Johannesburg - Subaru's built much of its reputation on the exciting rally-bred Impreza WRX and STi, but the majority of its range consists of bread-and-butter family cars that avoid the garish fanfare of those halo models.  

With the world going gaga over SUVs and crossovers, the Japanese brand is well positioned to feed the need with its Forester, Outback and XV ranges and it’s the smallest of these – the XV – that was recently launched here in its newest incarnation.

Essentially an ‘adventurised’ version of the new Impreza - also recently launched here in sedan form - the second-generation XV touched down in July just a few months after its world debut at the Geneva motor show, armed with better-than-average gravel-munching ability.

The full-time all-wheel drive gives it optimised traction on loose or slippery surfaces. The car also has an X-Mode that adjusts the AWD and brakes for offroad driving and automatically activates the Hill Descent Control when necessary (HDC can be manually activated by the driver if desired). This, combined with a very tall 220mm ground clearance ensures the XV can tackle rougher trails than the average softroader, even though it’s not a full-blown offroad vehicle for Okavango-type expeditions.

At the same time Subaru has improved the second-generation XV’s on-road agility by dropping the centre of gravity without reducing ground clearance, claiming body roll is reduced by a massive 50 percent. 

To give it a more nimble feel the steering’s also been made more direct. The final factor in the new XV’s nimblification is that it’s lighter than its predecessor despite being slightly larger, thanks mainly to the engine and gearbox shedding around 20kg.

I can’t necessarily vouch for its body roll being halved over the previous model, but the handling’s what you’d expect from a modern crossover; neat and neutral and not excessively top-heavy.

I was more impressed by the cushy ride quality and the XV filters out bumps very proficiently, suggesting it will make a very comfy long-distance car. Unlike the overtly sports-oriented rubber on some crossover vehicles, this Subaru has high-profile tyres that happily glide over the uneven surfaces that adventure vehicles are meant for.

The engine’s the same as before, a normally aspirated petrol flat-four with outputs of 115kW (up 5kW over the old XV) and 196Nm (unchanged), feeding the all-wheel drive system via a continuously variable transmission that Subaru calls Lineartronic. 

The XV cruises comfortably and has no trouble maintaining the speed limit and more, but there’s no excitement and the car could use a bit more overtaking poke. 

CVTs have become fashionable to criticise but I didn’t hate the transmission. It operated smoothly and unobtrusively in regular urban driving and Subaru has programmed in a seven-step ‘manual’ mode to make it feel more like a conventional gearbox, although when you put foot it sends the revs skywards and makes that typical CVT drone. But those raised revs didn’t seem to harm the fuel economy, with our test car averaging a decent 8.1 litres per 100km.

The general revinement levels are good, and apart from that sometimes-droning engine there are no unwanted noises.

There are two versions of this Subaru: a standard model selling for R385 000 and an ES derivative for R439 000 which comes stacked to the hilt with features. 

There’s a lot of safety packed into this car including the new EyeSight system - the first on a Subaru - which employs a set of cameras that scan the road for pedestrians, cyclists and other possible hazards at up to 110 metres. The car will automatically brake if it spots a hazard the driver hasn’t - either when driving forward or reversing - and EyeSight also includes adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping assistance monitor.

Adaptive headlights, auto high beam, seven airbags, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert complete a very well-stacked safety list.

The  interior’s come a long way from earlier Subarus which were notoriously plasticky. This cabin radiates a lot of class with its upscale materials and neat finishes, while the orange stitching gives a touch of styling playfulness to the black leather seats. Subaru’s interior stylists are doing a fine job.

The XV has all the latest infotainment with a large touchscreen and various ways (aux, USB and Bluetooth) to connect your external devices, and it has Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto functionality for when this app becomes available in SA).

The cabin’s nice and roomy, and four adults will fit without feeling too snug. Boot size is quoted at a rather mediocre 310 litres but it subjectively seemed larger than that and was able to swallow a fair amount of luggage, and also a mountain bike when the seats were flipped down.

VERDICT

It could do with more poke (such as the WRX’s 197kW turbo engine), but Subaru’s versatile XV has a great cabin vibe, a ton of features, great safety, and multi-terrain ability. It’s also competitively priced, being cheaper than some 2WD rivals. It comes with a 5-year/150 000km warranty and 3-year/75 000km service plan.

FACTS

Subaru XV 2.0 ES 4WD

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: CVT
Power: 115kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 196Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 10.4 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 194km/h
Ground clearance220mm
Price: R439 000
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service/Maintenance plan: 3-year/75 000km

SUBARU XV VERSUS RIVALS 

Subaru XV ES 4WD115kW/196NmR439 000
Nissan Qashqai 1.6T Acenta 2WD 120kW/240Nm R429 900
Mazda CX-5 2.0 auto Dynamic 2WD 121kW/210Nm R416 900
Ford Kuga 1.5T Trend 4WD132kW/240Nm R467 900
Kia Sportage 2.0 EX Plus 2WD115kW/204Nm R459 995
Hyundai Tucson 2.0 Elite 2WD115kW/196Nm R474 900
Renault Kadjar 1.2 T Dynamique 2WD96kW/205Nm R399 900
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 Summit 4WD122kW/225Nm R466 900

Drive360