Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

What is it?

XV is the smallest of Subaru’s SUVs.

And, yes, it’s based on the Impreza hatch.

In fact, before it became the XV, it was an Impreza XV, a pumped up, pseudo off-road version of the hatch.

Although relatively ugly it was a sign of things to come. After a brief stint as an Impreza it became a fully-fledged model in its own right, one with 90mm more ground clearance than a regular Impreza and some plastic cladding to signify its off-road status.

Now in its second generation, XV was updated towards the end of last year, with some cosmetic changes, the introduction of Intelligent Drive — not to mention the addition of a second hybrid model.

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

What’s it cost?

There’s a new grille, front bumper, fog light surrounds and alloy wheel designs, and six models from which to choose, including two hybrids.

The October update brought a freshened look, revised all-wheel drive system, added smart technology and the introduction of Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) across the range.

Prices start from $29,690 for the entry 2.0i with an auto. Then there’s the 2.0i-L priced from $31,990, 2.0i Premium priced from $34,590, and 2.0i-S priced from $37,290.

Hybrid L is $35,490 while the Hybrid S comes in at $40,790.

Both XV hybrid variants introduce e-Active Shift Control, which supports responsive driving.

Hybrid S AWD also adds driver assist technology, with a Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) integrated into the front grille and passenger side door mirror.

Our test vehicle is the no frills XV Hybrid L, priced from $39,987 driveaway — $3500 more than the standard, petrol-only model.

Standard kit includes premium cloth trim, with single zone climate control, leather steering wheel and gear shift, 17-inch alloy wheels, silver front and side under guards, auto lights and wipers, LED front fog lights, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, with digital radio (DAB+), single CD player, Carplay and Android Auto — plus two USB ports and AUX input.

Safety extends to seven airbags, a rear-view camera, and the EyeSight safety suite which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Sway Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Lead Vehicle Start Alert, Pre-Collision Braking System, Pre-Collision Brake Assist, Pre-Collision Throttle Management and Brake Light Recognition.

It’s a fairly comprehensive combination, but does miss out on features found in more expensive models such as Emergency Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitor (BSM), EyeSight Assist Monitor, Front View Monitor (FVM), High Beam Assist (HBA), Lane Change Assist (LCA), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB), and Side View Monitor (SVM).

It’s fitted with 225/60 series Yokohama rubber and a puncture repair kit is provided in lieu of a spare tyre.

XV is covered by a 5 year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with eight years and 160,000km for the battery pack, plus capped price servicing and 24/7 roadside assistance.

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

What’s it go like?

Where do I start?

I know, the CVT auto? It was my first thought and my wife’s too.

CVT stands for Continuously Variable Transmission. Unlike a standard auto with a torque converter, CVTs work on a “rubber band” principle, without set gears, that allows the engine to operate at fixed revs while the vehicle itself travels at varying speeds.

It’s a weird feeling and it is this last bit that creates the “zoominess” that has come to characterise CVTs — the bit most people including yours truly don’t like.

The smaller the engine, the less torque it has and the harder it has to work (and the more time the CVT spends being zoomy). Not a good thing.

Why then, do car makers persist in using them?

I remember back to the early days of modern CVTs, Nissan which pioneered their use claimed it could could cut the fuel consumption and engine emissions of its fleet by 10 per cent overnight simply by making the switch. That’s why.

The good news is that the zoominess only comes to the fore when you push the engine hard. The rest of the time it stays hidden and the XV behaves like, well . . . it should.

The more I reflect on CVTs, however, the more I wonder whether my opposition to them is just an old school thing.

Whether I expect my cars to act and sound a certain way, and if they don’t, then I’m repelled by them?

Perhaps a younger person, with no memory or loyalties to V8s or manual transmissions — might not feel the same way?

CVT or no CVT, the XV doesn’t lack for performance.

Accelerating from a merging lane into traffic, the car had no trouble putting the approaching traffic behind it.

Subaru incorporates a detente point and seven steps or “gears” into its CVT, which basically means when the accelerator passes a certain point, the transmission flips over to manual mode and begins to respond more like a standard auto with gears.

Getting in and out of the XV is easy, driving the car is easy and operating the various functions of the touchscreen-based system is relatively easy.

It even retains a CD player, which says something about the likely buyer of this car,

The hybrid system in our test vehicle comprises a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 110kW and 196Nm, combined with a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor.

The electric motor is self-charging, via kinetic energy captured by regenerative braking and coasting.

12kW isn’t much, but 66Nm of torque will have a real impact.

It’s fitted with auto-engine stop-start, X-mode for off road travel and offers two drive modes — Sport and Intelligent.

The direct injection petrol engine, Motor Assist and battery combine to deliver smooth, linear acceleration, with power split between petrol and electric to match driving conditions.

In spite of the fact, the battery pack adds weight and takes up the space necessary for a full-size spare, Subaru claims a 14 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency over equivalent petrol variants on the urban cycle and over 7 per cent on the more generally quoted combined cycle.

That may be so, but with a rating of 6.5L/100km, we getting 8.4L after about more than 300km. In fact, it used more fuel per kilometre than the larger 2.5-litre Outback we drove previously.

It should be noted hybrids tend to perform better in an urban environment because of the stop-starting involved in city traffic and the benefits of regenerative braking.

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

What we like?

  • Build quality
  • Reasonably comfortable
  • Easy to drive
  • Marginally better looker
  • EyeSight system
  • Bright pleasant cabin
  • Good comfort

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

What we don’t like?

  • Feels tinny
  • CVT zoominess
  • $3500 more for what?
  • Hybrid fails to deliver
  • Smaller fuel tank
  • No satnav
  • No spare wheel

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

The bottom line?

What can I say? A hybrid that fails to live up to the promise of better fuel economy?

What’s the point. Save your dollars and buy an XV without an electric motor.

The build quality and performance are there, but Subaru needs to deliver on the rest of the deal — 6.5 instead of 8.4L/100km.

This is not new technology. It’s been around for 20 years and if Toyota can get 4.2L/100km out of a larger, heavier hybrid Camry — it doesn’t look good, does it?

In fact, the company faces some serious challenges going forward, not the least of which is maintaining its key points of difference — the Boxer engine by default won’t make the transition to a fully electric future.

Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

CHECKOUT: Subaru Outback: Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke

CHECKOUT: Power play: We drive Subaru’s hybrids

 

Subaru XV 2.0 HYBRID L, priced from $35,490
  • Looks - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Performance - 7/10
    7/10
  • Safety - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Thirst - 7/10
    7/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
    8/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
    7/10
  • Tech - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Value - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
7.4/10
Subaru XV Hybrid: You'll need to do better than that

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.