What Car? says...
Although many SUVs look like they can cut it off road, a surprising proportion would struggle to pull themselves out of a muddy car park. Why? Because most are either front-wheel drive or have four-wheel drive systems that only work some of the time. The Subaru XV is a very different animal.
Yes, Subaru’s family SUV looks like a hatchback on stilts, but beneath its subtle, conventional exterior is a full-time four-wheel drive system that makes the XV remarkably agile in conditions that would stop rivals in their tracks.
That’s not the only thing that defines the XV, though. Unlike many rivals, it’s offered with an engine that uses hybrid technology with the aim of boosting performance and helping fuel economy. It also comes with loads of kit as standard, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and Subaru’s EyeSight safety system.
So, the XV certainly has some appealing qualities, but is it a match for the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq in other areas? That's what we'll be looking at over the next few pages of this review.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The XV offers you a 1.6-litre petrol engine (badged 1.6i) and a 2.0-litre petrol hybrid with an electric motor, badged as the XV e-Boxer 2.0i.
The 1.6i produces 112bhp, providing acceleration that’s very sedate by class standards. The 2.0 e-Boxer is, unsurprisingly, quicker; its petrol engine produces 148bhp and its electric motor a further 17bhp. However, in reality, even this higher-powered engine isn’t enough to help the SV feel particularly quick; it can’t match the low-down pull of its turbocharged rivals.
As hybrid systems go, this is a very mild one. It won’t let you travel for great distances using only electric power, for instance. In fact, you’ll be lucky to get a few seconds of pure electric propulsion at low speeds when you lift off the accelerator pedal. And then, when the petrol engine kicks in, the transition isn’t particularly smooth.
Matters aren’t helped by the XV’s CVT automatic gearbox, which every XV has as standard. This has seven 'simulated' gears that you can cycle through using paddle shifters on the steering wheel. However, the 'box is best left in its automatic mode, where it largely does a good job of keeping progress smooth – although, as with all CVTs, the engine revs noisily high under heavy acceleration. The gearbox can also be slightly jerky when you’re on and off the accelerator around town.
When cornering, the XV resists body lean well and feels pretty agile. There’s plenty of grip and it always feels sure-footed, and the steering is well-weighted. As a result, the XV is more enjoyable to drive than the Nissan Qashqai, but it can’t match the Seat Ateca in this area.
As is the case with the Ateca, though, this tidy handling comes at a price. The XV's ride is firm and never fully settles, even on smooth roads. Go over a rough piece of asphalt and you'll be jostled around in your seat.
Where the XV stands out from these rivals, though, is in having a genuine off-road capability. In addition to four-wheel drive, the XV has a generous 220mm of ground clearance and X-Mode; a driving setting that optimises the four-wheel drive system over tricky surfaces at low speeds and includes hill descent control. Even on normal road tyres, it can take pretty hostile terrain in its stride.
The interior layout, fit and finish
If you have a prod and a poke around the XV’s interior, you’ll find tactile soft-touch plastics in prominent locations. But you’ll also notice some flimsy-feeling switches and cheaper materials. So while it's a pretty good effort, it still falls some way short of providing the kind of perceived quality you’ll experience in the Skoda Karoq.
The steering wheel and seats have plenty of adjustment, making it easy to get comfortable regardless of your height. And the wheel itself is trimmed in leather, making it pleasant to hold. It's just a pity that its buttons, which control the stereo and various safety systems, look so cheap.
In the centre of the dash is an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. The system is easy enough to navigate, with big icons and a crisp display. The XV's touchscreen is certainly better than the ones from Honda and Toyota, but it can't match the responsiveness and ease of use of those from Seat and Skoda.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Front-seat passengers are unlikely to complain about the amount of space on offer: head room is good and the seat goes back far enough to accommodate taller drivers.
Those in the back won’t be quite so happy. Our sunroof-equipped test car may have had just enough head room for a six-footer, but even shorter occupants will find the area a little claustrophobic. That's a shame because leg room is excellent – better than in many rivals – and shoulder room is adequate for three people to sit side by side.
There’s a useful cubby with USB and 12V sockets in front of the gearlever, another cubby under the armrest, and two cupholders. The door bins aren’t particularly big but will hold a few bits and pieces and a small bottle of water.
Unfortunately, the boot is disappointing. It’s smaller than that of the Nissan Qashqai and Seat Ateca and is narrow in places where the wheel arches encroach. There’s also a sizeable load lip to heave luggage over, with no adjustable boot floor to flatten things out.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The good news in this regard is that all XVs get plenty of equipment as standard, including luxuries like heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and, of course, four-wheel drive.
There are just two trim levels, and we recommend sticking with entry-level SE to keep the costs down. SE Premium doesn’t really add enough to make its higher price worth paying; yes, it gives you electrically adjustable leather seats and sat-nav, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the range, you’re better off using a navigation app on your phone anyway.
The bad news is that the XV is among the most expensive family SUVs around. The more spacious Skoda Karoq, for instance, is cheaper to buy or finance if you don’t mind foregoing four-wheel drive. And the truth is, unless you expect to regularly drive across muddy fields or fight through snowdrifts, front-wheel-drive rivals make more sense – particularly when it comes to running costs.
Neither of the XV’s engines is particularly efficient, even the hybrid’s CO2 emissions are on the high side. And, while that might be acceptable for some private buyers, the effect it has on its company car tax rate is likely to strike the XV off most firms' vehicles lists.
One area where the XV does excel, however, is in safety. Thanks to the bundles of safety kit fitted as standard (in particular, Subaru’s EyeSight collision avoidance system), the XV scored a full five stars in its Euro NCAP safety tests; it performed very well in the adult and pedestrian safety sections, scoring 94% and 84% respectively.
Another particularly praiseworthy piece of safety tech is the XV’s clever front occupant detection system. It is able to detect if a rearward-facing child seat is being used and, if so, will automatically turn off the front passenger airbag. Little wonder the XV excelled in the child occupant protection in its Euro NCAP test, gaining a respectable 89% rating in this category. Meanwhile, an alarm and engine immobiliser are fitted to boost security.
Subaru’s five-year or 100,000-mile warranty is impressive by class standards; most rivals offer only three years of cover. The extra battery of hybrid models is covered by an separate eight year, 100,000 mile warranty.
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|RRP price range||£33,290 - £35,290|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||35.7 - 35.7|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£2,383 / £2,531|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£4,766 / £5,062|