Engine is Subaru XV's Achilles' heel
Think Subaru and two things generally come to mind – boxer engines and the carmaker’s signature Symmetrical All Wheel Drive system. Both of which, if you’ve driven your fair share of Subarus, conjure up the distinctive sound which that type of engine makes, and the level of grip AWD provides – especially in slippery conditions.
So my first thoughts when getting into the driver’s seat of the Japanese carmaker’s all-new crossover, the XV, were that, if anything, it had to be more capable off-road than most SUVs it competes with. So let’s start there.
Based on Impreza underpinnings but claimed to be an all-new version of the car (the previous car, badged as an Impreza XV, was discontinued in SA in March last year), the new XV is powered by the same two-litre, four-cylinder normally-aspirated boxer engine as in the bigger Legacy sedan with 110kW and 196Nm on tap.
GENEROUS GROUND CLEARANCE
But more importantly it gets some veld-cred in the form of all-wheel drive, 220mm of generous ground clearance (from 185mm before), chunky black plastic wheel-arch trims, and veld-friendly high profile (225/55/17) rubber. So, in other words, what the Outback is to the Legacy, the XV is to the Impreza.
And, having driven competitors such as Nissan’s Qashqai, Citroën’s new C4 Aircross, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai’s iX35, I can safely say that this is where the XV comes into its own - it really is very capable when the going gets rough.
We put it through a reasonably challenging off-road test track and the XV cruised through like it was on its way to buy some milk. Not even a batted eyelid in terms of entry and departure angles either.
Quite cool in fact is the drivetrain layout display inside the cabin, which shows you how the power is being transferred to the wheels as you traverse dongas and koppies. It’s very neat to be able to see the all wheel drive system in action in graphic form - it even shows you the angle of the front wheels.
Unfortunately, the Achilles heel inside the tough hiking boots is the engine.
Power output is adequate for the dusty bits, but it’s really not great in blacktop terms. It’s sluggish, especially up hills, largely DUE to long gearing - which in the XV’s case seems a little silly as it has a six-speed manual box. It’s a trick manufacturers are using to help with consumption, which in this is case is claimed to be 8.4 litres per 100km but in reality was around 9.8.
Our performance tests endorsed this sluggish feel. The 0-100km/h sprint came up in a pedestrian 11.4 seconds, with the quarter mile taking a whole 17.9 seconds.
It’s worrying that the same engine will feature in Subaru’s upcoming BRZ sports car, even though we know that it will get dollops more power.
The styling of the XV is a saving grace though, and turned more than a few heads. The hexagonal grille and hawk eye-style headlights up front look mean, while unique 17” alloys in a black-aluminium contrast, and the new Tangerine Orange Pearl body colour of our test car made for a striking package.
SPORTY FIT AND FINISH
Fit and finish inside is also quite sporty. The (XV embroidered) seats are new and get height adjustment and a tiltable headrest; the audio system is Bluetooth, iPod and USB compatible; the dashboard is covered with soft-touch material and the pedals are aluminium.
Our test car had a user-friendly touchscreen interface for things such as the audio and TomTom satnav system. And that drivetrain layout display I mentioned earlier presents info such as range and fuel consumption in nifty-looking graphics.
Space in the cabin is not too much of an issue either. Subaru says the doors open wider than before for easier entry, and legroom for both front and rear passengers has been increased by moving the A-pillars forward. In fact, engineers went as far as tweaking the structure of the doors for better interior width. Wheelbase is 25mm more generous too.
Little things I didn’t like include the wonky outside temperature readout which one morning stubbornly stayed on -1 even after it warmed up considerably. Our test car also had an annoying rattle from somewhere in the vicinity of the cubbyhole and - my pet peeve - there’s no engine coolant temperature gauge.
The starter also seemed to drag occasionally, and the climate control had two auto settings – auto and full auto – neither of which worked particularly well.
Manufacturers of SUVs love using the term car-like to describe road manners, but I reckon in the case of the XV it’s a reasonably fair claim, even with the raised ride height. Ride quality is also good - which probably has something to do with those generously-profiled tyres (versus some manufacturers who insist on lower profiles for their SUVs), and the cabin is comfy.
But apart from that enjoyable boxer sound, the pedestrian performance of the engine is a sore point and I’m hoping there’s a force-fed plan in the pipeline – which could complete this R329 000 package nicely. - Star Motoring
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