Subaru XV review & buyer's guide
The latest Subaru XV is better in every respect than its predecessor. It's one of the most affordable, high-quality compact SUVs you can buy today
For this report I drove the XV for a week, and what struck me more than anything was: XV is what Forester used to be when it was launched 20-odd years ago - a substantively pumped-up Impreza.
Today's XV has the same footprint as Impreza - but it sits a bit over five inches higher. It shares the same powertrain and platform, plus all the glass and sheetmetal is straight off the Impreza hatch.
XV is both compact and affordable. Just right for active lifestyle adventuring - but not proper blue-singlet off-roading. You should consider it alongside the Hyundai Kona >>(more powerful options there) and the Mazda CX-3 >> which offers diesel and a conventional auto transmission.
What makes Subaru different?
There are two things that make Subaru generally, and this XV stand out. The first is Symmetrical AWD - and this is basically what the company has built its brand on. While some SUVs are only 2WD, and the AWD variants offer 'on demand' AWD, which waits for a loss of traction in order to engage the drive to all wheels, Subarus generally drive all four wheels all the time.
The second big part of Subaru's DNA is the camera-based EyeSight safety system, which is discussed below.
This XV is typically Subaru - meaning well built, with good ergonomics, and an easy to understand range. There are four variants with one powertrain. It's a pretty simple range in a field where many other ranges are like decoding the Dead Sea Scrolls...
It's built on the new 'Global' platform - that’s the fundamental architecture for Subaru's future products. You get a 2.0-litre boxer four cylinder petrol engine mated to a CVT (transmission) and the trademark Symmetrical AWD.
If you mapped Subaru’s genome and made a list of the defining DNA, it’s that boxer engine, Symmetrical AWD, and EyeSight. It’s how they roll. EyeSight is Subaru’s brilliant camera-based active safety system.
EyeSight Safety System
You get Eyesight across the range, except for the base model, which is a fleet buyer’s “Ray Charles” special (no EyeSight). Sadly.
If you care about your loved ones - you really do want EyeSight. Don’t scrimp on this - it’s only $2400 more, and you get a bigger touch screen and dual-zone climate air thrown in. It’s a no-brainer.
If you’ve ever visited intensive care, I’d suggest $2400 is a worthwhile investment in not returning. In my view, buying the base model is false economy.
EyeSight also adds adaptive cruise control, which is awesome. So good on the freeway - the car automatically adapts to congestion, slows down and maintains a safe following distance, then speeds back up. You’d never go back.
Adaptive cruise is unavailable on Kona, Sportage, Tucson, ASX, CX-3, Qashqai, etc. And it’s much more expensive on the Mazda CX-5.
Having it adaptive cruise control on an SUV at this price point is exceptional. I’d factor that in - because this feature is so user-friendly, and such a rarity in this compact SUV segment.
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2018 Subaru XV earned a five-star ANCAP safety score - based on an engineering analysis of the Impreza crash-test data and its standard safety systems.
According to ANCAP:
"The ANCAP safety rating for the XV is based on crash tests of the Subaru Impreza. ANCAP was provided with technical information which showed that the crash test results of the Impreza apply to the XV. This ANCAP safety rating applies to all XV variants."
If XV is on your shopping list, you’ve probably consumed 50 to 100 million reviews. And some of them will claim XV is a bit sluggish. I’d suggest this is a load of steaming incorrectness.
Here’s why: the weight is within 100kg of Impreza. It’s the same powertrain. Therefore: Very similar performance. Basically line-ball with other strong two-litre petrol SUVs - the 2.0-litre Sportage and Tucson, and the 2.0-litre CX-5.
These uninformed critics are demonstrating both confirmation bias and CVT aversion syndrome. Compared with other vehicles at the same price, the performance is on par.
Sure - XV is not as fast as a 2.5-litre CX-5 or a 1.6 turbo Tucson, but it’s a helluva lot cheaper. I really doubt too many of those critical reviewers have specially calibrated accelerometers in their arses. Thankfully you don’t even need one - it’s all about the mass and the power. XV keeps up in traffic and on the highway. It’s reasonably quiet and it goes where you tell it to go.
XV is all good in the dynamics domain. But there are a couple of somewhat less copacetic anomalies down the back.
Perversely the boot space is smaller even than Impreza (310 litres versus 345 on Impreza) and just to get the volume in perspective (a lot of people think SUVs are bigger because … SUV) the new i30 is 345 litres.
In other words, if you’re buying an XV instead of an Impreza to accommodate more stuff, you really are barking up the wrong tree.
And despite this high floor, Subaru only provides a space-saver spare, which is kinda at odds with the wild adventuring this vehicle is otherwise so well set up to accommodate. And I don’t know why they do that - the other SUVs (Forester and Outback) see fit to run full-sized spares). It seems an odd choice.
Subaru XV -Vs- Subaru Impreza
This begs an obvious question: All things considered, why not just buy an Impreza hatch and pocket the change?
Above: You can see they are clones, right? Same glass. Same major body panels. There is - overwhelmingly - more similarity than difference between XV and Impreza.
These vehicles share the same powertrain. They occupy the same parking lot footprint. Impreza even holds more luggage (but it’s a close thing). One good reason to purchase XV might be ground clearance. The other might be your mobility. The extra height - 135mm or slightly more than five inches - adds clearance underneath and also boosts interior accessibility. So if you want to traverse rough roads, XV is going to be a better option, and if you have a bad back or a bung knee - ditto. Getting in and out is just going to be easier.
The other reason is a little more X-Rated: Subaru has added a system called X-Mode to extend the all-terrain envelope. It chills out the throttle response at low speed to minimise the chance of you provoking traction-sapping wheelspin. Hardens up the limited-slip diff and also sharpens up brake response.
This is all for the slippery stuff, under 40km/h. Under 20: HDC - you take your feet off and let the computer manage that, and just steer. It’s a real plus when traction is low - if you want to avoid becoming a toboggan - which - trust me, you do.
There are four flavours of XV - the 2.0i, 2.0i-L, 2.0i Premium and the range-topping 2.0i-S. All with the same powertrain.
It’s currently $27,990 for the base model (plus on-road costs, of about $4000 - depending on where you live). You get standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone integration, active torque vectoring, daytime running lights and tyre pressure monitoring - but no EyeSight safety system. (Bit of a bummer there.) Plus 17-inch alloys.
It’s $2350 more for the 2.0i-L, which gets you EyeSight, eight-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate air, electric folding mirrors with integrated indicators, and leather fluff on the wheel and shifter.
That’s good value, and where I'd start considering jumping into the range, as a private buyer.
XV 2.0i Premium
Another $1800 gets you the 2.0i Premium - and the extra kit there is just the sunroof and Tom Tom GPS.
(Remembering, of course, that the standard phone integrations let you use Google Maps and Apple Maps straight off your phone.)
And then the range tops out at $35,240 - another $3100 - and for that you add auto lights and wipers, heated front seats and mirrors, high beam assist, leather-accented trim, power adjustment for the driver only, active cornering LED headlamps, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, auto braking while in reverse, and 18-inch alloys.
So pretty much the works burger of safety, and a decent but not opulent level of plushness, drive-away for under $40k - less if you negotiate like you mean it. That’s pretty good value, too.
Here in ‘Straya, the top-selling small SUVs are the CX-3, ASX and Qashqai - with Hyundai’s new Kona just thrown in the ring.
Mazda CX-3 offers a decent 1.5-litre diesel as well as a 2.0-litre petrol engine, and a conventional auto transmission across the board - but there is no adaptive cruise control, even on the range-topping Akari. Some Mazda CX-3 variants have on-demand AWD, the balance being FWD, but none get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
(Mazda still thinks its proprietary MZD Connect is better than Apple or Google at phones, apparently.) Check out My CX-3 review >>
Nissan Qashqai also offers a diesel but has no adaptive cruise control, no all-wheel drive in any model variant, no CarPlay and no Android Auto.
Nissan fell sadly unconscious for the GFC but doctors say it might one day reawaken...
Sadly, Qashqai is one exhibit that highlights this once terrific carmaker's long post-financial crisis slumber.
They do sell rather a lot of them, however...
Mitsubishi ASX says ‘yes’ to the Apple and Google smart phone integrations, but ‘no’ to the availability of adaptive cruise control. '
The unique weapon in ASX's arsenal is a stonkingly good 2.2 diesel with on-demand AWD. It's a real performer with tremendous fuel economy in such a compact package.
Unfortunately it is complemented by an only average 2.0-litre petrol front-driver. But there is also a five-year warranty.
Hyundai Kona has a five-year warranty. But the big news is the high-performance 1.6 turbo petrol engine, which makes all the atmo engines in this segment pale by comparison. It’s a huge performance jump.
Fully-loaded Kona 1.6 turbo is basically line-ball on price with the XV 2.0i-S, and it comes with all-wheel drive (on demand) and the phone integrations are standard. But Kona lacks adaptive cruise control, there’s no sunroof, and no GPS.
Subaru has slashed the servicing cost with this latest XV - servicing is annual now, finally, and the distance interval is 12,500 kilometres. The first service is just under $350 for the standard items, and the next one is just over $600. Much more reasonable than previously - the dealers must be thrilled...
And finally - it’s funny strapping on the rose-coloured glasses and looking in the rear-view mirror. Flashback to 2000 the Forester was only a few years old. This category of vehicle was brand new.
A mid-spec 2000 model Forester was within three inches of the new XV in length, width and height. And within about 50 kilos in weight. And its 2.0-litre engine made 20 per cent less power, and six per cent less torque. And that vehicle was a runaway success.
I have absolutely no hesitation recommending VX as a definite leading contender in this small SUV segment. There are points of difference - good reasons why you might choose a competitor, if it fits your driving better. But this is a real step up for XV, and a damn good SUV for singles and small families.
It’s also worth noting that Subaru provides excellent customer support in Australia - they’re up there with the best carmakers on that. And that’s something I advise you to factor in strongly when making your decision.
Stay up to date with XV at Subaru Australia's XV page >>
I’m here to help too - ping me any questions via the website. And definitely don’t pay the full freight for a new XV. We get strong discounts across the Subaru range - and that doesn’t cost you a cent. (Australia only, unfortunately.) Click the red link below for that.