THE ‘OUTBACK’ treatment might sound like a euphemism for being horribly brutalised in a Wolf Creek scenario, but it’s actually something Subaru actually something Subaru invented. Take an existing AWD passenger car, lift and separate.
That’s the Subaru XV formula.
As with the previous model, it’s an Impreza hatch in thicksoled hiking boots with more air beneath its floor, additional body cladding and a unique name. But XV Version 2.0 is based on the brand-spanking fifth-generation Impreza, meaning a lighter yet stronger platform, dimensions expanded just where they needed to be, and a sizeable improvement in packaging efficiency. This one has space, even in the formerly emaciated cargo area.
Chief improvements include 100mm of extra boot width and a 350-litre volume (enough for three golf bags to lie flat, apparently), 26mm extra from rear hip point to floor, and another 20mm in body width without expanding the mirror-to-mirror measurement.
The new-gen XV also inherits the ‘X-mode’ all-wheel-drive set-up from CVT-equipped Foresters. That means an active torque split AWD system which centralises engine management, traction-control and ESC systems at speeds below 40km/h, and hilldescent control at speeds below 20km/h, to ensure the XV offers maximum purchase in low-grip situations. Subaru claims that with X-mode switched on – it’s activated by a button near the gear lever – the XV is twice as effective at restoring forward momentum when two diagonally opposed wheels lose traction.
That said, on a muddy and snowy course at a Japanese ski resort, the XV’s ability to claw itself through the rough stuff was unquestioned, X-mode or not.
The rest of the XV’s spec sheet reads like a facsimile of the new-gen Impreza’s. That means the same 115kW/196Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection flat four mated exclusively to a CVT automatic. Smooth as the engine is, with more weight to lug than an equivalent Impreza, it has little hope of challenging the grip limit of its all-wheel-drive chassis.
The casual acceleration allows plenty of time to admire the roomy, quiet, comfortable and high-quality interior, and a chassis that feels closely aligned to the Impreza’s, meaning sweetly balanced handling, superb grip and a nuanced ESC calibration.
The XV’s 18-inch wheels (wearing 225/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport tyres on the cars we drove) impact the initial absorbency of its ride, and the SI-Drive system’s propensity to default to ‘Intelligent’ mode rather than ‘Sport’ means its steering feels fairly disinterested until you select ‘S’ on the righthand wheel spoke. When you do that, the XV gains muchneeded steering weight and a more cohesive dynamic feel.
There’s also the caveat that the JDM-spec XVs we drove sat 20mm lower than what Australian cars will. When the XV lobs in June – mirroring Impreza’s 2.0i, 2.0i-L, 2.0i-Premium, and 2.0i-S spec levels – ours will offer a Forestermatching 220mm of ground clearance, mitigated slightly by the XV’s greater front overhang.
There’s definitely the basis of a fun car here – supported by a vibrant colour palette that still includes orange – but the XV’s engine simply doesn’t have the muscle to take advantage of its impressive new underpinnings.
Or to lift it above and beyond its similarly lacklustre competitor set.
As for outrunning a murderous John Jarratt in the dead of night, best head for the (hopefully nottoo- steep) hills. That’s the XV’s starring role.
Firm ride on 18s; engine lacks muscle to exploit AWD dynamic talent Cabin style and space; capable chassis and AWD; smooth drivetrain Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Subaru XV 2.0i-S 1995cc flat 4, dohc, 16v 115kW @ 6000rpm 196Nm @ 4000rpm CVT automatic 1460kg* 10.0sec* 7.4L/100km* $35,000* June (*estimated)
According to the general manager of Subaru’s Product and Portfolio Planning Division, Masahiko Inoue, “we are studying other power sources”, which hints at a plug-in hybrid version.
But Inoue also stated that “more power is important to XV performance”. Here’s hoping a 2.5-litre directinjection version, or a boosted 2.0-litre, features in the XV’s (and Impreza’s) future. But we won’t get the six-speed manual offered in the US because too few Oz buyers want one.
The small SUV equivalent of a fine wine, except the ASX is getting better-looking with age rather than developing a more complex dynamic flavour. Turbo-diesel a USP, though it’s not a particularly refined unit.
Lower-priced front-drive Suzi can’t match XV’s new interior class, or occupant space, thanks to a shorter wheelbase and a narrower body, but offers bigger 430L boot and the grunt of a boosted 1.4-litre turbo.