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Subaru XV hybrid 2021 review: L

A round of subtle yet important improvements should make the Subaru XV Hybrid even more popular.

Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4.5/5

Subaru has been at the SUV forefront well before the first Forester surfaced in 1997, championing raised four-wheel drive sedans, wagons (that eventually led to the Outback phenomenon that pretty much invented the genre) and utes (BRAT and legendary Brumby!) for decades before that.

By the time it put an Impreza on stilts – at first to create the chintzy RV of the early 2000s before renaming that the XV for the third generation (G3) of 2007Subaru had already created the modern hatch/crossover.

But it was the previous (G4X) shape launched in 2012 that really kicked off what has since become a consistently strong seller for the Japanese brand… which makes the slow uptake of copycat rivals (in Australia, anyway) all the more curious.

Subaru is seeking to further forge fresh trails with the XV Hybrid. Subaru is seeking to further forge fresh trails with the XV Hybrid.

Why isn’t there a Toyota Corolla ‘XV’ or Mazda3 ‘XV’, for instance? Even the front-drive-only Ford Focus Active doesn’t go the whole hog with all-wheel drive. In contrast, the luxury classes have their Mercedes GLAs and Lexus UXs, so what gives?

Now Subaru is seeking to further forge fresh trails with the XV Hybrid. Released in early 2020 to a huge reception, it was facelifted – along with the rest of the G5 Impreza range that begat it – in October of that year.

Presenting, then, the MY21 XV Series II 2.0 Hybrid L. What’s it like? Read on.

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

The XV Series II’s changes are hardly ground-breaking, coming down to a minor facelift (mainly the grille, bumpers, fog lights and alloy wheels), suspension modifications (revised springs and dampers to improve the ride and handling) and the inevitable price rises.

Though only on the market for about nine months, the Hybrid system also gains improved transmission functionality. When ‘S’ for Sport is selected, the new ‘e-Active Shift Control’ software keeps engine speed up even when the transmission shifts down, for stronger acceleration responses, aided by the electric motor’s torque output.

The XV has had a minor facelift. The XV has had a minor facelift.

Basically, it’s meant to provide livelier performance, addressing a criticism of the earlier XV Hybrid, though the 110kW/196Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine/12.3kW/66Nm electric motor outputs remain the same.

That’s the theory anyway. For most buyers, the fact that they can buy a petrol-electric crossover with AWD from $35,490 before on road-costs has been a massive XV Hybrid drawcard. 

It’s priced between the smaller 67kW/120Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder Yaris Cross Hybrid (from $28,990 for the GX FWD to $37,990 for the Urban AWD) and larger 160kW/221Nm RAV4 Hybrid (from $37,070 for the GX to $46,415 for the Cruiser AWD with 163kW). Toyota also offers the similarly-sized C-HR in FWD-only Koba Hybrid form from $37,665, and then… nothing, until the equally popular Forester 2.0 Hybrid L from $40,490. Subaru basically has carved itself a successful little niche.

It’s easy to see why people are drawn to the XV Hybrid’s pricing.

On the safety front, the 2.0 L includes AWD of course, adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Lead Vehicle Start Alert, Pre-Collision Braking System, Pre-Collision Brake Assist (essentially Subaru’s Autonomous Emergency Braking system that falls under the proprietary ‘EyeSight’ technology), Pre-Collision Throttle Management, Brake Light Recognition, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on/off headlights and front fog lights. 

There’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen, reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth wireless streaming and telephony, digital radio, climate-control air-con, leather-trimmed steering wheel, power-folding mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels – though no spare due to the hybrid system taking up space under the boot floor. A puncture-repair kit is your lot.

Featuring 17-inch alloys. Featuring 17-inch alloys.

For another $5300, the 2.0 Hybrid S brings significantly more safety kit (Blind Spot Monitor, Front View Monitor, High Beam Assist, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Automatic Braking, a handy Side View Monitor, self-levelling LED headlights with cornering functionality and LED daytime driving lights), a bit more electronic traction assistance with a two-setting ‘X-Mode’ system, sunroof, satellite navigation, leather upholstery, heated front seats with power and memory for the driver, auto folding/dipping/dimming rear-view mirrors, dual zone climate control, ritzier cabin trim and 18-inch alloys.

That’s a lot of extra kit for the cash.

There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Design plays a starring role in the XV’s appeal, with Subaru’s stylists getting this one right, with harmonious proportions, a handsome face and pleasing details playing big supporting parts.

The latter even extends to the chunky alloys, while the bumper and wheel arch cladding blend in better here than on many other rival efforts.

What’s impressive is that Subaru has managed to differentiate the XV enough for many people to think it’s not merely a jumped-up Impreza. Good design does that – it can take you to another place. That’s exactly what’s happened here.

How practical is the space inside?

While the Hybrid L might seem like a bargain petrol-electric SUV on paper, brace yourself, because in real life, the cabin space and ambience are pure mid-spec Impreza – albeit a lofty one. Nothing premium to see here, other than the build quality.

Entry/egress through the front doors is easy. Wide doors and a sizeable aperture allow for that. High cushions and loads of seat travel also make finding the right driving position a piece of cake, on seats that are wide and flat but not uncomfortable. Thin pillars and a low dash cowl enhance forward and side vision, aided of course by large mirrors and a reverse camera. So good so far.

High cushions and loads of seat travel also make finding the right driving position a piece of cake. High cushions and loads of seat travel also make finding the right driving position a piece of cake.

The dash is generic modern-day Subaru, down to the clean and clear dials, rudimentary climate control system and very straightforward multimedia system. The latter is simple but a little clunky and dated, but gets the job done as far as functionality is concerned.

The dash is generic modern-day Subaru. The dash is generic modern-day Subaru.

There’s no escaping the acres of well-made but slightly sheeny plastics, but they don’t rattle or zizz like in some luxury vehicles we’ve experienced lately. They’re also quite soft to touch, so don’t seem cheapo either.

Ventilation is ample, and there is plenty of storage, including for smaller bottles in the doors, a medium-sized glovebox and a large centre bin between the front seats, housing a second 12V outlet (after the one in the lower console area) and a further two USB-A ports, bringing the total count to four.  

Subarus have forever included a second, smaller screen, back near the base of the windscreen, with several screens offering additional info for vehicle operation, trip computer, multimedia, AWD torque distribution, inclinometer, powertrain stats and vehicle systems status. It’s a visual mess with mismatching graphics, but it’s also endearingly on-brand in an old-school way. 

There is plenty of storage including for smaller bottles in the doors. There is plenty of storage including for smaller bottles in the doors.

Meanwhile, sat comfortably high in the back seat, occupants enjoy an airy environment offering more head and legroom than the compact crossover proportions suggest, backed by exceptionally long doors (they open to almost 90 degrees), a sturdy centre armrest with cupholders, and storage in the doors for small bottles and phones. What is missing are overhead reading lights – though the central ceiling item isn’t too far out of reach – and face-level air vents – but, again, the huge dash-sited ones have no problem reaching the second row. And, the windows wind all the way down too to boot.

Back seat occupants enjoy an airy environment offering more head and legroom than expected. Back seat occupants enjoy an airy environment offering more head and legroom than expected.

Speaking of which, the 345-litre cargo area wins with its width and craftsmanship, but loses valuable depth due to the hybrid gear lurking underneath the near boot-lip level floor height. Capacity stretches to 919L with the split/fold backrests dropped down. A tyre-inflation kit is fitted in lieu of a spare wheel.

The 345-litre cargo area wins with its width and craftsmanship. The 345-litre cargo area wins with its width and craftsmanship.

There are hooks to secure stuff to and a single light, as well as a retractable luggage area cover, but there is nothing remotely SUV-esque or wagon-like about the rear of the XV. 

Still, the Subaru’s cabin is well-assembled and pleasantly presented, without being showy or luxurious-looking in any way.

Capacity stretches to 919L with the split/fold backrests dropped down. Capacity stretches to 919L with the split/fold backrests dropped down.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Subaru is famous for its ‘boxer’ – or horizontally-opposed – internal combustion engines, as opposed to the in-line or V-shape cylinder formation most other brands employ.

In the Hybrid version, this is no different, with a 1995cc 2.0-litre double overhead cam four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine.  Dubbed ‘e-boxer’, it also includes a compact permanent magnet AC electric motor and an air-cooled lithium ion battery. The latter is only charged via kinetic energy produced through regenerative braking and coasting.

Subaru's hybrid system is dubbed ‘e-boxer’. Subaru's hybrid system is dubbed ‘e-boxer’.

The engine delivers 110kW of power at 6000rpm and 196Nm of torque at 4000rpm while the electric motor makes 12.3kW and 66Nm respectively; the electric motor mainly serves to assist the petrol engine, and only drives the wheels exclusively at very low speeds (with up to 40km/h possible in the most favourable conditions) or when coasting along.

The engine delivers 110kW of power. The engine delivers 110kW of power.

That said, when coasting along above 40km/h, the petrol engine may switch off for further pure-EV power, until the throttle is pressed down and the engine fires up again. Beyond that, it's fossil fuel all the way to the largely-academic 200km/h v-max.

Subaru says the e-Boxer system alternates between petrol and electric operation to match driving conditions, with three modes available: Motor Assist EV driving; Motor Assist electric (EV) plus petrol engine driving, and petrol-only. Note that in EV-only mode an alert is emitted to warn pedestrians and other road users, at speeds of up to 24km/h.

The e-Boxer engine/motor/battery combo send torque to all four wheels via Subaru’s Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that it calls Lineartronic. It also features an X-Mode off-road system, providing altering torque distribution for better traction over bad roads, slippery surfaces and steep hills.

How much fuel does it consume?

The XV Hybrid has an official combined average fuel consumption figure of 6.5L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 147g/km; its urban figure is 7.5L/100km while the extra-urban mileage is 5.9L/100km.

The car’s trip computer, meanwhile, stated that the XV Hybrid consumed 8.0L/100km over our initial tank of fuel, but at the pump our figure was 8.1L/100km – a startlingly close result. This figure was obtained in mostly inner-urban and suburban runs, with a smattering of freeway driving thrown in.

The fuel tank’s capacity is 48 litres, requires just 91 RON standard unleaded petrol, and can average just over 735km between refills.
The official combined average fuel consumption figure is 6.5L/100km. The official combined average fuel consumption figure is 6.5L/100km.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

As outlined earlier, the base XV Hybrid L offers all-wheel drive, as well as adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Lead Vehicle Start Alert, Pre-Collision Braking System, Pre-Collision Brake Assist (essentially Subaru’s Autonomous Emergency Braking system that falls under the proprietary ‘EyeSight’ technology), Pre-Collision Throttle Management, Brake Light Recognition, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on/off headlights and front fog lights.

You will need to stretch to the $40,790 Hybrid S for Subaru’s Vision Assist system, which bundles in a Blind Spot Monitor, Front View Monitor, High Beam Assist, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Automatic Braking and a Side View Monitor. It also includes self-levelling LED headlights with cornering functionality and LED daytime driving lights and a two-setting ‘X-Mode’ system, for slightly broader light-off-road capability.

All versions have two outboard rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as trio of top tethers for child-seat straps.

Tested in 2017, the XV as we know it wasn’t actually crash-tested by ANCAP, but instead its very closely-related Impreza four-door sedan cousin was, in 2.0-litre petrol guise. Here’s what ANCAP has to say about the variances:

“The tested model of Subaru XV was first introduced in Australia and New Zealand in May 2017. Hybrid variants were added to the XV model range in January 2020. The ANCAP safety rating for the XV is based on crash tests of the Subaru Impreza. ANCAP was provided with technical information which showed that the crash test results of the Impreza apply to the XV. This ANCAP safety rating applies to all XV variants including hybrids.”

 The AEB is said to be operational between 10km/h and 80km/h.

The XV has harmonious proportions. The XV has harmonious proportions.

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

Subaru offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, plus an eight-year/160,000 km warranty on the lithium ion battery, for “private buyers for private use”.

Otherwise, if it’s “used as a hire car, taxi, ride share, rental, driving school, delivery or courier vehicle in which case the warranty period is five-years/150,000km (whichever occurs first).”

Unlike previous-generation Subarus, the XV joins the latest Impreza, Forester and 2021 Outback in requiring 12-month/12,500km intervals, as well as capped price service scheduling.

The latter’s cost at the time of publishing are: $341.15, $591 and $347.34 for intervals one to three (amounting to $1279.49), and then $797.61 and $353.75 for intervals four and five, totalling $2430.85 after five years or 62,500km.

What's it like to drive around town?

The XV is deceptive in some ways.

Standing tall for a hatchback, it’s easy to forget that the Subaru isn’t a proper SUV… until you try reversing it. The rising window line betrays the limited amount of over-shoulder vision available. It’s a good thing the central touchscreen and gigantic door mirrors are so Cinemascope-esque in breadth.

It’s also disappointing that the Subaru cannot be driven for any meaningful distance solely in EV mode. The petrol engine always seems to be on, except when coasting along or feathering the throttle lightly at low speeds. As such, if you don’t see the ‘Hybrid’ badge you won’t know this is anything other than a 2.0-litre petrol model. A bit more electric theatre here, please Subaru.

Though not what you’d call punchy or immediate, the XV’s performance is… sneaky.

Initial step-off acceleration is nothing more than adequate, and is dependent on a lot of throttle for it to really start picking up. This is probably the weakest part of the Subaru’s driving experience, because though speed does come on strongly, flexing your foot elicits engine drone and that rubbery CVT elasticity. It just isn’t all that quiet or pleasant, frankly.

Once moving, however, the XV really pulls hardily, riding on a wave of torque to provide effortless response as required. This is where the hybrid is probably most obviously felt. If there’s a need to pick up speed, you’re already there. And all without the engine wailing.

And this is in ‘Intelligent’ mode. Select ‘Sport’ and there’s newfound urgency right off the line, with speed coming on noticeably faster, accompanied by the e-Boxer’s busily beating away as the revs rise relentlessly. In fact, the Hybrid feels substantially stronger than the regular XV in terms of overall performance and response. It’s cake in mouth as well as hand.

Once moving the XV really pulls hardily. Once moving the XV really pulls hardily.

Another Subaru virtue is its surefooted handling, offering endless grip and control through fast, tight turns. And in any weather too, thanks to an AWD system (as well as MacPherson-style struts up front and a double wishbone rear end), imparting a sense of dauntless security. The steering may not be especially big on feedback, but the Hybrid will head exactly where pointed. This is quite an accomplishment, considering that the XV is quite a heavy at 1576kg, and with 220mm of ground clearance to boot. Such unflappable dynamic behaviour in and out of urban areas is exemplary.

What we’re saying is the XV Hybrid is quick and zippy around town if you’re willing to rev it (or use Sport mode) and more fun out where the roads get more interesting. We’re also pleading for Subaru to offer us a turbo or high-performance grade, since it’s abundantly clear the chassis can handle heaps more power.

After the previous edition, it’s great to learn how measurably suppler and more isolating the suspension has become as a result of the MY21 makeover, with the Subaru smothering potholes, speed humps, railway tracks and other road irregularities like it’s been blessed with increased coil-spring travel. Maybe that extra weight and insulation associated with the hybrid system is also behind a newfound refinement in the way the XV glides over surfaces. Previous iterations rode more stiffly and loudly, so this sure is a pleasant surprise.

Where the Subaru will shock nobody is at how well it handles gravel and loose surfaces, with the AWD system and electronic traction controls keeping things from straying too wide of the mark, especially when taking a tight turn with some speed. It’s all about measured control and security. Exceptionally strong brakes are also another benefit.

For this review, our particular XV Hybrid L had the misfortune of following on from a loaded Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic that cost more than twice the price (and pace).

But – German solidity and opulent cabin presentation aside – the Subaru more than held its ground, with good looks, a decent specification, willing performance and comfortable cabin.

The hybrid part of the equation is undoubtedly best experienced in congested big-city environments, where its engine cut-out and brief, serene pure-EV driving range would be most beneficial. That it also manages to return decent economy and largely viceless handling and roadholding characteristics at higher speeds without feeling dreary or leaden points to the fine engineering prowess going on underneath.

We’re also happy Subaru has priced the XV Hybrid so accessibly. But as the base L grade lacks a few of the driver-assist safety items that are becoming increasingly standardised on rival crossovers and SUVs nowadays, we’d stretch to the S that gains these, as well as the many luxury extras it comes with. Given the facelift’s newfound refinement, that’s probably $5300 well spent.

Either way, this still-comparatively rare (for now) affordable petrol-electric crossover proves that Subaru remains committed to opening new markets.

$35,490

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4.5/5