SUBARU XV (2016 – 2017)

By Jonathan Crouch

Models Covered

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5dr Crossover SUV (2.0 petrol. 2.0 diesel [S, SE, SE Lux])

Introduction

The first generation version of Subaru's family-sized XV Crossover model looks a better secondhand crossover prospect in this improved post-2016 guise that delivered a smarter interior, additional technology and extra efficiency. As before, its major strength lies with the capable Symmetrical permanent 4WD system fitted to every model. Does it make sense as a used buy?

The History

The Crossover. Arguably, it’s the motor industry’s fastest growing market segment and in Subaru’s XV, that’s exactly what we have here. By now, you’re probably familiar with the concept behind this kind of car, but even if you’re not, you’re probably well acquainted with the end result. Whether packaged as Ford Kuga, a Peugeot 3008 or, most successfully, as a Nissan Qashqai, the idea’s the same. A family hatchback with SUV attitude and none of the clunky connotations associated with Freelander-style small 4x4s. Virtually none of the off roading capability either - or the solid toughness. Some Crossovers don’t even bother with a 4WD option and those that do limit it to ridiculously pricey derivatives.

Crossovers, in other words, are these days more about fashion than substance. But what if you could get one with Qashqai-like style matched to Freelander-like off road capability? What if this class of car, in other words, could actually walk the walk as well as talk the talk? That’d be quite something. That’d be unique. And that’s exactly what this XV claims to be designed to deliver.

If any brand was going to be able to create a car able to do this, you’d put money on Subaru to do it. They were building models of this kind way before the concept became fashionable, with a history going all the way back to 1995 and the launch of the Legacy Outback, a chunky all-wheel drive estate then followed by more overtly SUV-like Forester and Tribeca designs. None of which really caught the imagination of British buyers. But this car did. The version we’re going to look at here is the last of the first generation versions and was sold between 2016 and 2017.

What To Look For

The underpinnings of the XV are shared with the Impreza, so it's about as tough as that suggests. Don't go searching for a spare wheel, as the XV doesn't come with one, which seems a bit of an omission for a car that proclaims its off-road ability. The engines get top results for durability and the running gear is also bombproof. Keep an eye out for signs of overzealous off-road action, which usually means hedge scrapes in the paintwork, chewed alloy wheels, dented exhaust boxes and possibly misaligned suspension. The interiors have proven hardwearing, although the dashboard mouldings can creak and rattle.

On The Road

Crossover models as a breed are all about what they say. The raised driving position, the plastic body cladding, the big wheels. And not a lot else. Subaru as a brand doesn’t hold with that. Here’s a company that cares about what it cars can actually do as well as the school run statement they make, with the result that this XV is far more capable than most buyers will expect. It does, in short, offer a different approach to the Qashqai and Kuga norm in this segment, something you get a feel for from the very moment you slip behind the wheel.

Twist the ignition key and you know you’re in a Subaru thanks to the engine’s characteristic flat, thrumming Boxer engine beat. Both of the mainstream four cylinder engines on offer use the Boxer configuration, one in which the cylinders lay flat and whizz back and forth like a boxer's fists. There’s a single petrol option, a 148bhp 2.0-litre unit available with either a manual gearbox or a 6-speed Lineartronic CVT automatic. Most UK buyers though, will opt for the 145bhp manual-only 2.0-litre diesel model.

So how does it fare on the road? Well for a start, the driving position is extremely good, with decent adjustment of both the seat and the steering wheel. The windscreen pillars are refreshingly slim, although the rear three quarter view will have many relying on the parking sensors when nudging it into a parking bay. Get beyond the city limits and give the throttle a good prod and you’re rewarded with a nice gravelly thrum from this 2.0-litre diesel as sixty is dispatched in 9.3s on the way to 120mph. Thanks to 350Nm of torque, there’s reasonable pulling power through the sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox too, if not quite as much as is provided by some comparable rivals.

And around the twisty stuff? Well you might have reasonable hopes here, given Subaru’s claims that thanks to the way the Boxer engine can sit very low in the car, this model can boast the lowest centre of gravity in the segment. Which ought to make it very taut around the corners. That might be true in theory, but it doesn’t feel that way the first time you throw the XV into a tight bend. The raised driving position makes the car feel a little precarious, but stick with it and you'll find plenty of grip. In fact, the more you drive it, the more confident you get and it actually becomes good fun. Or would be if the electric power steering offered a bit more feel.

Overall

Here’s a car that makes more sense the more you think about it. It may not be quite as flashy as some other segment rivals but there’s plenty else to like, primarily the standard 4WD system, the brilliant build quality, the lovely charismatic Boxer engines and this XV’s surprising off road ability. Then add in high equipment levels and strong standards of safety. Starting to look rather tempting now isn’t it?

Especially as some of the things that might previously have put you off a used MK1 model XV – a plasticky cabin, a lack of media connectivity and very average levels of running cost efficiency – were all usefully improved with this smarter-looking post-’16-era model. Of course, this Subaru still wasn’t perfect. Ride and refinement could be better, the boot could be bigger and it’s still never going to challenge for class honours on an economy run. These things needn’t be deal-breakers though. And for many loyal buyers, they certainly don’t dilute the XVs many virtues.

In summary, what we have here is a refreshing change from the whole 'style over substance' approach that seems to characterise so many Crossover models. It’s something Subaru’s never quite understood. And hopefully never will.