Subaru XV review: price and hybrid performance let down this rock-solid SUV

(Photo: Subaru)(Photo: Subaru)
(Photo: Subaru) | (Photo: Subaru)
Subaru's smaller SUV is tough and dependable but can't match rivals for efficiency or style

The idea of built-in obsolescence is clearly unfamiliar to Subaru. 

Due to the well-publicised issues around new car building and supply our recent XV test car had covered far more miles than is usual. Four times as many as most cars I test, in fact. But despite this it still felt as fresh as the day it rolled off the line, with not a single, squeak, squeal or rattle to be heard. 

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This is a car that, even after suffering at the hands of countless journalists, feels like it could shrug off a couple of decades of hard labour as a family wagon and probably survive a direct hit from a cruise missile. 

It’s a shame, then, that some of the interior materials don't match the quality with which they're screwed together. The switches and controls all have a robust, solid feel but look functional and old fashioned. Worse, the finish on a lot of the main surfaces looks and feels cheap. The leather on the seats is slippery and shiny, and the 'leather' effect on the dashboard and centre console is thin and feels low rent.

That feeling of cheapness extends to the shiny plastic surround that clumsily encases the eight-inch touchscreen and the ugly, sluggish interface it houses. 

It's not all bad news inside though, there are proper controls and switches for major functions (even if their placement is sometimes a little baffling) and the XV wins on the practicality front.  Front space is good rather than spectacular but, even as Suabru's smaller crossover, it offers generous rear legroom and space to fit three people across the rear bench. A 385-litre boot also offers adequate but hardly class-leading space for luggage or outdoorsy sporting kit.

Subaru used to be famous for its brilliantly handling saloon cars and while the XV is not in the same league as them its chassis is still a strong point. It feels confident, balanced and stable in all sorts of conditions and you can feel the grip and traction plus the smart power distribution offered by the brand's famous all-wheel-drive setup.

The Subaru XV's interior feels behind the times but built to last (Photo: Subaru)The Subaru XV's interior feels behind the times but built to last (Photo: Subaru)
The Subaru XV's interior feels behind the times but built to last (Photo: Subaru) | (Photo: Subaru)

The typical Subaru low centre of gravity also enhances the car's stability. The ride, however, is really soft, giving a slightly odd disconnect between the body and chassis - but good ride quality. 

There’s a further disconnect between the decent chassis and the e-Boxer drivetrain. This pairs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (the ‘boxer’) with a small electric motor and even smaller battery (the ‘e’) for some mild hybrid support and pretty disappointing results. 

The combined 148bhp should be enough to shift the XV along well but in use the setup feels lacking in any sort of power or performance. You can bury the throttle as hard as you like but all you'll get is a lot of noise as the CVT transmission tries to eke something out of the engine by letting it rev to high heaven.

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Somewhere among the noise and 10-second 0-62mph time, there is a sweet spot where the XV will cruise happily at low throttle and the EV motor will react but it’s a very narrow window. This would almost be acceptable if the hybrid element brought obvious benefits but, sadly, the EV assistance offers very little in the way of refinement or economy. I failed to get even 40mpg during a week of driving. 

There might be more forgiveness if the XV countered this disappointing performance with great value but, while it’s well equipped, it’s also expensive. Our test car was almost £36,000 - at which price it’s competing with more up-to-date, efficient and better finished rivals - everything from Kia's Niro and Sportage to the Nissan Qahsqai, Skoda Karoq and Honda HR-V

Its bombproof build quality, impressive safety rating and promise of off-road prowess are all marks in the XV's favour and will undobutedly be enough for some buyers. But this car - which has barely been updated aince its launch in 2018 -is let down by an ageing and cheap feeling interior and, more significantly, a lacklustre and uneconomical engine.

The XV has certain charms but is let down by its mild hybrid setup (Photo: Subaru)The XV has certain charms but is let down by its mild hybrid setup (Photo: Subaru)
The XV has certain charms but is let down by its mild hybrid setup (Photo: Subaru) | (Photo: Subaru)

Subaru XV e-Boxer Premium

  • Price: £35,290
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder,  petrol, mild hybrid
  • Power: 148bhp
  • Torque: 143lb ft
  • Transmission:  CVT
  • Top speed: 120mph
  • 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
  • Economy: 35.7mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 180gkm

Rivals: Suzuki S-Cross, Nissan Qashqai, Kia Niro, Skoda Karoq, Honda HR-V

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