Bargain XV Brings Proper Pedigree Among a Platoon of SUV Pretenders

We have long been Subaru fans. It goes back to the earliest years. As tuners and race drivers frustrated by not being able to read the sort of car stories we wanted to, we started out publishing magazines out of a back room at home. At about the same time that Subaru began selling cars from a downtown Jo’burg basement. Jozi wasn’t even known as that back then! We immediately clicked. The rest is history.


We loved its performance cars, but Subaru has also always excelled at building awesome all-wheel-drive crossovers. Or SUVs as they have subsequently become known. Think Impreza and Legacy Wagon, and Forester. Not the WRXs and STis, the common garden ones that you group more with galoshes and anoraks. The XV followed a while later in 2012 and quickly established itself as a popular choice in a segment filled with an exploding number of wannabe alternatives.

The first Subaru XV was rather plain. But the second edition, which shares much of its genesis, and Subaru’s impeccable WRC credibility with the Impreza, immediately impressed in its refinement and sophistication. Essentially an Impreza on stilts, that’s a pretty smart pedigree to begin with. See, even if some may consider this car’s output to be feeble, it still carries that typical boxer-four viscous coupling symmetrical all-wheel drive pedigree over. And the rest, over the rest.

Practical and capable, XV fits in well between the Impreza and the Legacy to offer Subaru buyers a surprising bargain in spite of its advancing years. Now a few minor, yet significant changes help shove XV further ahead in spite of its advancing years. A soft facelift and a couple more colour options add some vim. XV also gets improved EyeSight with radar cruise control and lane-keeping, and seven airbags among its safety arsenal. And a position memory power driver’s seat among its latest kit.


Our tester looked the part in its metallic olive green. Black cladding and smart and shiny 18” alloys bring enough stance. But none of it really hints at this Subaru’s strongest suit. Its ever-present multiple World Rally Champion cred. But more of that anon. This top ES model is well equipped. It has auto-on Xenon headlamps, LED foglights and automatic wipers. There’s keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors and reverse camera too.

Step aboard to find plenty passenger space, especially in the rear. It’s a pleasant environment. Premium touches like contrasting orange stitched leather pews and piano-black gloss trim bring an edge to a conservative cabin. A large CarPlay and Auto mirroring infotainment screen is backed by a secondary info display that projects the likes of economy, climate and cross country driving info. They sit among myriad buttons and switches and four USB ports. This one’s for you if you dig those buttons.

XV does struggle a little when it comes to load capacity — its 310 litre boot is shallow and lacks versus many rivals. It does open up nicely with the 60-40-split rear seat back shoved forward. That may be an issue if you want to travel with the whole family and the kitchen sink. But then this AWD car pulls a trailer far more confidently than its FWD imposter ‘rivals’ will. And its lower centre of gravity will better reward the compromise of a roof mounted load system.


Powered by an under-stressed 115 kW 196 Nm atmospheric quad-cam 2-litre 16-valve petrol boxer-four turning a continuously-variable automatic, XV of course benefits that viscous coupling symmetrical all-wheel drive. It may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but ten-seconds dead to 100 km/h is in the middle of the road in its segment. The facelift also brings Subaru Intelligent Drive with Standard and Sport, which subtly sharpens throttle response.

Easy to live with if not all that engaging, the Lieartronic CVT could be sharper, especially in overtaking. CVTs are supposed to be more economical though, and they’re also far cheaper to produce than slush boxes. Which seems to come though in XV’s asking price. Subaru’s splendid EyeSight safety assistant is great. It can become intrusive to the more attentive driver, but you can dial its sensitivity back.

The facelift’s suspension and steering tweaks only serve to contribute to XV’s typically Subaru poised, planted and precise road manners. To be honest, in that department, this car is on another planet, even versus AWD rivals like Tiguan and Jeep Renegade. We won’t even bother about the FWD rank and file in that regard.


Subaru’s AWD system ensures peerless motoring on gravel roads. It has no rivals there, even two or three classes up. Except of course, for its siblings. XV also excels in wet conditions. The more treacherous the better. Splash through a puddle, and XV ejects the spray outwards to the sides of the car. Not over the windscreen. So you’re not blinded for those few critical seconds while fumbling for the wipers. But that’s a Subaru for you. Those AWD WRC roots, you see…

And its surprisingly capable well off the beaten track. XV’s X-Mode off-road system’s Dirt, Snow and Mud settings and even a hill descent control, combine with 220 mm ground clearance and long-droop suspension to endow it with surprising off-road agility. Yet the WRC-bred AWD Subaru XV competes with a bunch of dynamically dire, bloated front-wheel drive hatchbacks, few of which offer XV’s AWD pedigree. They struggle to even mount a pavement.

Most of those underdeveloped marketing counterfeits merely posture as SUVs. In our book, a sport ute is first and foremost an all-wheel drive five-door vehicle. Anything else is just a lie. See, even if XV hardly flaunts it, not only does this Subaru fit its SUV definition to the tee, but it also continues to deliver all those many WRC lessons in so many special places.


So, if you’re in the market for a five hundred grand ’SUV’, go check all its rivals first. Anything that matches XV in price is only front wheel drive. All the AWDs are hundreds of grand more expensive. Then visit a Subaru shop to take a look at the superbly sorted XV. Unless there’s some fundamental aspect that doesn’t meet your exact needs, you may well find yourself a driving car you will wonder why you never considered in the first place. Yes. It is that good. — Michele Lupini

Images & testing: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Subaru XV 2.0i-S ES
Engine: 115 kW 196 Nm 2-litre petrol H4
Drive: CVT AWD
0-60 km/h:        5.17 sec
0-100 km/h:       10.00 sec
0-120 km/h:       13.46 sec
0-160 km/h:       24.56 sec
400m:             17.2 sec @ 137 km/h
80-120 km/h:      6.13 sec
120-160 km/h:     11.10 sec
VMax:             200 km/h
Fuel:             7.3 l/100 km
CO2:              168 g/km
Warranty/Service: 5y 150K/3y 75K km
LIST PRICE:       R509K
RATED:            9
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