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Subaru XV 2.0i S 2018 off-road review

Subaru has a long history in Australia, and it can trace its adventurous origins all the way back to the early 1980s with the advent of cars like the Sportswagon and the ubiquitous Brumby ute. In fact, Subaru still typifies the affordable adventure car, with cars like the Forester and the Outback on its books.

The XV, meanwhile, sits somewhere in the middle of the two Subaru extremes, offering quirky inner city style with a genuinely useful adventure bent. 

Is there anything interesting about its design?

This is the latest XV, which was released in 2016 although you wouldn't know it if you owned the old one. When viewed side-on, in fact, both cars look absolutely identical. Even the wheel designs are similar. It's only when you get to the front and rear bumpers that you notice the difference in the tail lights and headlights as well as the signature Subaru grill. 

Well, when you're on a good thing ... If anything, the XV has grown into its design over the years. When it was first released in 2012, a lot of people really didn't know what to make of the XV, but it's since grown in stature - and sales - to become one of the Subaru's most popular cars. 

The XV sports plenty of plastic trim to help it protect its extremities. The XV sports plenty of plastic trim to help it protect its extremities.

That external design really points to the XV's quirky yet practical nature with low overhangs at the rear and front, a decent ride height, and black plastic trim to help protect its extremities. The external language carries on through into the interior, which has been lifted from the all new Impreza, which shares its platform with the XV. Funky vertical vents in the centre while the outer vents mimic the design for the air intakes at the front. 

The interior also echoes that of the new Impreza, with sweeping lines, well disguised cheaper plastics and a large multimedia touch screen, that's the heart of the car. This top-shelf version comes with leather seats which are offset with a well executed orange contrast stitch. Alternative stitching doesn't always work in more affordable cars, but in this case, it really gives the XV's cabin a lift.

The interior echoes the new Impreza also. The interior echoes the new Impreza also.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

For a nick over $35,000 before on road costs, the XV 2.0i S is well and truly stacked with kit. It's based around a naturally aspirated 2.0 litre petrol engine linked to a CVT gearbox and an all-wheel drivetrain. It also scores Subaru's X-Mode traction control-based off road system. 

It also comes standard with Subaru's top spec eyesight safety system that includes virtually every driver age you could ever want, including rear cross traffic alert, smart city braking, AEB, lane departure assist, and more.

Full leather trim with contrast stitching adorns the inside. Full leather trim with contrast stitching adorns the inside.

Full leather trim including steering wheel and gear-shift gaitor, as well as faux carbon inserts in the doors, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic headlights and wipers, swivelling LED headlights, heated and powered front seats and a sunroof is all included. 

It plays in the same space as cars like the Mazda CX-3, the new Hyundai Kona and Toyota's C-HR.

How practical is the space inside?

Based on a medium-sized sedan, the small five-seat XV isn't the biggest car inside, but neither is it the smallest. Up front, the driver and passenger are well looked after with nicely bolstered leather seats that perhaps could drop a little bit lower in the car. 

However, a cleverly designed head lining that incorporates the sunroof means there's plenty of space up top, and a steering wheel with a great deal of reach adjustment also helps taller drivers get comfortable. 

Our drivers of shorter stature are well catered for as well, thanks to a good deal of vertical adjustment in the front seat, which allow them to get close to the wheel without having to arch their ankles too far to get back to the brake and accelerator. 

Despite the addition of a large, simple-to-use and attractive touchscreen multimedia system, Subaru still insists on scattering buttons in and around the driver's area almost at random. The steering wheel, in particular, has 15 buttons - and that doesn't include the horn - and there are more controls down toward the driver's right hand as well as on the centre console. 

Front seaters have access to two USB ports, an auxiliary port and a 12-volt socket as well as two cup holders side by side and bottle holders in the doors with dividers

Rear seat passengers get plenty of headroom despite the sunroof. Rear seat passengers get plenty of headroom despite the sunroof.

Moving into the rear seat again, that clever head-lining means that the sunroof doesn't steal too much headroom away from taller rear passengers. The 60/40 split-fold rear seat also features an armrest with two cup holders, and small bottle holders also exist in the doors. Unfortunately, there are no vents for rear-seat passengers, nor are there any provisions for charging devices. 

The cargo floor sits very high in the XV, which our less tall testers quite liked; they felt they didn't have to reach in and down to lower bags of shopping or suitcases into the XV. At 310 litres, it does compromise on total volume of space although with the seats down, it offers 765 litres, which is enough to swallow a couple of larger mountain bikes with the front wheels removed. 

The XV could fit a couple of mountain bikes with the seats down. The XV could fit a couple of mountain bikes with the seats down.

There are no levers to flip down the front seats, but it's not much of a reach to get in and do it yourself. There's a space-saver spare wheel sitting underneath the boot floor, though Mrs Robbo did question the lack of a powered tailgate in this top-spec car.  

Overall, the XV is a practical four-seater for the average family, though if you had to ram in five bodies, it might be a little bit crowded. Babies are well catered for with ISOFIX baby seat mounts on the outside rear two seats, but that centre middle seat is a little bit bulbous, while the centre sash belt is incredibly awkwardly placed back over in the right-hand C pillar.

Only 310 litres are available with the seats up, so there is a bit of compromise with the higher floor. Only 310 litres are available with the seats up, so there is a bit of compromise with the higher floor.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The XV uses the same 115kW, 196Nm naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that's in the Impreza. It's been reworked from the oil pan up, netting an amazing 12kg weight saving in the process over the previous generation engine.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine produces 115kW/196Nm. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine produces 115kW/196Nm.

It's linked to a continuously variable transmission to Subaru's front-wheel-biased all-wheel drivetrain. Subaru has also added what it calls its X Mode System that’s been plucked from the Forester, which gives the XV a modicum of off-road ability that's not very usual for cars in this category. 

The X Mode System incorporates a low-speed hill descent mode, for example, which interestingly also works in reverse. Basically, set a speed up to 25km/h with the cruise control, take your foot off the brake and accelerator, and let the car do its thing. 

X Mode is essentially providing a low-range mode, and it also gives the XV as much 50/50 traction front-to-rear as is required for the conditions it finds itself in. If you head to the snow or the sand quite regularly, for example, you'll find this feature quite useful.

How much fuel does it consume?

Over 320km, the XV returned a dash-indicated figure of 9.1L/100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 7.0L/100km. Only a handful of these kilometres were done on gravel.

With a fuel tank capacity of 63 litres, the 1462kg XV can travel a theoretical 780km on a single tank. It’ll accept regular unleaded, as well.

What's it like for touring?

The modest output of the two-litre engine also precludes the XV from towing much more than a large box trailer, and when it's pushed up hills, the CVT rev flare really gets quite intrusive.

Running the XV over moderately rough gravel roads proved absolutely no drama with the car's all-wheel drive system constantly in play, while the X Mode can be used to traverse more rutted, steeper sections.

We originally tested the XV in mud and snow in Japan and it excelled itself in very trying conditions, while our local rutted, gravel-strewn fire trail offered no resistance. A drop in tyre pressure will add traction, as well, while 220mm of ground clearance – 50mm more than an Impreza, for example – and a short rear overhang helps it clamber up short pitches.

The X Mode System essentially gives a low range mode to the XV. The X Mode System essentially gives a low range mode to the XV.

The nose is a bit more prominent, but the front bar is nicely tucked in at the base, which helps a lot, while the prominent arches will keep at least some paintwork intact.

The steering weight is good and pedal feel is natural, though the SUV-specific 18-inch Bridgestone Dueler tyres on the XV means that you need to give it a little bit more brake pedal than you might usually think. Ultimate grip level at low speed isn't as high as something with a stickier tyre.

What's it like as a daily driver?

The little XV stands out from the crowd when you're stuck in the commute, especially in the brighter colours that Subaru seems to sell quite a few of. Our bright orange test example really made its mark in a sea of grey and black on the daily run to work. 

The roomy cockpit for the driver is a boon, especially for taller testers who are able to get very comfortable in the car pretty quickly. Apple CarPlay works very well, while the clever Eyesight system allows the adaptive cruise control to basically drive the car through stop-start traffic with minimal input. It will take the car right down to 0km/h from whatever speed you have set, while a gentle prod on the accelerator will wake it up again to keep it going with the traffic. It's a very clever system, let down only by its reasonably conservative nature when it comes to maintaining gaps between vehicles. 

Even at its lower setting, other drivers were very tempted to fill that space left by the Subaru to the car in front. The system also like to illuminate the brake lights quite a lot, which can irritate drivers behind.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Subaru's strongest card is its Eyesight system, which uses a trio of cameras to control all of the safety functionality of the car - and the S model actually features additional safety inclusions like blind-spot monitor and lane-change assist.

Subaru's Eyesight system includes AEB. Subaru's Eyesight system includes AEB.

On top of that, the seven airbags means that the XV scores a maximum five star ANCAP rating.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Subaru offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on the XV as well as roadside assistance for the first three years.

Fixed-price servicing is also offered for the first three years or 37,500km. It costs  $348.50 for the first and third services and $601.59 for the second, which totals nearly $1300 over three years.

It’s not the cheapest service deal on the market, especially considering the relative simplicity of a non-turbocharged engine and CVT transmission combination.

Service intervals have increased from six months to 12 months or 12,500km, whichever comes first – but don’t neglect them! Thanks to that unique boxer engine design, Subarus need regular oil changes to prevent sludge building up in the cylinder bores.

Subaru regularly offers a bonus two-year warranty on top of the standard package.

Subaru has always been the little brand that could and it’s always fit well into the Australian motoring landscape thanks to slightly unusual designs and particularly practical features. 

The company has moved more into the mainstream by eliminating things like manual transmissions but the quirk is still strong, and the XV is a great example of a small, practical, compact SUV that has just a little bit more, particularly when it comes to off-road ability. It's no LandCruiser, sure, but it will certainly get you further than many of its contemporaries and it'll have a great time doing it.

Is the Subaru XV the standout small SUV, or is it too quirky for its own good? Tell us in the comments below.

$29,999 - $39,558

Based on 68 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Adventure score

4/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'