Rugged Subaru XV no soft option

Subaru may have moved into the compact crossover market but it's no 'soft-roader', says Andy Russell.

Subaru has always been a company that does its own thing. It's never going to be a volume car-maker but, nevertheless, it has a loyal band of buyers who love the brand all the more for it.

Talk to a Subaru owner and they'll probably tell you how many Subarus they've had and their repeat custom is as reliable as the cars themselves.

And what they like, especially in a rural county like Norfolk, is the added attraction of traction for Subaru doesn't do two-wheel drive. If you don't want a traditional 4x4 but want a family car with the security of all-wheel drive then Subaru always fitted the bill… and world rally championship success was a great advert for the brand's three Rs – ruggedness, robustness and reliability.

So it seemed a natural progression – given its tradition for four-wheel drive saloons, estates and sport utility vehicles – that it should move into the blossoming compact crossover market with its new XV.

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But while other car-makers offer the choice of two and four-wheel drive models, Subaru stays true to its heritage with all XVs, be it the 114PS 1.6 or 150PS 2.0-litre petrol or 147PS 2.0-litre diesel, not only having horizontally-opposed four-cylinder boxer engines but also Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system which has been a key part Subarus' success for 40 years now.

First impressions of the XV are good with smart lines and good proportions – although I have to say anyone who goes for the tangerine orange pearl paintwork is sure to be an extrovert and it doesn't do the XV any favours.

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The big seller is going to be the diesel, updated for the XV, which is a strong performer with plenty of shove from low revs and perky mid-range punch for swift acceleration which makes light work of overtaking. Most of the time the engine is nicely muted in the background but get gruffs when driven hard. Impressive fuel economy regularly saw 48-50mpg overall regardless of driving conditions and style.

While the petrol engines are also offered with an automatic option with continuously variable transmission, the diesel is manual only and while the shift is light it's also rather sloppy.

With four-wheel drive as standard and the low centre of gravity thanks to the flat-four boxer engine, the XV is good to drive. It grips well through fast corners, feeling well planted, and, given the tall body and ground clearance, body roll is kept in check. What lets it down is the ride – it's immediately noticeable how unsettled it feels over poorly-surfaced roads, with some feedback through the steering wheel, while the XV feels bouncy at speed on undulating roads. That said, with time I got more used to the ride but it's not the height of comfort. Full marks though for its manoeuvrability in tight spaces with a first-rate turning circle.

No one will complain about the amount of space in the cabin though. Legroom in the back is generous but the curved roof eats into headroom.

The boot has a high floor which means it is quite shallow and not as spacious as some rivals with a 380-litre capacity with the rear seats in use but a shallow sill takes the strain out of getting large items in and out. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat, increasing capacity to 1,270 litres, but unfortunately leave a step up from the boot floor which hinders ultimate practicality.

The cabin won't win prizes for any wow factor with lots of black plastic giving it a sombre feel. High up on the fascia and doors the plastics are pleasantly soft to the touch but lower they feel a little downmarket given the XV's pricing but at least they're going to be hard-wearing, long-lasting and easy to clean.

The dashboard has a simple, straightforward look with big dials and large rotary knobs for the heating and ventilation but the high-level driver information display screen on the centre of the fascia reflects on the windscreen at night.

The entry S model gets traction and dynamics control, front, side, curtain and driver's knee airbags, 17in alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front fog lights, heated mirrors and front seats and automatic air-conditioning. SE gains include cruise control, brighter headlights with washers, dual-zone air-con, advanced colour multi-function display, rear-view camera, Bluetooth and darker privacy glass. Range-topping SE Lux Premium adds a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, leather seats with electric adjustment for the driver's and satellite-navigation.

The XV is not cheap but if you are looking for a compact crossover that's going to be a bit more capable off the beaten track than some 'soft-roaders', with extra traction and a little more ground clearance the XV fits the bill.

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