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Subaru XV 2021 review: Hybrid S long-term

We're spending several months thoroughly examining Subaru's key XV Hybrid S.

Subaru’s XV has become as much a pillar of the Japanese brand as storied nameplates like Impreza and Forester. Its high-riding, all-wheel drive characteristics have proven to resonate well with Australia’s adventurous populace.

If Toyota’s successful hybrid models have proven anything, though, it’s consumer sentiment is changing, and electrification is becoming a hot issue for new car buyers. 

My new long-termer, the Subaru XV Hybrid S, is Subaru’s first mainstream foray into hybrid drive, and it comes at an opportune moment of pivoting buyer demand.

Can it unite the unique characteristics which have made Subaru so uniquely loved in Australia with new-age fuel-saving electrification, or is this brand’s first take on hybrid one worth skipping? I’m spending four months with this one to find out.

Part 1 - January

My XV Hybrid S arrived just after a two-week stint in the petrol equivalent XV 2.0i-S, and just after a three-month long-term review of the Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid, which won myself and my partner over in a big way.

With many thoughts on these well-placed comparison models, I was ideally placed to analyse the XV both as a member of Subaru’s range, and how it sits in the world of hybrids. 

The XV had also arrived just in time for a planned trip from Sydney to the coastal town of Forster, NSW, a round-trip of over 600km. Plenty of time to get to know it well from the outset.

Our top-spec XV Hybrid S we’ll be living with for over three months wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $40,790. Our top-spec XV Hybrid S we’ll be living with for over three months wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $40,790.

Hybrid S we’ll be living with for over three months wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $40,790.

Firstly though, a little on the car itself. You can read my comprehensive review of the Subaru XV range here, but our top-spec XV Hybrid S we’ll be living with for over three months wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $40,790.

This places it a fair bit above the already pricey Corolla ZR Hybrid ($34,965) despite being similarly sized.

Its high-riding, all-wheel drive characteristics have proven to resonate well with Australia’s adventurous populace. Its high-riding, all-wheel drive characteristics have proven to resonate well with Australia’s adventurous populace.

The reality is, however, the XV plays in the small SUV segment, and hybrid rivals here include primarily the Toyota C-HR Koba Hybrid ($37,165 – 2WD only) and Toyota Yaris Cross Urban Hybrid ($37,990 – AWD), but there is also a litany of popular non-hybrid rivals like the Mitsubishi ASX Exceed (tops-out at $33,490 – 2WD only) or Hyundai Kona N-Line ($42,400 – AWD).

Although the Subaru looks a bit expensive compared to some of those competitors, it’s worth noting apart from the physically smaller Yaris Cross it’s the only one to offer both all-wheel drive and hybrid.

In the coming years there will undoubtedly be an explosion of hybrid options in this space, but for now at least, the XV is a little ahead of the curve.

Subaru calls this iteration of its hybrid tech ‘e-Boxer’ and it has some key differences to Toyota’s renowned ‘Hybrid Synergy Drive’.

Subaru calls this iteration of its hybrid tech ‘e-Boxer’. Subaru calls this iteration of its hybrid tech ‘e-Boxer’.

Where the Toyotas mount electric motors on individual axles (front in the case of the Corolla and C-HR, rear in the case of the Yaris Cross), Subaru’s signature all-wheel drive system has seen the brand instead mount its electric motor inside the XV’s continuously variable automatic transmission.

The motor is also technically weaker than the one in the Corolla providing fully electrified power of just 12.3kW/66Nm, although the XV sources its power from a lithium-ion battery pack under the floor compared to the Corolla’s older nickel-hydride type.

Our hybrid arrives in an eye-catching 'Lagoon Blue Pearl', the signature colour for Subaru’s Hybrid range, although aside from this it’s hard to tell from the outside this XV is particularly special. It wears some e-Boxer badging and has some silver highlights over its petrol-only siblings.

One thing which has always been appealing about vehicles sitting on the most recent Subaru Global Platform (XV, Forester, Impreza, and Outback) is how great they feel behind the wheel.

All Subarus have spacious interiors and nice finishes which often feel a cut above their price tags. All Subarus have spacious interiors and nice finishes which often feel a cut above their price tags.

All Subarus have spacious interiors and nice finishes which often feel a cut above their price tags. Visibility and adjustability are also excellent, and personally I’m a fan of Subaru’s chunky interior design language which is quite different from many of its rivals. I think many buyers will also be enamored by its ride height and big comfortable seats

The multimedia system comes with Apple CarPlay. The multimedia system comes with Apple CarPlay.

After hopping out of the compact Corolla, I was also happy to see plenty of cabin storage options, a large centre console box, and the great visibility and ride height are a welcome boost to usability, too.

Our initial 600-plus kilometre return trip to Forster in the XV was a telling one. Only away for four days in total, our two weekend duffle bags, my usual photography pack, and two bags of drinks and groceries filled the small 345-litre (VDA) boot at an alarming rate.

The boot is pretty small at 345-litre (VDA). The boot is pretty small at 345-litre (VDA).

I found you can technically fit our whole set of CarsGuide demo cases if you remove the sliding cover and fill almost to the top, although doing so will compromise your rear vision. The hybrid versions have a slightly larger boot (up 35-litres on the petrol car) but have a fixed boot floor height with no spare wheel underneath.

Fine for a couple for trips of about a week, but add a dog? Kids? Parents or grandparents? I can see this lack of cargo space becoming a problem rather quickly.

I’m a fan of the way the XV drives. It has always felt planted and sturdy, with loads of grip for all conditions. 

For the 2021 model year, the brand has also refined the front suspension tune, and in hybrid guise some of the nastier, thrashier characteristics of the XV’s underpowered 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed boxer engine are blunted.

It’s still a comparatively noisy affair, however, as accelerating to 100km/h out of the entry ramp soon revealed, with revs soaring close to the redline easily when pushed.

Aside from a little noise from the engine and the road though, the XV is a comfortable freeway cruiser.

The XV is a comfortable freeway cruiser.  The XV is a comfortable freeway cruiser. 

The seat comfort remained great despite nearly four hours behind the wheel in one day, and Subaru’s adaptive cruise control is an excellent example of the tech, pairing nicely with the lane keep assist for a smooth, predictable and no-nonsense journey.

A largely freeway-based first month is hardly a great test of this car’s hybrid capability, where the tech is at its worst.

 We’ll get into more detail on the e-Boxer hybrid drive in the next instalment, but for now I’ll just note how seamless and ‘normal’ it feels next to the petrol cars. You’d hardly notice the system is in place at all.

Does it save you much fuel? Even Subaru’s numbers wouldn’t suggest much (just 0.5L/100km down on the petrol version), and after our first month covering just over 750km the XV returned a reasonable, but hardly impressive fuel figure of 7.7L/100km.

After our first month the XV returned a reasonable, but hardly impressive fuel figure of 7.7L/100km. After our first month the XV returned a reasonable, but hardly impressive fuel figure of 7.7L/100km.

Just as I was looking forward to spending some more time in the XV around town, tragedy befell our test car. It was rear-ended! 

In a true testament to today’s sturdy construction and the effort gone into battery cell protection, our Subaru had but a scratch on its rear bumper compared to the offending 2010 i30’s caved-in front-end. 

  •  Our Subaru had but a scratch on its rear bumper. Our Subaru had but a scratch on its rear bumper.
  • The offending 2010 i30’s had a caved-in front-end. The offending 2010 i30’s had a caved-in front-end.

Nobody was injured and the XV drove away from the collision without any issues. A few days later, a Subaru representative picked our car up for repairs. What happens next? Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the next instalment to find out.

Acquired: January 2021

Distance travelled this month: 775km

Odometer: 1290km

Average fuel consumption for January: 7.7L/100km

Part 2 – March

I know what you’re thinking. Hang on a minute, didn’t you skip a month? After leaving us on a cliff-hanger from the last instalment?

Yes, we did skip a month, because it took a month to get our XV back. In a further twist, this car isn’t even the same one which was crashed into.

So, what happened? While you might be thinking that the little crash which left our initial car with just a scratch on the bumper may have been enough to write it off thanks to some complexity relating to its rear-mounted lithium battery pack, it turns out that’s not the case, at all.

Subaru tells us the battery pack is specially reinforced on hybrid models for the event of such a collision, and that our car was mechanically fine.

During the month of March we managed to cover some distance in our replacement XV, too. During the month of March we managed to cover some distance in our replacement XV, too.

There was just a bit of a wait time on the spare parts required to replace the bumper. It was faster if the brand just expedited another vehicle from its fleet for us to get straight back to testing.

We’re sure part of this is to do with the limited supply of parts and cars coming out of the only Subaru plant which services Australia and the pacific in Ota, Japan. But the brand tells us its own fleet goes right to the back of the queue with customer’s repairs taking priority. Fair enough.

Our new car wasn’t quite as fresh as the old one, with a few more kilometres on the odometer, but other than that it’s in exactly the same configuration. We reset all the computers to start our fuel numbers over again, and off we went.

During the month of March my partner and I managed to cover some distance in our replacement XV, too.

During our first month, we had a regular 2.0-litre produce an even lower fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km over just a week of mainly urban testing. During our first month, we had a regular 2.0-litre produce an even lower fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km over just a week of mainly urban testing.

From Sydney it’s been up and down the central coast (a 150km round trip) twice, plus a trip to Canberra for the Hyundai Nexo launch (a 600km round trip), so lots of freeway kilometres, but we also made sure to spend at least a week puttering around town in it to give the hybrid system a chance to shine.

Did it, though? You’ll recall our fuel number from the first month’s testing which covered almost 800km was around 7.7L/100km against an official/combined number of 6.5L/100km.

In fact, during our first month with the replacement hybrid, we had a regular 2.0-litre produce an even lower fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km over just a week of mainly urban testing.

Over a dash-reported 949km for our second month, I managed to get the hybrid down to 7.1L/100km. It’s an improvement, but a very gradual one.

The XV will kick the engine on at the mere suggestion of a hill. The XV will kick the engine on at the mere suggestion of a hill.

It’s so frustrating how little you can use the electric motor in this car! While it resides in the transmission, as opposed to on the axle like Toyota systems, its functionally very similar. Light accelerator input equals more time on purely electric drive.

Only, the XV will kick the engine on at the mere suggestion of a hill. I can get most Toyota hybrids up my steep driveway without the engine turning on, but this XV is having none of it.

I assume it’s because the meagre 12kW available struggles to deal with the weight of pulling all four wheels. I’ve adjusted my accelerator habits in this car to make the most of its limited electric drive.

Even on the flat you can use it to hold speeds of up to 60km/h, but it requires a featherlight touch of the pedal and utmost discipline.

Even though it’s not the most convincing hybrid, it’s a comfortable car to get around in every day. Even though it’s not the most convincing hybrid, it’s a comfortable car to get around in every day.

I don’t think it’s saving me much fuel, but it’s a little daily challenge to get it down a strip of road without switching the engine on at any rate. I’m hoping to bring the consumption number down further still.

Compared to the silence of Toyota hybrids, which will give you a minute or two of purely electric drive straight out of the driveway before warming the engine up, I still cringe a little when the Subie’s signature boxer thrashes to life when you hit the Start button. More electric, please!

I continue to enjoy the way the XV drives. Even though it’s not the most convincing hybrid, it’s a comfortable car to get around in every day.

I find it’s a nice mix of SUV ride height with the footprint of a hatch. It fits in 'small car' spaces in parking lots while still feeling big and chunky on the road. A tough feat which not every small SUV executes as well.

It’s so frustrating how little you can use the electric motor in this car! It’s so frustrating how little you can use the electric motor in this car!

I have started to notice a few things about the ride, though. While there’s no doubt it’s more than capable of dealing with the potholes, speed bumps, and corrugations of suburbia in relative comfort, there’s something about its rebound on a horizontal axis that’s a little ungainly.

Hit a patch of uneven tarmac at 50+ km/h on, say, just one of the front or rear wheels, and the cabin swings back and forth a little too much.

Perhaps it’s a combination of this car’s stiff SGP (Subaru Global Platform) underpinnings, tall ride height, and suspension that tries to give a mix of roadholding and capability.

It’s just missing the rigid control of the Corolla on the blacktop. I’m hoping to get the XV on some more unsealed surfaces in the next instalment to put its suggestion of flexibility to the test, so check back to see how that goes.

As a suburban commuter, the XV hybrid is a good fit. As a suburban commuter, the XV hybrid is a good fit.

The abundance of cabin space and storage options continues to be a welcome improvement over our previous Corolla long termer, and even my tallest friend fits in the back seat with enough head- and legroom.

The big rear doors even open much wider than the Corolla, allowing easy access for loading objects, or more often in our case, canine friends.

As a suburban commuter, though, the XV hybrid is a good fit, even if the 'hybrid' part of the equation seems to be limited.

Acquired: January 2021 (replaced in March with a new car)

Distance travelled this month: 949km

Odometer: 2455km

Average fuel consumption for March/April: 7.1L/100km.

$40,790

Based on new car retail price

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