The Subaru brand is propped up by the image of WRC levels of driving lunacy across its model range. Using its proven prowess to recruit loyal followers into the marque.
Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to transfer that image to their SUV efforts, failing miserably with their first attempt, the Tribeca. Introduced in 2005; it was ugly, awkward and didn’t impress either on or off the road. It was an insult to the rally pedigree of the seven sisters and thankfully suffered a quiet death by 2014 due to poor sales.
But market demand for SUVs and crossovers was only increasing and as sales of the Tribeca were tanking, Subaru had in 2012 already started on a second stab at the mid-size crossover segment. Enter the XV.
The XV used to be a variant in the Impreza range before it was decided that the Roman numeral had enough personality to be a stand-alone model. It’s a sleek hatchback dressed up like a tour guide with the black 17inch alloys, fog lights, roof rails and black wheel arches giving it a tough grit look.
It is unmistakably a hatchback and yet, with the 220mm ground clearance, unmistakably an SUV as well. This is the perfect embodiment of the term crossover. You can actually see two types of cars grafted into one.
It is not ugly by any measure but neither is it particularly pleasing to behold. It is one of those vehicles you either love or hate and from the first time I saw it in the flesh I liked the funky functional look, especially the hawkish headlights.
On the inside there’s comfortable seating for four adults, but only just. The sloping roofline takes away a few inches of headroom and three in the back would be a tight fit. If you have luggage to haul instead of passengers, the boot expands from 310 to 741 litres with the seats down. Functional yes, but smaller even than the Impreza hatch.
The soft and hard plastic surfaces which make up most of the cabin would best be described as resilient and capable of outliving you. A quality finish no doubt but not as elegant as it could have been.
The XV has a lower centre of gravity than most crossovers to aid in cornering stability. Throw it into a bend and the AWD system grips tightly onto the tarmac. It does roll significantly as weight shifts in the corners but you always get the feeling that the AWD and other stability acronyms have it under control.
The XV was specifically designed to be economical, hence the lack of a turbocharger and presence of lighter engine components. The 2.0 litre boxer engine is good for 146 horsepower, sent to the wheels via a CVT gearbox. Put your foot down to overtake and the transmission starts to wonder why you would do such a thing. By the time it figures out you want speed, there’s a car coming the other way and the overtaking window has passed.
Paddle shifters give you a bit of control with a six-step manual mode but even then, this is no racer. It simply has enough grunt to do the needful, nothing more. Wheeling the weighty steering wheel feels reassuringly balanced but actual road feel is disturbingly distant. More worryingly, the suspension wobbles around on smooth straight stretches, rolls around in the turns and doesn’t dampen the rough patches as well as its rivals.
The only place the XV shines is off road on account of its full- time AWD system. Most FWD crossovers will be left in the dust, or mud by the XV. Its generous ride height and low power means that if driven technically and slowly, will surmount seemingly impossible situations.
A Subaru is meant to be brash and loud as it hurtles towards the horizon, scaring babies to tears while giving the middle finger to environmentalists. This doesn’t do any of that. If it was a dinner guest it would bring a gift, engage in polite conversation and offer to do the dishes after.
It achieved a full five-star safety rating for the occupants and pedestrian collision. It also comes standard with an unobtrusive stop start system that should see significantly better fuel savings compared to its rivals. In theory at least the XV makes a fair bit of sense, however in actual reality, one would have to be a complete lunatic to get this over a Forrester.