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Subaru joined the electrification bandwagon a relatively short 20 months ago, adding a hybrid option to its Forester and XV SUV range that claimed similar power to its existing petrol models, but with less fuel consumption.
No complaints there as it’s part of the magic that current new-vehicle buyers are seeking but, sometimes, nothing is as easy as it first appears.
The basis is clear: link up Subaru’s flat-four petrol engine with an electric motor for extra oomph and better fuel efficiency.
Buyers get all the features and performance expected from the Subaru SUV pair but with a claimed improvement in fuel economy of up to 19 per cent.
But in the case of the XV Hybrid L, buyers also have to cough up $3500 more for the privilege of some green-tinged – although in Subaru’s case, blue – badges and some environmental cred.
The extra cash slug isn’t the only thing for the more ecologically-focussed Subaru buyer to swallow. The hybrid version also doesn’t have a spare wheel (the space is allocated to the bigger batteries), but on the upside it has a bigger boot area than the petrol model (345 litres compared with 310L).
Although city fuel economy is certainly better than the petrol XV, out on the open road the difference is barely perceptible – a point regional buyers should take into serious consideration in light of the Hybrid’s smaller fuel tank.
But which is best? Which will be the most economical to own and which uses the least amount of fuel?
The XV has been around since 2012 and is basically a Subaru Impreza wagon, sharing the Impreza sedan and hatchback’s 2665mm wheelbase and much of the basic underpinnings, save for some suspension components borrowed from the brand’s high-performance STI department.
Subaru claims an average of 7.0 litres per 100km, broken down from an urban average of 8.8L/100km and an open-road figure of 6.0L/100km. The tank holds 63 litres, ostensibly giving it a reach of 900km (716km city and 1050km country).
All the top-shelf safety features of which Subaru is renowned – starting with the excellent EyeSight autonomous emergency braking system (AEB) – are in this car and transfer to the Hybrid. In addition, there is a comprehensive infotainment system.
It’s almost identical to the XV petrol and externally, there’s only the blue “e-Boxer” badges and a bit more chrome as identifiers.
The 2.0-litre engine loses 5kW compared with the petrol-only variant and is rated at 110kW/196Nm. The electric motor is rated at 12.3kW/66Nm. The outputs are not cumulative as they are delivered at different engine/motor speeds.
In essence, the electric motor gives more oomph at low revs – right from idle in fact – so complements the petrol engine’s higher-rev output.
But it rarely operates in EV-only mode. It will crawl in traffic at a casual walking speed but any extra forward motion will call on the petrol engine, so it is unlike the Prius or RAV4 Hybrid which can silently operate for some distance on battery juice alone.
Stopping at the traffic lights or coasting downhill will shut down the petrol engine, hinting at the potential savings for people living in dense urban conditions or at the top of a hill.
Subaru claims a 6.5L/100km average for the XV Hybrid, with 7.5L/100km in urban areas and 5.9L/100km in the country. It is noted that there’s a decent 1.3L/100km saving when using the Hybrid in the city and suburbs, the “extra urban” or country economy is practically identical to the petrol-only car.
Further, the Hybrid has a 48-litre fuel tank (against the petrol’s 63 litres) which gives it an open-road range of 738km – a long walk from the 900km of the petrol car.
Cover 12,000km a year at the claimed fuel average and the petrol-only XV will incur a bill of $1176 a year (91RON petrol at $1.40/litre).
The Hybrid will cost $1092 a year (same fuel and cost/litre).
On fuel alone, the $84 yearly difference will take a whopping 41.7 years to recoup the $3500 difference in purchase price.
Given the Hybrid battery has an eight year/160,000km warranty, you could then be up for five new batteries which would comprehensively eradicate any price advantage of the claimed fuel difference.
Subaru kindly made the capped-price service costs of the XV Hybrid the same as the rest of the XV brethren.
Annual service costs vary over the five-year period but the total will be $2430.85, averaging $486 a year.
When adding in the cost of petrol at the aforementioned average price and distance covered per year, this is how it looks for three years of ownership.
|XV 2.0i-L petrol||$3528||$1458||$4986|
|XV Hybrid L||$3276||$1458||$4734|
The Hybrid will be only $84 a year cheaper to own and fuel than the petrol model, but to get price neutrality because of the Hybrid’s $3500 extra purchase price, it will take almost 42 years to make up. And as pointed out, by that time you might have to buy a garage full of new batteries probably costing around $20,000.
This is not one of those cases where the hybrid has any ownership advantage.
The XV Hybrid is injured by its higher purchase price and lower county range, and also suffers from the lack of a spare wheel and even a lower tow rating of 1275kg compared with its petrol-only sibling at 1400kg.
The same issues affect the Forester Hybrid versus its petrol-only counterpart, so in Subaru’s case, it might be better to stick with petrol power.