The new Subaru XV is Subaru's assault on the lucrative SUV market.
The XV is similar in size to SUVs such as the BMW X1 and Nissan Qashqai so it should appeal to the same style-conscious buyers.
What's it like to drive?
The 2.0-litre diesel engine revs very freely for a diesel, and it feels every bit as powerful as its 145bhp suggests. It also has plenty of pull in the low- and mid-range, making it impressively flexible. That means your progress will be easy as well as brisk.
Two petrol engines are also on offer, a 1.6 with 112bhp, and a 2.0-litre with 148bhp. We've driven the latter, and although it's fine in isolation, it's not a patch on the diesel. It needs far more revs to get going, so doesn't feel anywhere near as eager.
There's an immense amount of grip in corners, and although the body slops over a little bit initially, body roll is well contained thereafter. The permanent four-wheel drive means the car never struggles for traction out of a bend, either.
Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. The steering is vague and inconsistently weighted, which is disconcerting when you're pressing on, and makes you wary about using the car's handling ability to the full. That initial slackness in the suspension also means that the body feels floaty on undulating roads.
That's not the end of the ride issues. After that initial slackness, the suspension is very firm indeed. You feel too much of patched-up surfaces at low speed, and there's a constant, unrelenting tremor at motorway speeds.
The diesel engine only starts to sound hammery if you really thrash it (which you rarely need to), and it settles down into the background at 70mph. The petrol engine is less hushed, if only by virtue of the fact that it needs to be worked harder for more of the time. However, get up to motorway speeds in any XV, and you'll be subjected to too much road noise.
What's it like inside?
Those familiar with Subaru's products will be very impressed by the XV's cabin. It has the usual Subaru solidity, so everything feels like it'll survive years of hard use, but there are also some swanky touches including the soft-touch covering on the top of the dash and the textured finish on top of the door trims.
However, although the XV is a step up for the brand, it still can't compete on quality with rivals like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, which are similar money. In particular, the plastics used to construct the glovebox lid and the central partition that sits between the driver and front passenger, look and feel disappointingly cheap.
There are some ergonomic issues, too. The air-con dials are nice and simple, but while they sit at the very bottom of the centre console, the readout that shows you the temperature and fan speed you've selected sits in the digital display at the very top. The standard stereo also has some confusing, hard-to-read menus, and the thick, steeply angled rear window pillars mean over-the-shoulder visibility isn't much cop.
Still, you get a great view out of the front thanks to the narrow windscreen pillars and high driving position. There's also lots of adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel, which makes it a doddle to get comfortable.
Your passengers will be happy, too. Sure, rear headroom is no better than adequate, but massively generous rear legroom means that two tall passengers will travel comfortably in the back. A third rear passenger won't be so comfy, though, because the middle seat is very narrow.
Bags aren't that well catered for, either, because the boot is pretty shallow and there's a big lip to load items over. You can lash the boot floor to the lip to create a ramp that helps you slide heavy bags out, but it doesn't iron out the lip completely, and installing it is such a faff that you'll probably never bother.
The rear seats fold down to boost your load capacity, but you're left with a load area that's both stepped and sloped.
Should I buy one?
We've got some misgivings about the XV, but the biggest one is yet to come – the price. The XV is best as a diesel, and in order to get essential kit such as a Bluetooth phone connection, MP3 connectivity and a leather steering wheel, you need to choose mid-range SE trim. The price of this version is a rather steep £26,295, and that's more expensive than equivalent four-wheel drive versions of not only the Nissan Qashqai, but also premium-badged rivals like the BMW X1.
The XV isn't as good on fuel economy or CO2 emissions as the Qashqai, either.
There's a bigger problem. Many SUV buyers are far more concerned about style than they are about genuine off-roading ability, so for most, having four-wheel drive makes no odds whatsoever. Most of the XV's rivals are also available in two-wheel-drive format, which makes them even cheaper to buy and run.
Indeed, live without four-wheel drive, and you can also have Audi's classy Q3 for less than you'll pay for the XV. As competition goes, that's pretty strong.
Granted, the XV does come with Subaru's sensational three-year aftercare package that not only includes the normal warranty, but all sorts of other free perks like (subject to certain price caps) dent and alloy wheel repair, lost key replacement, collection and delivery for servicing and even a free monthly wash at your dealer. Even so, we still find it impossible to recommend the Subaru over its many talented rivals.
If you want a true-blue 4x4 with compact dimensions, then the XV might just be worth a look. However, if you want a car like this purely for its rugged image rather than its mud-plugging ability, then there are lots of rivals that offer you more comfort, class and refinement for less cash.
What Car? says…
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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