WHAT IS IT?
The classic ‘Outback’ treatment for Subaru’s latest-generation Impreza hatch, creating a new-generation XV. Slightly larger outside and significantly roomier inside than before, it gets the X-mode all-wheel-drive system from the larger Subaru Forester (when fitted with a CVT automatic), making it potentially more useful off-road too.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT?
On the cusp of its Japanese on-sale, and two months before it lands in Australia, we’ve been given a ‘preview’ drive of the new-gen XV up in the mountains three hours from Tokyo. But this is no ‘here’s the car, go for your life’ launch drive. It’s a carefully planned on- and off-road loop with little opportunity for real-world dynamic assessment.
Subaru Japan claims the XV is the “one and only product in the segment”, and if you think of it as a small hatchback with additional ride height, then it is. But that’s ignoring obvious (and popular) in-betweeners like the Nissan Qashqai.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Despite its small boot and mediocre performance, the old XV sold up a storm in Australia. Given the new car’s big step up in room and cabin finish, not to mention refinement and general driving smoothness, the 2017 XV should bolt from Subaru showrooms. The biggest letdown is its lack of drivetrain choice. A car with as much potential as the new XV deserves more muscle.
PLUS: Imposing exterior styling; stylish and roomy interior; capable AWD system; confident handling with effective ESC calibration; smooth drivetrain; bright colour palette
MINUS: Some ride firmness on 18-inch wheels; engine lacks the muscle to take advantage of the XV’s AWD chassis grip; no manual for Australia
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE ‘OUTBACK’ treatment might sound like a euphemism for being horribly brutalised in a Wolf Creek-type scenario, but it’s actually something that Subaru invented. Take an existing AWD passenger car, lift and separate.
That’s the Subaru XV formula. As with the previous model, it’s an Impreza hatch in thick-soled hiking boots with more air beneath its floor, additional body cladding and a unique name. But XV Version 2.0 is based on the brand-spanking-new fifth-generation Impreza, meaning a lighter yet stronger platform, external dimensions expanded just where they needed to be, and a sizeable improvement in packaging efficiency. This one has space, even in the formerly emaciated cargo area.
Chief improvements include 100mm additional boot width and 350-litre volume (enough for three golf bags to lie flat, apparently), 26mm extra from rear hip point to floor, and another 20mm in body width without expanding the overall mirror-to-mirror measurement.
The new-gen XV also inherits the ‘X-mode’ all-wheel-drive set-up from CVT-equipped Foresters. That means an active torque split AWD system which centralises engine management, traction-control and ESC systems at speeds below 40km/h, and hill-descent control at speeds below 20km/h, to ensure the XV offers maximum purchase in low-grip situations. Subaru claims that X-mode – activated by a button near the gear lever – is twice as effective at restoring forward momentum when two diagonally opposed wheels lose traction than when it’s turned off.
That said, on a muddy and snowy off-road course at a Japanese ski resort, the XV’s ability to claw itself through the rough stuff remained unquestioned, X-mode or not.
Besides the XV’s obvious external differences – a ‘G-shock-esque’ grille, more prominent bumpers with relocated LED running lights, and cool ninja-style 18-inch alloys – Subaru has added orange stitching to the XV’s steering wheel, dash, gearshift boot and seats (on the 2.0i-S-spec cars we drove), as well as sexy ‘ultra-suede’ on the centre console sides and centre-front armrest when optioned with leather trim. It’s a really smart look and manages to lift the stock Impreza’s mostly black cabin to a new level of chic.
The new XV also debuts Subaru’s ‘Eyesight’ safety system (in mid-range and top-level models), with multiple cameras supporting front and rear AEB, and adaptive cruise control.
The rest of the XV’s spec sheet reads like a virtual facsimile of the new-gen Impreza. That means the same 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection flat four mated exclusively to a CVT automatic (despite the fact that 12 percent of previous XV buyers chose a manual, and that a six-speeder is still offered to Americans), and the same mediocre level of performance.
Smooth as the XV’s flat four is, with more weight to lug than an equivalent Impreza, it has little hope of challenging the grip limit of its all-wheel-drive chassis. According to the General Manager of Subaru’s Product and Portfolio Planning Division, Masahiko Inoue, “we are studying other power sources”, which hints at a plug-in hybrid version. But Inoue also stated that “more power is important to XV performance”. Here’s hoping a 2.5-litre direct-injection version, or perhaps a boosted 2.0-litre, features in the XV’s (and Impreza’s) future.
In the meantime, it’s situation normal for the XV. Its casual acceleration allows plenty of time to admire its roomy, quiet, comfortable and high-quality interior, and its chassis feels closely aligned to the Impreza’s, meaning sweetly balanced handling, superb grip and an effective, yet nuanced ESC calibration.
The XV’s 18-inch wheels (wearing 225/55R18 98V Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport tyres on the cars we drove) impact the initial absorbency of its ride, and the SI-Drive system’s propensity to default to ‘Intelligent’ mode rather than ‘Sport’ means its steering will feel fairly disinterested until you select ‘S’ on the right-hand wheel spoke. When that happens, the XV gains much-needed firmness to its steering weighting and a more cohesive dynamic feel.
There’s also the caveat that the JDM-spec XVs we drove sat 20mm lower than what Australian cars will. When the new-gen XV lobs in June – mirroring Impreza’s 2.0i, 2.0i-L, 2.0i-Premium, and 2.0i-S spec levels – ours will offer a Forester-matching 220mm of ground clearance, mitigated slightly by the XV’s greater front overhang.
There’s definitely the basis of a fun car here – supported by a vibrant colour palette that includes orange – but the XV’s engine simply doesn’t have the outright muscle to take advantage of its impressive new underpinnings. Or to lift it above and beyond its similarly lacklustre competitor set.
As for outrunning a murderous John Jarratt in the dead of night, best head for the (hopefully not-too-steep) hills. That’s the XV’s starring role.
Model: Subaru XV 2.0i-S
Engine: 1995cc flat 4, dohc, 16v
Max power: 115kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 196Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
On sale: June
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