In a world filled with hatchbacks masquerading as off-roaders, the Subaru XV can lay claim to having the tough-ish substance to match its tough-ish style.
Beneath that black cladding is a full-time all-wheel drive system across the XV range, and there’s even a proper X-Mode for mild off-roading adventures. How serious!
An update late in 2020 brought about a few choice improvements for Subaru’s second-best selling car in Australia.
The Premium AWD on test here now features a full spread of safety features as standard, and there’s new bumpers and trim bits up front for a tougher look.
The more that changes though, the more that stays the same.
The Subaru XV is still a solid SUV for city slickers who like to get their boots a bit muddy – and it’s arguably at its best in 2.0i Premium guise.
Pricing for the 2021 Subaru XV kicks off at $29,690 before on-road costs, but the Subaru XV 2.0i Premium on test will set you back $34,590 before on-roads.
It sits one rung below the range-topping 2.0i-S in the petrol-powered XV range, although it’s smack-bang in the middle of the line-up if you throw the XV Hybrid into the mix.
A price just shy of $35,000 throws the XV into one of Australia’s most competitive new car segments.
Standard equipment across the XV range includes a rear-view camera, roof rails, power-folding mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Moving up to the 2.0i-L gets you dual-zone climate control, lane-keeping assist, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, premium cloth trim, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen instead of the 7.0-inch unit featured on the base model.
Stepping up to the 2.0i Premium on test here gets you satellite navigation, a powered sunroof, and extra active safety equipment including blind-spot monitoring, land-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse AEB.
You don’t get LED headlights, nor LED daytime running lights on the Premium. Given how sharp they look when equipped, that’s disappointing.
Some of the best equipment is reserved for the range-topping 2.0i-S, which packs leather seats, automatic headlights and wipers, and a powered driver’s seat with heating.
The 2021 Subaru XV gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on crash tests of the related Subaru Impreza.
The results apply to all XV variants, including the hybrid.
In the frontal offset test it scored 14.80 out of a possible 16, while in the side impact test it achieved the maximum 16 out of 16.
The pole test also resulted in the maximum 2 out of 2, which helped the XV achieve a total score of 35.80 from a possible 37.
Standard active safety equipment on the XV 2.0i Premium includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Lane-keeping assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-change assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Reverse emergency braking
Hope you like buttons and screens! Okay, the centre stack on the XV is pretty clean thanks to the fast, sharp-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen that takes pride of place, but the steering wheel is loaded with things to poke and prod.
Not including the paddle shifters we counted 17 buttons, used to control everything from the trip computer readout to the second trip computer atop the dashboard.
They’re mostly logically laid out, and the buttons themselves are big enough to find on the move, but there’s a lot going on.
Kudos to Subaru for developing such a simple, slick central infotainment system. Along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto it packs factory navigation, and it’s dead easy to use.
The shortcut buttons at its base are a welcome addition, and you still get physical volume and radio knobs. Tick and tick.
Less convincing is the screen atop the dash. It houses for your climate control and vehicle information such as fuel consumption, or can be used to show the song currently playing. It even has some off-road dials.
It’s a good idea, but it’s also largely redundant when most of the same information is available in the colour screen between the rev counter and speedo.
Subaru’s insistence on displaying a generic EyeSight graphic every time you use cruise control is infuriating if, like me, you need everything in the car to be set up just so.
Speaking of which, the trip computer between the dials is useful until you make a phone call, at which point the digital speed readout is hidden behind a phone graphic that can’t be minimised.
There’s potential in the three-screen setup, but it feels a bit like each was designed by a different department… and none of them spoke about what they were doing during development.
Technology gripes aside, the XV cabin is a nice place to spend time. The seats are trimmed in sturdy, handsome fabric and the orange stitching on their bolsters is a nice touch.
They’re also supportive for longer trips, and house even my lanky frame with ease.
All the touch points feel sturdy, from the chunky leather steering wheel to the satisfyingly clicky climate controls, and there’s an abundance of storage options.
Rear seat space is also good, with more than enough headroom for taller passengers and acceptable legroom for adults sitting behind adults.
There are no rear vents, nor are there rear USB ports, which is disappointing if you’re planning to lug young kids around on hot days.
Also disappointing is boot space. The load bay itself is broad but the floor sits high above a full-sized spare wheel, limiting seats-up space to just 310 litres.
When you consider a Kia Seltos has 433 litres, that’s a bit disappointing.
Power in the XV 2.0i Premium comes from a 2.0-litre, flat-four petrol engine with 115kW of power and 196Nm of torque.
It’s mated with a CVT and full-time all-wheel drive across the XV range.
The claimed fuel economy is 7.0L/100km on the combined cycle, we saw 8.8L/100km in a week with a strong skew towards city driving.
Subaru is good at selling cars to previous Subaru owners. Although that’s partly down to the fact it’s evolved its formula over the years, it’s also because it hasn’t evolved too much.
With that in mind, all the Subaru fundamentals are present and correct here.
For starters, the engine is classic Subaru fare. It’s lost some of its character from behind the wheel – there’s very little in the way of old-fashioned boxer wub-wub noise – but the payoff is that it’s smooth and quiet from inside, rarely raising its voice above a whisper.
With just 115kW of power and 196Nm of torque it’s far from a firecracker, but the CVT transmission does a good job extracting what performance there is.
Rough and tough
New wheels for 2021 are designed to make the XV look a bit tougher
Lean on the accelerator and it doesn’t instantly send the revs through the roof like some CVTs, instead allowing them to build gradually. The result is natural-feeling driving in the city, or when you’ve settled into a highway cruise.
The exception is when you need to get going in a rush. There’s a flare of revs and noise, but not all that much in the way of meaningful acceleration when you bury the throttle.
It isn’t slow in day-to-day driving, but it feels downright gutless when you demand a bit more. Flicking into Sport makes the throttle sharper, but it doesn’t solve the engine’s fundamental problem.
Although this isn’t a performance car, mundane versions of rivals like the Mazda CX-30 and Kia Seltos are available with punchier engine options – and XV buyers in the USA can opt for a 2.5-litre engine instead of the 2.0i. Why not here?
More grunt needed
The 2021 XV has to work hard if you're in a hurry
The lack of punch is even more disappointing when you consider how sure-footed the XV feels.
With weighty, direct steering and solid body control, the little Subaru has a big car feel few of its rivals can match.
Subaru says it tweaked the XV’s suspension for 2021. The result is a comfortable ride, where lumps and bumps are absorbed without fuss at essentially any speed.
Comfort hasn’t come at the cost of competence either, because the XV doesn’t wallow or pitch around in the corners. It just feels rock solid.
Noise is well suppressed in the front, with very little wind rustle or tyre roar sneaking into the cabin, but rear passengers complained about the amount of road noise echoing around above 80km/h.
As for off-road? It’s unlikely owners will venture far from the beaten track, but 220mm of ground clearance is class-leading, and the addition of a dedicated X-Mode for the traction control will help you get further in the XV than most of its rivals.
Servicing for the Subaru XV is required every 12 months or 12,500km.
Subaru offers five years of capped-price servicing, with the first five services costing a combined $2407.
A five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is standard across the Subaru range.
The Subaru XV 2.0i Premium does exactly what you’d expect. It’s solid on the road, and has the rugged looks buyers demand in this segment.
There are some curious omissions from the spec sheet – automatic, LED headlights and auto wipers are the main ones – but for the most part the Premium makes a solid case for itself as the sweet spot in the range.
It’s just a shame Subaru can’t (or won’t) bring the more powerful engine offered overseas to Australia.
It would make what is already a solid car into one with a chance of being great.