Subaru XV’s added at-traction

Subaru's new XV is more lifestyle choice than lifestyle 'soft-roader', says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

When you've built your brand on the toughness element of your vehicles, adapting to market trends and offering a 'soft-roader' option is a challenge. The upside is the chance of attracting new buyers, but at the same time you've got to be careful not to alienate loyal followers.

Spare a thought for Subaru and its new XV. Its rakish profile gives the impression it should be viewed alongside the likes of Nissan's Qashqai, Kia's Sportage and BMW's X1. But an XV wouldn't be a Subaru without a full-blown all-wheel drive system to keep longtime fans happy.

It's a tough gig, but Subaru is keen to surprise a few people with a car that satisfies both camps. Keen to move on from a past dominated by turbo Imprezas and rallying successes, recent years have seen Subaru try to boost its family-friendly line-up of 4x4s and sturdy estates. Transforming the once low-profile Forester into a rugged sport utility vehicle helped, and now the XV has been positioned beneath it to steal some of the lifestyle market.

At one level the difference between the two cars is simple – the Forester has a proper low-range gearbox for added versatility and the XV doesn't. But far from being the soft option, the XV's transmission is the genuine article and trumps softer rivals despite no low-range mode.

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Sitting on a new platform the XV boasts greater ground clearance than the competition, which reinforces Subaru's assertion the car won't let you down when driving off the road. Short front and rear overhangs help too.

There's a choice of two petrol engines and a diesel. The former –1.6 and 2.0 – offer sufficient performance, yet for many the attraction of the 2.0-litre diesel will prove the strongest. All motors are built in Subaru's trademark 'Boxer' style – the diesel benefits the most from this unusual approach as it's considerably quieter and less diesel-like in the way it behaves compared to a conventional engine. It's also surprisingly frugal despite the inclusion of all-wheel drive.

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The XV's cabin is another pleasant surprise – with its generous levels of occupant space fore and aft it's a genuine family holdall. Cabin quality, often a sticking point of past Subarus, is much improved and durable – ideal for a family-friendly SUV. Simple controls and easy-to-read displays complete the understated cabin.

If you think the XV's interior is too modest to compete with bold, brash rivals, you're forgetting the reason why the chunky Subaru exists. Anyone serious about getting out and about will be interested in what the car can do, not how shiny it is.

Here the XV is comfortably ahead of the competition. Granted, plusher rivals are happy to focus more on image but this Subaru comes with a brand heritage that's focused more on doing stuff rather than being seen posing on the high street.

Permanent all-wheel drive allows you to take more liberties than you could with any comparable soft-roader. Factor in Subaru's clever traction and stability electronics and the only limiting factor is ground clearance. The 150hp diesel is happy to haul you up and down dale all day long without complaint. Thanks to its ample reserves of torque it's also capable of trundling around town and piling on motorway miles. The slick, six-speed manual gearbox is good, too. Opt for petrol and you can choose between manual and CVT.

Okay, so not every XV buyer is going to want to scale mountains at the weekends, but it qualities will convince families of its potential as an activity wagon. That it's just as adept at towing is a bonus.

And Subaru has joined fellow manufacturers offering 'all-inclusive' aftersales packages for a fixed fee. From scheduled maintenance to dent repair, key replacement and even regular valeting, Subaru bosses believe going the extra mile puts them ahead in the loyalty game.

Only time will tell, but it's all part of strengthening ties between dealer and customer. Subaru's network is a tightly-knit operation plus buyers tend to be loyal, which makes it important to attract new buyers.

The XV's looks, ability along and promise of enhanced aftersales support are compelling factors in what is a fiercely competitive market. In truth, the XV is more of a lifestyle choice than those so-called 'lifestyle' soft-roaders.

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