A few tricks up its sleeve, but no rabbits out of a hat

Wed, Sep 5, 2012, 01:00

FIRST DRIVE SUBARU XV:YOU COULD have forgiven the average car buyer if Subaru had fallen off their radar in the past couple of years.

Ever since its rally team, once equally feared and fearless, was pensioned off at the end of 2008, a little of the magic that once haloed the iconoclastic Japanese company has disappeared. Without those iconic blue-and-gold Imprezas bursting through forests with a McRae, a Burns or a Solberg at the wheel, Subaru’s sense of purpose seemed to be gone.

Sequential launches of two underwhelming cars didn’t help. The current Impreza hatch and Legacy saloon and estate are too obviously tilted towards Subaru’s largest market in the US to be of particular interest over here. The Impreza in particular has lost its personality.

It’s a shame; the previous generation Legacy had one of the most sympathetically set up chassis for Irish conditions that we’d ever experienced.

Subaru is still capable of turning out a fine car. The Forester SUV is still providing rugged, practical transport to those who have discovered its charms, and much of the Toyota GT86 coupe’s dynamic brilliance is down to Subaru, now part-owned by Toyota, being responsible for much of the engineering.

Now, there’s this, the XV; a car that seeks to distill Subaru’s traditional combinations of rugged build, four-wheel-drive and driver appeal into a package designed to appeal to the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti-buying set.

Right off the bat, it’s off to a better start than either the Impreza (with which it shares most of its underpinnings) or the Legacy because it actually looks good. In fact, it’s the first truly handsome Subaru for a generation or more: chunky, appealing and distinctive, even in the bland baby-blue paintwork of our test car.

Inside, things are not quite so good. The cabin lacks the soft-touch surfaces or design flourishes of its rivals. The Skoda Yeti instantly leaves it in the shade for interior ambience, although it’s about on a par with the equally dour Qashqai, and at least quality of assembly and space are there in abundance.

Twist the old-fashioned-looking key and the familiar flat-four Boxer Diesel fires into life with a throaty whirr. Its 147bhp and 350Nm of torque aren’t exceptional figures these days, though its 146g/km Co2 emissions actually beats the equivalently powered Yeti when fitted with four-wheel drive.

However, the XV is trounced by the larger Mazda CX-5. Still, the Subaru boxer engine has a sense of character. It soon shrugs off a low-rpm diesel clatter for a more traditional Subaru woofle, underlaid with all manner of chirps, whistles and cheeps.

Different, for sure, if not necessarily to all tastes. Its easy, accessible performance should please, though, as will a decent 6.4-litre per 100km fuel consumption.

Subaru does seem to have forgotten its old magic touch when setting up a car for Irish tarmac, though. The steering is the high point, dynamically speaking. A little numb around the straight-ahead, but becoming ever more garrulous as you apply lock. The XV certainly feels more up-and-at-’em than most of its rivals, and it’s a reasonably entertaining car to drive. Combine that with Subaru’s traditional all-wheel-drive that gives you a smug feeling of security even as rain-mageddon breaks out all around you, and you have a car seemingly ideal for Ireland and Irish drivers.

A pity then that the ride is just too stiff, too ready to jiggle and bobble over rough surfaces. Surely with all that extra ride height a little more suppleness could have been found?

And then we come to the ultimate reason why the XV will be a rare sight on Irish roads. It faces one final, possibly insurmountable, hurdle: its price. We accept that our test car was the range-topping version, at €34,995, but to place it just €1,000 cheaper than the entry-level (larger, more practical) Forester seems silly, and the fact that an entry-level XV costs €28,495 – with a petrol engine at that – seems closer to daft.

In fairness to Subaru Ireland, it is struggling with an unfavourable exchange rate with the Yen, but the unpalatable truth is that the Yeti or Qashqai beat it for value, as do larger rivals like the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Kuga.

Given Subaru’s reputation for reliability and shrugging off even the very worst weather that the winter (or spring, or summer) can throw at you, it could have been a tempting prospect.

But at these prices, it’s giving itself an uphill struggle for even committed Subaru fans, never mind more casual buyers.


ENGINE1,998cc turbo diesel putting out 147bhp at 3,600rpm and 350Nm from 1,600rpm with a six-speed manual transmission

PERFORMANCE0-100km/h 9.3 secs, max speed 198km/h

ECONOMYUrban 6.8 L/100km (41.5 mpg); extra-urban 5.0 (56.4); combined 5.6 (50.4)

EMISSIONS(motor tax) 146g/km (€330)

SPECIFICATIONSStandard features for the range-topping TD S Premium include symmetrical all-wheel-drive, cruise control, split-zone climate control, reversing camera, auto headlights and wipers, 17” alloys, Bluetooth, gearshift indicator, hill start assist.

RIVALSSkoda Yeti 2.0 TDI 170 4WD Elegance €32,525 (motor tax €330); Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi 4wd SVE €29,845 (motor tax €225); Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCI 140 4wd Titanium €35,131 (motor tax €481); Mazda CX-5 2.2d 175bhp Executive 4wd €34,895 (motor tax €225)



Capable and characterful, but undermined by a too-high price.

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