper to drive on than the taller-profile tyres on other XVs (because their shallower sidewalls leave less air and rubber between you and the road).

Spending more on the Hybrid means you miss out on the full-size spare wheel. Because the batteries take up space under the boot floor you'll have to make do with a less-convenient puncture repair kit.

The leather-trimmed seats in the 2.0i-S are more slippery than the cloth–covered seats on the less expensive XVs, and you slide around in them more. That’s most noticeable when driving on rough gravel roads or tracks, where the cloth-trimmed seats hold you in place better and feel more comfortable.

How comfortable is the Subaru XV?

This new-generation XV is very much like the new Subaru Impreza inside – and that’s good.

Like the Impreza, the XV is roomier than the car it replaced. The cabin is smartly designed, and trimmed to a standard much higher than seen in the previous XV. The premium cloth seats in the 2.0i-L, 2.0-i Premium and Hybrid versions are durable and comfortable, and arguably feel better than the leather seats in the pricier 2.0i-S.

Tilt and reach adjustment for the steering wheel makes it easy for you to get comfortable behind it, even if the seat backrest could use finer adjustment. The chunky wheel, leather-bound on most versions, and neat new switchgear imbue the XV with a level of class beyond its relatively meagre price point.

Even the XV 2.0i, the least costly XV, has two info screens in addition to the big central touchscreen.

Dash-mounted air vents sit high and proud, filtering climate-controlled freshness in typically chilled Subaru fashion.

The XV rides a bit better on its taller suspension than the Impreza, ironing out all but the sharpest bumps.

What about safety in an XV?

The XV comes with seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, seatbelt reminders for all seats, seatbelt pre-tensioners on the front and outer rear seats, and a reversing camera. Its standard safety package emphasises your control of the car, your protection in a crash, and the safety of those outside the car when you’re reversing.

There is an airbag apiece ahead of the driver and front passenger; a knee airbag for the driver; an airbag outside each front occupant at chest level to protect from side impacts; and side-curtain airbags extending past both seat rows at head level, protecting occupants front and rear from side impacts.

Augmenting this on the XV 2.0i-L, 2.0-i Premium and 2.0i-S is Subaru’s EyeSight active safety suite, which brings you autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, among other features.

Based on stereo cameras, the auto braking works at city and highway speeds, warning of an impending collision and braking automatically if you fail to react. Subaru says this third-generation system uses better image sensors that detect hazards – and endangered pedestrians – under a wider range of contrast conditions and at longer range than its previous systems.

Lane keeping assistance alerts you if you have begun to drift out of your lane on the highway, perhaps through distraction, and can correct the steering gently to help guide you back.

The XV Hybrid and 2.0i-S improve on this with a Vision assist suite, which uses radar-based sensors to scan behind you. It warns you if you are about to change lanes into the path of an adjacent or overtaking car. When you reverse out of a driveway or parking space, it alerts you to vehicles crossing your path to the rear. And it can brake the car automatically if it predicts you are about to reverse into a solid object.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru XV a five-star rating for safety, its maximum, in May 2017.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Yes. The new Subaru XV delivers just about everything we liked about the Impreza, including the poised and fluid feel from behind the wheel, and the nice way that it turns into corners, especially when driven with a bit of enthusiasm. Every XV comes with active torque vectoring, which helps here.

The jacked-up suspension seems to absorb small, sharp, bumps better than the suspension on the Impreza, but even the XV will occasionally run out of suspension travel on a big bumps, sending a loud “thump” into the cabin.

The fuel tank in the XV holds 63 litres – about 25 per cent more than the tank in the Impreza. That should give you significantly longer range between fills.

On gravel roads and dirt tracks, an assured all-wheel-drive system and sharply tuned electronic stability control do a good job of discouraging the XV from wriggling around on the loose surfaces. The X-Mode’s hill-crawl function, which helps the XV climb slippery slopes, and the hill descent control that helps it get you back down, both work well, giving this small SUV some real-world off-road ability.

The XV’s 2.0-litre petrol engine produces just as much power as it does for the Impreza, but in the taller XV it has to deal with more weight. If you demand a sharp burst of speed – when joining fast-moving freeway traffic, for example – the engine and gearbox need to work quite hard and generate a lot of noise.

Any differences between the hybrid and petrol XVs are subtle. Like the petrol versions, the drive is smooth and quiet at lower speeds, though the engine and CVT do protest a little loudly when accelerating to overtake or join freeway traffic.

The Hybrid also features the X-Mode hill-crawl function. According to Subaru, the electrified powertrain further improves traction because of the more precisely controlled torque distribution, though I didn’t get a chance to test this.

How is life in the rear seats?

It’s great for a car of its type, and better than in the already good outgoing XV, with a comfortable seat and enough leg and shoulder room to keep two big adults quite happy.

The stadium-style seating provides a superb outlook as well, and dedicated vents supply heating and cooling.

When driving on loose surfaces, the XV does a great job of suppressing gravel splash – the noise that stones make when the tyres throw them up into the wheel wells.

How is it for carrying stuff?

Boot space is about the same as in the superseded car a little below average for small SUV, with 310 litres. That's slightly less than the 345 litres available in the Impreza which has a narrower space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor.

Seats split-fold 60-40 for extending the load space to 765 litres.

The XV can legally tow a braked trailer weighing up to 1400kg.

The XV Hybrid can only tow up to 1270kg.

Where is the Subaru XV made?

The Subaru XV is manufactured in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Maybe the more immediate acceleration of turbocharged alternatives such as the Hyundai Kona, Toyota C-HR, Citroen C3 Aircross and Peugeot 2008.

Possibly lower fuel consumption and a longer range between fills from a diesel engine, which you can have in a Mazda CX-3 or Mitsubishi ASX, for example.

The ability to tackle more challenging tracks off-road. The XV is as good as, or better than, most small SUVs in this respect, but alternatives with much more off-road ability include the Suzuki Jimny, and Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

Among other small SUVs (with less off-road ability) worth considering are the Honda HR-V, and Nissan Qashqai.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The best value here is in the most expensive XV, the 2.0i-S. The price premium gets you leather seat trim, heated front seats and side mirrors, auto LED headlights and auto-wipers, and the rear-facing active safety features introduced with the Vision Assist package.

Are there plans to update the Subaru XV soon?

This second-generation XV arrived in June 2017 as an all-new model.

Subaru introduced the hybrid version in March 2020.

Expect a facelift and tech upgrade during the first half of 2021.