First Drive: Subaru XV

Remember the Subaru XV? Well now there’s a new one…

The conditions to test Subaru’s new XV were perfect; freezing temperatures, snow and ice on the ground, and freezing rain occasionally hitting the windscreen. Only I wasn’t on the county’s roads over the weekend, but had instead spent three hours flying to Latvia where the new SUV was waiting for me. While much of Cambridgeshire was covered in snow as I drove the XV, the outskirts of Riga at least guaranteed adverse road conditions, hence the trip.

That’s important to Subaru as it feels, unlike so many of its rivals from Nissan, Toyota and Ford, that the XV is a proper off-road capable car, and not just a family hatchback that’s taken a few steroids. It also explains why Subaru gave me the keys to the XV and pointed me in the direction of a snow-covered and muddy forest. Relying on the 2.0-litre petrol engine and a permanent four-wheel drive system, the XV coped with the relatively gentle terrain well, feeling solidly reassuring through the wheel.

A more demanding off-road course, still covered in snow, was tackled at night, with the XV making mincemeat of it, although that was undoubtedly helped by the wheels being shod with Goodyear’s special winter SUV tyres.

Many of the public roads in Latvia don’t seem to be much better than the off-road course, and through a day’s driving across badly rutted, potholed and continuously ice-covered roads, abusing the XV to a level I wouldn’t dream of in my own car, I’m convinced that the car is built tough, and built capable.

That might not be enough though, as most buyers tend to remain firmly on the tarmac. There the CVT gearbox, one of the best on the market, still allows the engine to whine incessantly when accelerating and, with just 154bhp to play with, that can take a while. However, once up to speed it’s rides well, absorbing badly broken road surfaces without a problem, and even handles quite tidily with a well controlled body and an impressive resistance to understeer.

It’s practical, too, with a decent size boot in that boxy body shell, and good space for both front and rear passengers. It’ loaded with equipment too, with even the entry-level model (powered by a lethargic 1.6-litre petrol engine that’s best avoided) gets automatic LED headlights, a large touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, heated seats, DAB radio and adaptive cruise control. Step up to the SE Premium (and that two-litre engine) and you can add electrically adjustable leather seats, a sunroof and satellite navigation.

All models also come with EyeSight, Subaru’s safety system that relies on two 3D cameras to control the cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane sway and departure warnings, and even an alert if you’ve filed to spot the car ahead moving off in traffic.

It all sounds wonderful, but it’s wrapped up in a package that’s uninspiring to sit in and lacks the quality of its European rivals, with lots of black plastic and sombre design alongside cartoon-bright screen graphics and fake carbon fibre. Average at best fuel economy and relatively high CO2 values scupper business appeal, and it’s all in a rather utilitarian wrap.

That said, it’s exactly what Subaru buyers want, at least according to Subaru. Compared to the previous XV, it’s an incremental step forward in every area, and retains everything that keeps Subaru owners so happy. It’s a case or preaching to the converted, but the XV is exactly the right car for those needing the near-unique cross-country capabilities it offers. For those with little desire to explore anything further off-road than the Waitrose car park, there are other more appealing options.

Model Tested: Subaru XV 2.0 SE Premium
Price: £28,495
Range: £24,995 – £28,495
Top speed: 120 mph
0-62 mph: 10.4 seconds
Power: 156 PS (154 bhp)
Torque: 196 Nm (145 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £389
Official fuel economy: 40.9 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 155 g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£500 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 16E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.