Isaac Bober’s preview drive 2018 Subaru XV Review with specifications, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The all-new 2018 Subaru XV builds on the traits of its predecessor of being wieldy in the city and capable on rough roads. It’s now bigger, more capable, better to drive, and safer.

2018 Subaru XV

Pricing Not released Warranty three-years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star JNCAP Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘Boxer’ petrol Power 115kW at 6000rpm Torque 196Nm at 4000rpm Transmission CVT Drive permanent all-wheel drive Dimensions 4465mm (L) 1800mm (body only) (W) 1615mm (H) Bootspace 350 litres Spare full-size temporary spare Fuel Tank 50 litres Thirst Not released

THE ALL-NEW SUBARU XV is the second model to roll off the production line sitting on the Japanese car maker’s new global platform, which will be slotted under everything from the WRX to the Outback and Liberty. We’ve already seen the difference it’s made to the new Impreza in terms of ride quality and safety, and we flew to Japan earlier this week to sample the new XV on a short but informative on- and off-road drive loop.

What is it?

The Subaru XV launched in 2012 as a standalone model (it’s still mostly just a twin-under-the-skin to the Impreza) at a time when SUV sales were just starting to heat up. Since its launch, the XV has found 49,000 driveways (in Australia) to call home, making it an important product in Subaru’s local line-up.

The compact SUV segment is now a lot more crowded and competitive and so the all-new XV needs to be at the top of its game to be noticed. Luckily it is. This all-new model not only sits on the new global platform which, as we’ve seen in new Impreza, offers impressive ride and handling and noise insulation, but also improved interior design, materials quality and fit and finish.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

At the preview drive in Japan, Subaru refrained from talking about pricing or expected sales numbers but in Japan, where it goes on sale later this month, early interest has already exceeded expectations with interest in the XV eclipsing that of the Impreza which is selling very strongly both at home and away. In Australia, to the end of March, Subaru had sold 4000 new generation Imprezas.

Indeed, Subaru Australia boss, Colin Christie said: “We have high hopes for XV, particularly given the addition of serious SUV kit like X-Mode”. The XV will also offer Eyesight from the middle-spec model up; there will be three model grades, and will for the first time on a Subaru in Australia offer reverse automatic braking in the range-topping variant.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

“Every aspect of XV is fine-tuned to provide drivers with a dynamic quality that leaves a memorable impression: straightforward, sporty on-road performance and genuine SUV ingredients for rough roads that, combined with excellent ride comfort, make the journey a relaxing one for all occupants,” Christie said.

Talking with some of the engineers who worked on the XV, Practical Motoring asked what vehicles they benchmarked the XV against… while they were reluctant to say, a nudge and a wink suggests Mazda’s CX-3 and the Nissan Qashqai are two key competitors they assessed in the development of the new XV.

What’s the interior like?

The new XV measures 4465mm long (up 4450mm), 1800mm wide (up from 1780mm) – body only, and runs a longer wheelbase of 2670 (up from 2640mm) and is longer than a Golf Alltrack, it maintains the current car’s 1615mm height. So, when it comes to describing the interior, roomy is a good word to use. And, like the new Impreza there’s been a noticeable step-up in quality.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

The design mirrors that of the Impreza, although the XV gets bright orange contrast stitching for the dashboard, steering wheel, gear shifter boot, and seats. The stitching divided opinion at the preview drive, but I like it.

In all, the dashboard is an uncluttered design that’s easy to use on the fly. The infotainment unit on the car’s we drove were for the Japanese market and are quite different to the ones we’ll get; XV will use the same 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit as Impreza which is a pretty easy to use with enough features to make it useful. It also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

Continuing with the decluttering of the interior the manual handbrake has been replaced by an electric unit that offers auto-off, meaning you only need to press the accelerator pedal when the handbrake is on (once in D for Drive and with your seatbelt fastened) to get it to release. And the cup holders, thanks to the slightly wider cabin, now sit side by side, rather than one behind the other.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

The front seats are comfortable and do a pretty good job of keeping you in place even when flinging the thing around in the mud, which we got to do… The steering wheel feels good in the hand and offers reach and rake adjustment making it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s good vision right around the car; Australian models will also get a reversing camera.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

Despite being a compact SUV there’s plenty of head, leg and shoulder room in the back for six-footers like me. Compared to the old XV and it’s fairly feature less backseats the new XV offers more sculpted and comfortable back seats. Indeed, I sat in the back while a colleague drove the XV around the test loop and the noise insulation was such that we could carry on a conversation without yelling, with the rear suspension well controlled so that you don’t get bounced around when driving across broken surfaces.

There are ISOFIX mounts on the two outboard seats and top tether anchor points on the backs of the seat. The rear seats are a 60:40 split fold with no option, sadly, in my opinion, of a 40:20:40 split.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

Bootspace is 350 litres (five more than new Impreza) which is an increase on the original XV of 310 litres. It’s still not a huge boot, but the shape makes it usable with Subaru suggesting it’ll swallow three golf bags neatly; an image showing three golf bags piled into the back of a competitor (our best guess is it was Mazda CX-3) revealed just how important the shape, and not just the size, of a boot is. In the XV, the golf bags were stacked neatly while in the competitor it was a jumbled mess.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

Having lived with a first-generation XV for six months, I can vouch for the improvements to the interior and the extra room. I’d still like to see the boot a little bigger (closer to 400 litres) but it’s a good shape and the load height will be manageable for those of all sizes.

What’s it like on the road?

Under the bonnet is the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘Boxer’ petrol engine that runs in the Impreza and that means output is the same 115kW at 6000rpm (up from the old car’s 110kW) and 196Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This is mated to a CVT (again, the same one as in the Impreza) with ‘seven-speed’ manual control; being a CVT they aren’t actual gear ratios, but flicking through the ‘gears’ via the flappy paddles on the steering wheel, does give a sensation of actually changing gear.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

Too many people, in this writer’s opinion, have banged on about both the Impreza, and likely the XV too, being underpowered. They don’t feel like that on the road, or off it, in the case of the XV.

Sure, more power would be great, but talking with Subaru’s engineers about it at the preview event they all said that there were no other engines in their arsenal they could have used (because of packaging issues) and that they had to balance, fuel consumption and emissions efficiency, along with packaging. Practical Motoring did ask whether the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that’s available in the Levorg (in some markets) could have fitted into the XV and the engineers said, no.

Our drive loop was short and the speeds kept to less than 80km/h but the XV has more than enough grunt. Having spent plenty of time driving the new Impreza with my family onboard in the Blue Mountains (NSW), I can honestly say that while more power would be good, what the XV (and Impreza) have is enough for their intended purpose.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

The steering feels nice and meaty in the hands and with just enough weight to connect you to the car’s doings. The steering is direct and consistently weighted, something that you can’t say about some of this car’s competitors (like CX-3).

We didn’t really get a chance to push the XV through any corners, but those that we did drive around offered a glimpse of the clever work the engineers have done on containing body roll without making the ride too firm. Indeed, the XV’s compliance and rebound control across broken sections of road and pot holes places this car at the top of its segment.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

When it’s launched locally in June we’ll be able to provide a more detailed review of its ride and handling.

A new feature for the XV is X-Mode which features on both the Forester and Outback. We’ve tested X-Mode in those other models on the sort of terrain no owner would ever drive across and can attest that it works very well indeed. The XV continues with its 220mm of ground clearance achieved through a mix of tyre size (compared with Impreza) chassis spacers and the height setting for the strut and coils. Indeed, from the Impreza to the XV have been a handful of additional tweaks, including a thicker stabiliser bar to ensure body roll is controlled.

At the preview drive a short loop was set up on running up and over a slope and then back around. Sounds easy, but the track was a mixture of snow and mud (as you can see in the pictures). The mud was thick and gloopy and would have stopped an on-demand all-wheel drive dead in its tracks.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

But, the XV like other Subarus (except for the BR-Z) gets permanent all-wheel drive, and now adds X-Mode. I drove the track with X-Mode on and off, in reverse and stopped on the hill and then continued on up the slope.

So, what is X-Mode? In a nutshell, pressing the X-Mode button recalibrates engine mapping to soften the throttle which makes it easier to drive on slippery roads, meaning you’re less likely to over-rev and keep breaking traction. Although, you can slam the throttle into the carpet and it will give you full power, like if you need to build momentum to climb up a slippery slope.

X-Mode also speeds up the locking between front and rear axles by about 25% to improve grip in bumpy terrain, and the traction control acts faster to prevent wheelspin.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

The hill we climbed wasn’t particularly steep, but it was slippery and because X-Mode also activates hill descent control up to 20km/h (although it’s still on-guard until 40km/h) so I made sure to test it out.

There’s no speed control via the cruise control plus or minus function, instead the speed control is dependent on the speed you enter the slope (and the throttle and brake thereafter). Meaning, if you inch down the slope at 5km/h and then take your foot off the throttle, the car will maintain 5km/h… the good news is you can touch the throttle to speed up, or touch the brake to slow down without the system deactivating. And it works in reverse gear too, meaning you’re able to execute a controlled decent down a hill in reverse without having to ride the brakes.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

In some situations off-road, you might switch off stability control (stability control allows you to brake and steer at the same time), fortunately in the XV, like other Subaru models, traction control is left active, meaning any wheel that begins spinning will be braked. The XV also offers active torque vectoring which will brake the inside wheel if understeer is detected, essentially delivering more drive to the outside wheel and allowing the car to be pushed back in towards the corner.

2018 Subaru XV Review - Preview Drive in Japan

In the end, it’s fair to say the XV is easily the most capable when the going gets rough of all the compact SUVs on-sale.

What about safety features?

The XV hasn’t been tested by ANCAP but did receive top marks in recent JNCAP testing and with a stronger body and more active safety features than the old XV, we would expect it to achieve a top score with ANCAP too.

In addition to permanent all-wheel drive and X-Mode, mid- and top-spec XVs will get the latest-generation EyeSight system which is one of the better autonomous braking systems on the market. Subaru Australia said top-spec cars here would also get reverse automatic braking, a first for a Subaru model in Australia.

Why would you buy one?

The Subaru XV is easily the most capable compact SUV on the market. There’s plenty of room inside it for a family, it gets a good safety package and is fun to drive. It’s a step ahead of its key competitors, like Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. If you’re in the market for a new compact SUV, I’d seriously suggest you wait until the XV gets to Australia in June.

2018 Subaru XV Review


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  1. Missed out mentioning Fuel Economy.

    Towing Capacity would have been useful

    Do they intend to do a diesel variant?

  2. How do you compare it with Impreza? Do you think Impreza offer more livelier drive because it’s lighter, or you don’t find any difference between the two?

    I got the Impreza now. But on my trip to Blue Mountain Botanical Garden with family, I do find it lack of power. If there’s situation where one depends on power to get you out, it’s stuff. The 1.6l turbo is ideal for both Impreza and XV.

  3. Took a impreza s for a test drive and Yeh sure more power is always good but I thought what was there seemed to be enough, ended up buying one,car just drives so beautifully. Subaru have hit this one out of thr ballpark. Only other con I can see is the lack of rear air vents but all the positives outweighed that one negative

    1. Agree 100%. I recently took one for a test drive and was really impressed. I thought I would hate the lack of power and CVT but neither were an issue.

  4. “…with ‘seven-speed’ manual control; being a CVT they aren’t actual gear ratios.”

    They may not be individual gears, but they are 7 pre-determined, actual gear ratios within the continuous span of ratios from lowest to highest.

    1. Thanks Kenneth, and you’re right, but the arguments that ensue if you call them a physical gear ratio isn’t worth the trouble ;). People complain about CVTs but the Subaru one is easily the best of the lot and can actually be pretty sporty and engaging to use… especially in the WRX. Personally, I think the CVT WRX is the best. – Isaac

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