You’d be forgiven for approaching the Subaru XV with a degree of cynicism. After all, virtually every car manufacturer produces a compact crossover these days, and the closest most will ever get to a farmyard is when their owners visit the organic produce aisle at Waitrose.
But Subaru has always done things a little bit differently.
As befits a brand that made its name selling pickups to hill farmers, the XV has been designed from the ground up as a proper all-wheel-drive machine with genuine off-road credentials.
At 221mm, it comes with more ground clearance than a Range Rover Evoque, plus it’s equipped with hill descent control and Subaru’s X-Mode traction enhancement system.
With the launch of the second-generation model, Subaru has dropped the diesel engine from the XV line-up. The manual gearbox has gone too, which means the remaining 1.6-litre and 2-litre petrol engines are both saddled with the company’s unconventional CVT transmission.
Aesthetically, the new XV follows much the same recipe as its predecessor. There’s a sharply chiselled nose and a swooping coupe-like roofline. Size-wise it sits towards the larger end of the crossover segment, but it’s still comfortably smaller than a full-size SUV.
Despite its evolutionary appearance this is actually an all-new car based on Subaru’s latest global vehicle platform. Improvements to the structural rigidity contribute notably to on-road handling, while its Euro NCAP scores for crash protection are among the best of any car on sale.
Subaru’s cabins have been improving steadily over the years and the XV is one of the best yet. Fit and finish are generally very good, the 8-inch colour infotainment system is intuitive to use and the equipment levels are generous.
Even on the lower-spec SE model you get a DAB radio, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and a reversing camera as standard. Upgrade to the SE Premium and there’s satellite navigation, leather upholstery and an electrically operated sunroof.
However, at £28,495 (inc VAT), the top-spec 2.0i SE Premium model is verging on Audi Q3 and BMW X1 territory, but it can’t compete with the Germans for style or quality.
The XV is also good, rather than brilliant, when it comes to interior space; there’s no shortage of legroom, but taller passengers will find the headroom a little tight in the back. Similarly, the boot is a decent size in outright terms, but it’s towards the smaller end of the class at 385 litres.
Engine and transmission
The XV sticks with Subaru’s trademark horizontally opposed “boxer” engine configuration, which provides enough performance for most situations in its 2-litre form.
It’s generally quite refined, but lacks the easy-going torque of its turbocharged rivals. This means you’ll need to use the revs if you’re in a hurry, at which point the engine noise starts to become more noticeable.
Subaru XV range
1.6i SE Lineartronic 112hp engine, CVT with six-speed manual mode, from £20,972 (ex VAT)
2.0i SE Lineartronic 154hp engine, CVT with six-speed manual mode, from £22,272 (ex VAT)
1.6i SE Premium Lineartronic 112hp engine, CVT with six-speed manual mode, from £22,638 (ex VAT)
2.0i SE Premium Lineartronic 154hp engine, CVT with six-speed manual mode, from £23,938 (ex VAT)
We’ve yet to sample the 1.6-litre unit, but its glacial 13.9 second 0-to-60mph time suggests the larger unit is well worth the minimal penalty you’ll pay in terms of purchase price and fuel economy.
The CVT transmission remains something of an acquired taste, but it’s a world away from earlier efforts. A hydraulic torque converter with a lock-up damper helps to dramatically improve response compared with CVTs of old, making it feel a lot more like a conventional automatic.
There’s even a manual mode, which artificially inserts a series of six steps into the transmission ratio to mimic a normal gearbox. Keen drivers might not be convinced, but it’s suitably unobtrusive for everyday use.
Plus, the constantly variable ratio has the added benefit of maintaining drive to the wheels at all times, which is handy if you find yourself off-road.
Ride and handling
The XV is a competent car to drive. It’s noticeably more nimble than a full-size SUV, with responsive steering, minimal body roll and reasonable ride quality. But those are all things that its cheaper rivals do quite well (and in some cases, better).
Where the XV really scores is off-road. Most crossovers are sold in two-wheel drive form, and those that do have a four-wheel drive option tend to use a switchable system. This can take time to send power to the rear wheels, which means you run the risk of bogging down.
The Subaru, on the other hand, uses a permanent all-wheel drive system as you’d typically find on a larger SUV. The end result is that it will get to places that most cars in this class could only dream of.
It’s also worth mentioning that the XV packs an impressive array of active safety functions. Autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection and lane keep assist are all standard. Subaru invited us to put these systems to the test with a set of collapsible targets on an airfield, and they proved remarkably effective.
What’s more, we never encountered any false alarms during normal driving although you can switch the systems off if you wish.
Farmers Weekly Verdict
The Subaru XV succeeds in doing what all crossovers claim to do – but very rarely deliver – by combining the dynamics of a regular hatchback with the off-road capability of an SUV. There’s a lot to like about its sturdy build quality, generous equipment levels and excellent safety ratings.
On the other hand, its two-wheel-drive competitors are generally cheaper to buy and run, while traditional SUVs are more capable when the going gets tough. But in between the two, there’s nothing else in this class that offers quite the same breadth of ability.
Subaru XV 2.0i Lineartronic
Engine 2-litre, horizontally opposed four-cylinder petrol
Transmission CVT with six-speed manual mode
Top speed 120mph
Fuel consumption* 40.9mpg
Kerb weight 1,439kg
Towing capacity 1,400kg (braked)
Price £23,938 (2.0i Lineartronic SE Premium, inc delivery, RFL and registration)
Price (as tested) £23,938 (2.0i Lineartronic SE Premium, inc delivery, RFL and registration)
Price (as tested, inc VAT) £28,495
Servicing 12,000 miles or 12 months
Warranty Three years, 60,000 miles
*manufacturer’s combined statistic