Subaru XV review

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Subaru's XV e-Boxer crossover gets a self-charging hybrid engine. And it's still more capable off road than you might expect a car in the family-sized Qashqai segment to be. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Subaru's XV mid-sized SUV now focuses on self-charging hybrid power and features a light facelift to keep it competitive in this growing segment. The e-Boxer engine allows this full hybrid crossover to directly take on segment models like Toyota's C-HR, Kia's Niro and Hyundai's Kona hybrid, cars that already have this technology. For a little more money, this Subaru offers more space, much more capability but a little less efficiency.

Background

For years, Subaru's have sold on tough, no-nonsense virtues - like practicality and go-anywhere 4WD. If that meant they weren't quite as efficient as rivals, then so be it. But customers aren't quite so forgiving these days. Even something very capable needs to have a degree of electrified efficiency in today's market, hence the need for the Fuji Heavy Industries brand to introduce its e-Boxer full-hybrid engine. We've seen it in the company's Forester mid-sized SUV, but we look at it here in the brand's more compact XV crossover model.

The XV e-Boxer can't be plugged in, but it is a proper self-charging hybrid. In contrast to the mild hybrid engines being currently marketed by Ford and Volkswagen Group brands which feature powerplants that can't at any time run independently on battery power, so are nothing like as efficient as full-hybrids. So Subaru has done the job properly - to what effect in this XV? Let's find out.

Driving Experience

For this updated model, Subaru has introduced enhanced 'X-MODE 'and 'SI-Drive' functions but otherwise, things are much as before if you happen to have been looking at the hybrid version of this car. The engine here is the brand's familiar normally aspirated 150PS 2.0-litre Boxer petrol unit, sending power to all four wheels via a CVT belt-driven auto transmission. But what's different here is that it's assisted by a 16bhp electric motor built into that Lineartronic gearbox, the motor powered by small battery under the boot floor. That's enough for all electric driving at speeds of up to 25mph. The electric assistance doesn't have much impact on performance - rest to 60mph takes 10.7s on the way to a top speed of 120mph. More significantly, peak pulling power isn't delivered until 4,000rpm, so the engine needs to be stretched quite a lot if you want to make any significant progress and the 'rubber band' characteristics of the CVT auto gearbox can be a further impediment to rapid progress.

Still, all will be forgiven when you get this car off road. There's a decent 220mm of ground clearance and as usual with Subaru, a Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system that'll get you to places that other volume brand four-wheel drive mid-sized crossovers would struggle to reach. The e-Boxer's electric motor is used to help improve off-road ability, providing extra low-down pulling power when 'X-Mode' is selected using a rotary dial on the dash. This means the car can take on steep slopes and descents, shuffling power between its various wheels. Subaru says the XV can lean over at up to 30-degrees, an unheard-of stat for a car of this kind.

For this updated model, Subaru has introduced enhanced 'X-MODE 'and 'SI-Drive' functions to give drivers reliable control at the push of a button. 'X-MODE' now features a dual function button to select 'SNOW/DIRT' mode for slippery surfaces covered with snow, dirt, or gravel. Or a 'SNOW/MUD' mode for especially treacherous road conditions where vehicles can become easily stuck, such as deep snow or dirt.

There's also a drive mode system - 'Subaru Intelligent Drive' '(SI-Drive') -which allows the driver to select engine and transmission characteristics according to their driving style. Select 'Sport' mode for immediate throttle response or 'Intelligent ' mode for more fuel-efficient power delivery.

Design and Build

The XV gets a slightly different look in this facelifted form, courtesy of a re-designed front bumper and front grille, plus a subtly reshaped front fog lamp bezel which surrounds the LED fog lights. The re-design focuses on giving the XV a more sporty and rugged look including newly designed 18-inch alloy wheels. The rear spoiler end plate is finished in gloss black and an e-Boxer badge features on the wings and tailgate.

Inside, the emphasis is on practicality rather than luxury, but the cabin's quite a lot smarter than the sort of thing that Subaru used to serve up. And it's better connected too. In the centre of the instrument panel lies an 8.0-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment system, with the usual smartphone connectivity via Subaru's Starlink media system. This can brief you on weather and traffic reports, plus the set-up can also provide wireless audio, news updates and a calendar and in addition, its functionality extends to a range of apps that can be downloaded onto users' phones or tablets.

In the rear, Subaru talks of room for three adults, but the high centre transmission tunnel will make that difficult to achieve on all but the shortest journeys. It'll be fine for three children though. If there are only two of you, then you'll be able to use the dual cup holders in the fold-down armrest. The XV's comparatively long wheelbase gives a decent amount of rear legroom, the space available helped by front seats that you can get your feet comfortably under. Out back, the 340-litre boot (which is compromised by 45-litres by the hybrid drive system) is pretty compact for this size of car, but fold the rear seats down and things improve quite a lot, with 765-litres on offer - or 1,173-litres if you load to the roof.

Market and Model

Prices for this XV e-Boxer start at around £32,000 - that's for the 'SE' version; if you want the plusher 'SE Premium' version, you'll need £2,000 more. These figures represent a £3,300 extra charge over the conventionally-engined 1.6i petrol-powered XV, so you've really got to want the added hybrid tech. At least you get plenty of kit. Standard equipment includes keyless entry, full-LED headlights equipped with high beam assist, privacy glass on the rear windows, roof rails and automatic air conditioning and 18-inch alloy wheels. There's also a reversing camera and an 8-inch centre dash touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring. And you get Subaru's X-Mode off-road driving mode, complete with Hill Descent Control.

Plus there are plenty of camera safety features too. 'EyeSight', Subaru's camera-based safety package, delivers features such as Pre-Collision Braking Control, Adaptive Cruise Control and a Lane Keep Assist function. There's also an improved High Beam Assist system for 'Steering Responsive Headlights' that are able to move their beam right or left whilst cornering or at junctions to illuminate the direction of travel. In addition, there's also a 'Rear Vehicle Detection' system offering blind spot detection, lane change assistance and reversing assistance to enhance all-round preventive safety.

Cost of Ownership

If you're hoping for significant efficiency gains from the e-Boxer powertrain, then you might be a little disappointed. Let's get to the WLTP figures. These are quoted at 35.7mpg on the combined cycle and 180g/km of CO2. These are virtually identical to what you would get from the conventionally-engined 1.6i petrol model further down the range. Which is a little surprising because at low speeds, the XV e-Boxer sticks with all electric power more readily than some rival self-charging hybrid models - you just have to be a bit careful with your right foot, though the engine will chime in to start charging the battery after about a mile. That engine automatically assists the battery and charges it up above 25 mph, before taking over all duties once you reach cruising speeds. The set-up also re-charges the battery when the car is braking or when you're coasting.

A decently sized 60-litre fuel tank gives all models a useful touring range. And there's an ECO meter in the Multi Function Display dash display that helps you optimise your driving efficiency over time. Residual values certainly aren't going to be on a par with BMW and Audi, but Subaru is committed to doing what it can to make the ownership experience as painless as possible. To that end, you get a comprehensive five year / 125,000 mile warranty that's one of the best in the industry.

Summary

And in summary? Well, we'd hoped the e-Boxer engineering on offer here might be more transformative to the XV than it actually is. The same, incidentally, might be said of this facelift. As for the engine, well the gains in efficiency brought by this model's switch to a degree of electrified power aren't huge - and certainly aren't big enough to offset the weight penalty the XV has over obvious mid-sized volume brand crossover rivals. But it has that weight penalty because it has a far more sophisticated and capable 4WD system than those competitors can offer.

The brand's Symmetrical All Wheel Drive set-up continues to be this car's biggest draw. Most alternatives in this class don't offer 4WD at all, except sometimes on ridiculously pricey variants. And even then, it simply won't get you the places this Subaru can go. If you live out in the country or you regularly tow, that's going to be a huge attraction if you're shopping for this class of car. And if you are, fact that Subaru can now offer it with a modicum of extra efficiency will be welcome news.

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