The Subaru XV has created quite a stir in the market since being introduced, it’s aggressively striking -- but is the beauty only skin deep? Some would argue this is an ugly car, but during our test drive more people expressed a love for the design and colour than loathed it – although apparently there is no middle ground.
The tangerine orange is bright and garish, like most Lamborghinis, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s a hatchback on steroids, almost like a mini X6, but more bulldog WRX and a little less BMW.
The interior is dark and functional. Being the L model, it has the black cloth interior with no heated seats, but it does have the full multi-function display unit and a comprehensive easy to use in-dash satellite and audio system, while the dual zone air-conditioning works very well.
Boot space is a challenge if you have young kids and a pram/stroller of any “normal” size - definitely try before you buy. Having said that, the boot height is perfect for loading, compared with most SUVs which require an extra lift and push to get the pram in. If you are planning on taking the mountain bikes touring, best get a tow bar or roof rack. There is plenty of headroom in the rear for kids but I would be a little concerned for anyone taller than 6’ in the front seats – with a 5’ 9” frame, my head was almost touching the roof.
Thankfully, none of the safety features were tested first hand, but just in case, it comes fully equipped with airbags in every conceivable corner and gets the full 5-star ANCAP crash rating. The rear reverse camera is clear, useful and unobtrusive.
The Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system works beautifully. Our driveway is awfully steep and twisty, challenging and overwhelming the finest of 4WDs, yet even with two opposing wheels in clear air, the XV simply selected the right mode and floated up the drive - impressive. The ABS proved to be a bit overzealous, kicking in when gently braking from tarmac to gravel and juddering the brakes unnecessarily.
FEATURES / TECHNOLOGY
For the eco-friendly, the XV certainly packs plenty of features. The multi-function LCD unit displays every conceivable measure; economy, VDC status, trip measurement, temperature, clock and many others. The XV excels with fuel economy, I struggled to exceed 10 L/100km even with excessive spirited driving and frequent manual override.
The in-dash satellite navigation and audio system is wonderfully effective and high quality, providing a welcome relief and audio shield from the hideous engine and transmission noise. The only really annoying feature of this car is the engine Automatic Stop Start. Every time you stop at a red light -which is every second block in Sydney- the engine shuts down.
The real issue is when it starts up again, the whole car shakes for a split second and that irritating noise returns. Without doubt, I would permanently disable this feature.
I had a little trepidation about the 110kW engine output. The XV drove easily through city traffic, the automatic CVT transmission being smooth and slick between shifts -- almost unnoticeable. But as soon as it was on open road, that all changed. The CVT gearbox disappointed, struggling to cope with fluid driving conditions with open roads and tight bends proving too challenging, regularly switching gears at inappropriate moments and taking too long to respond. The moment -- and with it the corner -- had gone.
After many days trying several different driving modes and styles, I settled on the best way to get the most out of the CVT. Leave it in “Drive” mode and simply use the flappy paddle to “downshift” a couple of times before the bend, the CVT switches to manual mode (for five seconds) and provides engine braking, then accelerate as normal out of the bend, after which CVT switches back to drive mode. Works perfectly!
The chassis is impressively capable for a crossover firmly planted to the road, even when I turned off the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system and deliberately unsettled it on wet, twisty and bumpy country lanes. The tyres are a low enough profile to provide excellent grip as well as comfort and low noise.
But something was missing – the wail of a tuned engine! At best the XV sounded like a muted diesel with extra transmission whines. It’s moments like these you remember how important the soundtrack is as background music to a car’s dynamics.