The MK2 version of Subaru's XV crossover is a properly capable mid-sized SUV that's been usefully improved. Jonathan Crouch drives the 2.0-litre version.
Ten Second Review
Subaru's mid-sized XV Crossover model looks a considerably better prospect in second generation guise. It makes even better use of its capable Symmetrical permanent 4WD system to turn in an even stronger performance off road. And, more importantly, also delivers a far better showing on it, thanks to the more sophisticated chassis you get this time round. There's also a smarter interior, improved media connectivity and now class-leading standards of camera-driven safety kit. The XV has, in short, been rejuvenated. Here, we check it out in the 2.0-litre petrol form most will want.
If you happen to be familiar with the original version of this XV model, then the styling here might suggest that a subtle evolution has taken place. Don't be fooled. In fact, this MK2 design is pretty much new from the ground up - the grounding point in question being a stiffer, more sophisticated Global Platform that Subaru has apparently spent over a billion dollars developing. These underpinnings have allowed the development team behind this car to deliver far higher standards in terms of on-tarmac ride, refinement and handling, all areas in which the original version of this car struggled.
That earlier model was let down by its rather plasticky cabin too, so that's also been hugely upgraded and embellished with a state-of-the-art infotainment system. And Subaru's now claiming Volvo-style standards of safety, thanks to this car's included 'EyeSight' package of camera-driven safety systems. Sounds promising. Let's check this SUV out in its volume 2.0-litre form.
At first glance, the recipe being served up by this second generation XV doesn't appear to be much different from that which was offered before. Same flat four Boxer engine. Same CVT auto gearbox. Same Symmetrical 4WD system. Bear with us though, because radical changes really have been made here. The most significant one relates to this car's stiffer and much more rigid 'Subaru Global Platform', which reduces body roll, improves refinement and allows for a suspension set-up that, though still a little firm, allows this car to ride poor paved surfaces with a much greater degree of supple confidence. The engines are the usual units that Subaru specialises in - flat four Boxer powerplants, with choice this time round being limited to a couple of petrol units only available mated to the brand's Lineartonic automatic gearbox. There's a choice of either a 114PS 1.6 or the 156PS 2.0-litre variant we tried.
Both powerplants have been re-worked with higher compression ratios and much lower levels of internal friction that have reduced the level of the usual familiar 'Boxer' thrum. They're only offered in combination with the brand's well-proved Symmetrical 4WD system, which is a permanent set-up - in contrast to the part-time packages that most rivals offer that keep you two wheel-driven most of the time. With this MK2 XV model, it's embellished by Subaru's 'X-Mode' system, which co-ordinates throttle response, gear shifting and tractional and stability control settings with the 4x4 set-up for more confident navigation across slippery surfaces. An incorporated 'Hill Descent Control' package and a useful 221mm of ground clearance will further aid the car's suitability for the kind of light off road use that's well beyond the capability of most likely rivals.
Design and Build
Subaru must have received some very positive ownership feedback on the styling of the original version of this XV because it hasn't fundamentally changed the look of this second generation model very much at all. As before, the basic shape is a fairly faithful representation of the Crossover norm, but it's got a purposeful, chunky stance, a tough robust demeanour and some very interesting details.
That's all hugely important - and so are the changes that Subaru has made to this XV inside. This interior might not immediately bring to mind premium brand standards of quality - some of the switchgear's still a bit cheap-looking - but overall, it's a huge improvement. Perhaps the most important development lies with the changes made to the centre-dash infotainment screen, which sits higher up the fascia than before, has grown in size to 8-inches, uses a far classier user interface and now incorporates smartphone mirroring for 'Android Auto' as well as 'Apple CarPlay'.
Accessibility to the back is helped by doors that open wider than those fitted to many competitor models. Once inside, 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. And out back? Well we'd hoped the fact that this MK2 model is 15mm longer and 20mm wider than its predecessor would have done something to improve levels of boot space that were previously rather cramped by class standards. Sadly not - the 385-litre luggage capacity figure isn't much different to what it was before.
Market and Model
Think of a typical family hatch-based 'C'-segment Crossover model - say, a Nissan Qashqai, a Renault Kadjar or a SEAT Ateca. Then think how much more you'd be prepared to pay for it if it had more solid build quality, stronger standards of electronic safety, automatic transmission and a properly capable four wheel drive system able to take you further than just a muddy carpark. If the figure you now have in mind resides in the £25,000 to £30,000 bracket, then you'll be happy with the way that this Subaru XV has been priced because it's right in that ballpark.
Let's talk you through the range, which has an unusual look to it. Most competitors in this segment concentrate on diesel power, give you the odd auto gearbox option and either don't offer 4WD at all or restrict its availability to hopelessly expensive flagship variants. In contrast, at the launch of this second generation XV, buyers were offered a line-up that was entirely petrol-propelled, with every variant featuring Lineartronic automatic transmission and Subaru's famed Symmetrical permanent 4WD system. So you're getting the idea: this model's a bit different.
The options on offer start with a 1.6-litre engine developing 114PS, but almost all buyers will probably choose to find £1,500 extra to get the 156PS 2.0-litre model we tried. Either way, there's a choice of base 'SE' trim or, for £2,000 more, the plusher leather-lined 'SE Premium' spec we went for.
Cost of Ownership
The engine of the volume 2.0-litre XV model features tweaks which increase airflow into the cylinder, so achieving a better mixture and improved fuel efficiency. But enough with the background detail: let's get to the figures. For the 2.0-litre variant, the readings are 40.9mpg and a CO2 return of 155g/km. For reference, the alternative 1.6-litre Lineartronic model manages 44.1mpg on the combined cycle and 145g/km of CO2. We'd understand if you didn't find those figures to be especially eye-catching, but you have to put them into perspective against the readings you'd get from other 4WD petrol-powered automatic mid-sized SUVs in the segment. And once you do that, this Subaru's showing doesn't look at all bad.
What else? Well residual values are on a par with mainstream models in this class and insurance groups are competitive, providing you rate them against comparably powerful 4WD diesel rivals. You're looking at group 16E for the 2.0-litre version. Servicing intervals are every 12,000 miles or every year, whichever comes first. And there's the peace of mind of a five year / 100,000 mile warranty that embarrasses the three year / 60,000 mile package most rivals offer. You also get a three year recovery and roadside assistance programme you'll almost certainly never need.
The SUV Crossover genre is one that Subaru ought to excel at. The main ingredients are after all, already in place, fundamentally in terms of product expertise. The company can draw upon a long tradition of rugged, multi-purpose all-wheel drive cars - in fact it's sold 15 million of them, more than any other manufacturer. The issue though in this segment is all about packaging and presenting this clever engineering in a way that's accessible and appealing to mainstream customers. This second generation XV makes a much better job of doing that. It is, says Subaru, is a car that's 'better where it matters'.
In summary, what we continue to have here is a refreshing change from the whole 'style over substance' approach that seems to characterise so many SUV Crossover models. That's something Subaru's never quite understood. And hopefully never will.