Whew! Feels good to be back behind the wheel of a test vehicle after a drought of 3 months, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting curfew. And what’s this, a Subaru? A brand that’s been in the news recently for the wrong reasons. Subaru make great cars with their burbling exhausts and turbo-boosted, whip-crack power delivery. Because of this exciting character, they sometimes end up in the hands of the reckless and brainless, often with disastrous characteristics. Breaks my heart whenever another turbocharged Subaru meets its demise at the hands of some loon.
However, today’s ‘Scooby’ or ‘Suby’ is something rather more sedate – an XV in 1.6L naturally aspirated guise. Of course, it’s got the Symmetrical AWD system that Subaru is famed for, so if you are yawning, stop in mid-yawn and stay like that. Punishment.
Why is it called XV? Subaru’s other vehicles have such interesting names with the meaning or derivative being obvious. Impreza? To impress. Legacy? You can easily figure that out. Forester – the Forester Club has proved with their excursions that the vehicle can really go into the forest. A brief bout of Googling reveals that XV simply means ‘Crossover Vehicle’ – and in other markets, the name is Crosstrek. Mystery solved, gang!
The major reason why we haven’t gotten any interesting Subaru models to our shores is because of our vehicle taxation system that seems to have been created by brains stuck in the 1950s…I’m ranting again. Subaru’s best models are those with the 2.0L and 2.5L turbo engines, displacements that will see taxation of many millions smacked onto them and thus take them firmly into German vehicle price territory. As I write, Subaru’s smallest engine is the 1.6L FB16 flat-four that nestles low down in the nose of this XV that is brought down to our shores by Senok Trade Combine Ltd, the local agents for the Subaru brand.
The XV has retained a distinctive silhouette throughout its lifetime of two generations that make this 2020 model appear at first glance like a mere facelift. Make no mistake though, this second-generation model is all-new, right down to sitting on a new platform. The design language is such that you won’t mistake it for anything other than a Subaru.
Black cladding low-down and the ‘Symmetrical AWD’ badge indicate that this is not another jacked-up front-driver, but a vehicle that can actually use all four feet to paw its way out if required. Our test vehicle sits on stylish 17-inch alloys which are wrapped with 60-profile Yokohama rubber – indicating that it’s not a chocolate teapot (I’m looking directly at the butch German SUVs from stars, rings, propellers et al., with their 20+ inch rims and rubber-band tyres) but something that can take some rough-and-tumble. There’s plastic cladding protecting the four corners as well, right in the places you’re most likely to scrape and bash if you have poor spatial judgement. Overall, it’s a very complete looking package in its restrained hue of silver. Personally, I’d venture deeper into the colour palette in search of a nice blue, red or orange – it’s a Subaru after all!
Mech & Tech
Subaru’s FB16 flat-four engine is the entry level powertrain for Scoobies these days. A naturally aspirated thing, it displaces 1,599cc and is a DOHC design. Power output is 114bhp at 6,200rpm and peak torque is 148Nm at 3,600rpm. There’s also a turbocharged variant developing 168bhp and 250Nm but that’s only available in the Levorg. The naturally aspirated mill is coupled to all four wheels (Subaru Symmetrical AWD) via a CVT gearbox that offers a simulated 7-speed mode which one can use the paddles to row through. Braking is done via all-round discs and the suspension is said to be a long-travel independent design. An electric rack takes care of steering duties.
So, what about a myriad of off-road modes given that its AWD? Nada. Just one button titled X-mode, which is said to be a combined off-road mode that optimises the engine, transmission and drivetrain for rough terrain, hill climbing and hill descending. One button to rule them all I suppose.
A final snippet on the engine; being a flat-four, the oil filter is at the top, rather than the bottom! Open the bonnet (or ‘pop the hood’ if ‘Murican is your thing) and you see it right there, staring you in the face.
With the vehicle arriving at my doorstep, all that remained was to get in to the nicely chilled cabin. Once I got in, I first felt like ‘Big Bird’ – the seat was set high up, affording me a great view of everything ahead, including the top of the windscreen and the headliner. No worries – a few taps on the electric seat adjustment and I was seated in my preferred low-down position, knees slightly bent even under full pedal application and wrists able to rest on the steering wheel without locking elbows. I won’t bore you with the reasons for this, but there are videos that demonstrate the best and safest way to sit when driving a vehicle and I try to ensure that stance, especially when driving a test vehicle. It can be the difference between avoiding an accident or becoming one, after all. Hearing no sound and sans any vibes, I look at the rev counter and verify that the engine is running. A prod on the throttle reveals a silent character upto 3,000rpm that breaks into a distant thrash once that barrier is passed. Nothing to indicate it’s a flat-four like the offbeat burble from Subarus of yesteryear.
Select D (you get either D or M – no sport, sport plus, eco, eco plus, eco pro and kitchen sink modes here) and it’s a regular drive. The XV does the city cruise very well, the CVT combo keeping the revs low but ensuring decent urge when you need it to dispatch that distracted slowpoke. A flattened throttle pedal sees the engine rev up to the 6,400rpm redline in steps – it’s like the CVT thinks it is a regular gearbox with distinct gears, then realises it’s a CVT for a while, followed by a stint of deciding it wants to be a regular box again. Interestingly, the formula seems to work towards somewhat minimising the undesired ‘rubber band’ effect that other CVTs suffer from.
If you want to push the XV harder, your first port of call might be the paddles but I felt that even under manual mode, the CVT was doing its CVT thing. For example, the ratios seemed extremely long, like you are trying to reach the redline in a certain ratio before switching up, but the gearbox keeps extending the bar. Reminded me of swimming classes as a child; when the instructor would slowly walk backwards as I was swimming towards him, extending the distance I had to swim. So best keep things in D mostly, and use M for when you want to hold a gear for a brief moment. Pity, though, because the paddles are pleasant things to use, with a positive ‘clicky’ action as you flick them. No doubt the turbocharged engine options would be their ideal companion.
The engine starts to strain at the upper echelons of the rev range and 114bhp isn’t a lot to get a vehicle of this size zooming along, particularly when you factor in the drivetrain losses of an AWD system. It gets up to 80km/h just fine, sits comfortably at 100+km/h under cruise control, and the CVT keeps the revs low. The official 0-100km/h figure is 13.9 seconds so this isn’t a speed freak machine. I did turn off the traction control in a large gravel area and give it full throttle with some steering lock, but 114bhp just isn’t enough to overwhelm all four driven wheels and give lurid slides. It gripped, though, meaning that the XV will be more capable when the tarmac finishes, than most of the so-called SUVS we see on our roads with their FWD drivetrains. Sure, some may have several trick modes et al., but in the end, they will be like an animal pawing at the ground with the front paws only…and this is where the XV has them licked! There’s also 220mm of ground clearance for you.
The ride of the XV is comfortable. Bumps, dips and potholes are all well rounded off and you don’t get jostled around. It copes with broken roads well too, and we did take it to a place with some gravel, mud and dips too. Subaru’s chassis magic has been worked here and that pliancy does translate into a fairly flat body when cornering at higher than normal speeds – being a brand-new vehicle and the only one remaining unsold, I didn’t push it to 100%. What I did test fully were the brakes and the XV stopped straight and true each time, no dramas there.
Living with the XV
Three colour screens. Yup, three. The first one sits between the speedo and tacho and displays speed, radio/media and trip info. It’s controlled by flick buttons on the steering wheel. Then there’s the second screen high-up in the centre of the dash. This one shows climate control info, radio/media info and vehicle info, and here’s where things get interesting. You can have a mere picture of the car status shown, or other display options that include showing the tilt angle and power distribution of the symmetrical AWD, a simple clock and a trio of digital gauges showing water temp, oil temp and average speed. These modes are cycled through a single button on the steering wheel. Speaking of climate control, it’s a dual-zone affair that chills impressively. There are no rear vents, though, and on this sunny day our rear occupants did request to turn up the fan.
The final screen is the largest one – a 6.5inch media screen that’s touch enabled. However, Subaru have thoughtfully included some buttons and knobs, particularly for Volume and Tune/Scroll. In the era of fiddly touch screen tuning, it was a joy to turn a knob and tune a radio station, all whilst driving and not needing to look at the centre stack! The system plays through six speakers and sounds pretty decent. You can plug in a device via USB, tether your phone through Bluetooth and you also get Android Auto as well as Apple CarPlay – I really hope Android Auto officially comes to Sri Lanka. You can sideload the app if you know how to, but it’s not officially offered on the Play Store for our market.
The rear has plenty of space – I was able to comfortably sit behind my own driving position and six footers will have no issue either. There’s a centre armrest and grab handles, but no rear AC vents. If you need to charge devices, there’s a charging port at the front and two more in the console box between the front seats, along with a 12v socket so rest assured your power needs are met. All these are 2.1A (~10W) charging sockets so offer a decent charging rate. There’s no wireless charger but that technology is still hit-and-miss in my experience so its omission is no biggie.
The boot volume is 400L with the cargo cover in place and the rear seats up and these can be split folded if required. The boot floor is a bit high but that’s explained when you lift it and find a full-sized spare wheel underneath, along with the tyre changing kit. In a world of air compressors and filler cans, it’s a welcome sight. I have a personal grudge with filler cans due to a puncture experienced right before curfew that a filler can just couldn’t solve (sidewall damage). Kudos, Subaru for giving a full-sized spare! Manufacturers who forego the spare wheel in the name of cost and packaging need to stop being cheap and lazy. Bring Back the Spare Wheel!
Oh, and before I forget, it’s rated to tow 1,400kg too, once again reflecting its intended purpose as an outdoorsy, excursion vehicle.
The XV comes with a comprehensive suite of passive safety devices. It’s got the requisite ABS with EBD, stability/traction control, crash-absorbing body structure and no less than six airbags. ISOFIX mountings for child seats are present as well. However, our test vehicle lacks active safety features such as Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance suite that couples crash avoidance, adaptive cruise control, auto braking and a host of other alerting and evasive action features.
The official EuroNCAP ratings for the XV is a five-star rating, with 94% for Adult Occupant, 89% for Child Occupant and 84% for Pedestrian, albeit on an Eyesight-equipped test car. It’s also got a five-star rating in ANCAP (Australia’s EuroNCAP equivalent). Either way, its more than sufficient to take on Sri Lankan roads and keep the occupants relatively safe.
Fuel Econ & Price
The 1.6L XV is rated by Subaru for a combined fuel consumption of 7.3litres per 100km – that calculates to roughly 13.7km/l. Being a combined figure, this covers city traffic and expressway running in countries that have disciplined traffic. For Sri Lanka, you could likely expect about 7.5km/l in Colombo’s worst traffic, and maybe see that doubled when hitting the expressways. This isn’t a hybrid, and the engine has to lug 1.4 tonnes. The 63-litre tank should give you some decent range, though.
The price is Rs. 11.7 million at the time of writing. This will make it a relatively tough sell to the mainstream, as there is a myriad of Japanese as well as German options in that range and below it that will no doubt appeal to the badge-conscious. Nevertheless, Subarus have never been mainstream vehicles in Sri Lanka. There is a cult of Subaru enthusiasts. Indeed, as I write these words, two of the three XV 1.6 models that Senok brought down have been sold!
So, what can I say about the XV? It’s a fine vehicle that’s built well (in Japan, to boot, when many other ‘Japanese’ cars are indeed from Thailand, Malaysia and the region). It’s got the feature set that most will want, wrapped in a body that looks distinctive but not ostentatious. It’s a left-field choice, granted, particularly with that 1.6L engine married to the AWD platform. An interesting option indeed. So do head down to Senok’s showroom if you are intrigued…
114bhp @ 6,200rpm
150Nm @ 3,600rpm
Front Macpherson Strut
Rear Double Wishbone
Front Ventilated Disc
Rear Ventilated Disc
Wheels & Tyres
225/60R17 all round
0-100km/h in 13.9s
Top speed 175km/h
Gr. Clear 220mm
Fuel Tank 63L
Boot Volume 400L
Towing Cap 1,400kg